Although poets and singers rhapsodize that love is better the second time around. Census Bureau statistics show that 41 per cent of all second marriages fail.
More than half the partners bring along children from a previous marriage, complicating the second marriage with child custody headaches, step-parenting problems and the financial worries of spreading one income over two families.
Despite these potential problems, there is virtually no "re-marriage" counseling in the country, according to Valerie Kitch, a mental health coordinator who intends to do something about it.
Through the Family Life Center, a private, non-profit storefront counseling service in Columbia's Wilde Lake Shopping Center, Kitch has developed a pilot course on "blended families" - families in which one or both parents has been previously married.
The four-to-six week course, to be offered this fall through church groups or other organizations, will encourage blended family members to discuss sibling rivalries, difficulties of "parenting somebody else's children" and the residue of divorce.
The sessions will be educational, rather than therapeutic, and will involve role playing and hypothetical situations.
"We have a creative, flexible format that could be structured to the parents or the children, or both," says Kitch, corrdinator of the center's prevention and information services. "We feel we are breaking new ground here."
Approximately four out of five divorced persons remarry, 50 per cent of them within three years of their divorce, according to the Census Bureau.
"The loss of one's spouse, whether through divorce or death, is one of the most stressful events that an individual can go through. It takes roughly 2 1/2 to 4 years for a person to reformulate his or her identity," says Kitch. "So the first marriage may continue to haunt the second."
"Children," she continues, "sometimes have trouble coping with the multitude of relatives inherited through re-marriages. What they really need is a computer."
In one case study, a Columbia youngster lived with his father, but his mother had remarried twice, giving birth to new children with each new spouse. When confronted with a medical form that asked for a listing of siblings, the youngster became distraught as he attempted to name each of his half-sisters and step-brothers.
"It gets to be bizarre," commented a Family Life counselor. "When thinking about his family, this child sees a whole constellation. In his own mind, relationships are not permanent. How complex his lire is."
In another family, a young woman who married an older man with two teen-age children reported, "I was too close in age to the daughter. There was jealousy. Without 'mommy' around, the daughter had always been daddy's little girl. I've been her stepmother 10 years now and we can finally talk. We no longer need to compete with each other."
Child custody constitutes a tremendous weapon for children in blended families, counseling coordinator Susan Hellerman relates. Children run from one household to another. If the stepmother punishes them, they call up their real mother to confide.
Some children live with one set of parents until a crisis arises, then move in with the other set.
In one blended family where the father has child custody, the maternal grandparents pose problems. They want nothing to do with the father and his new bride, but still welcome the children in their home.
"The kids feel in the middle between all these people," the stepmother says. "When they visit their maternal relatives, they are pumped for information about us."
"Amicable divorces rarely occur," Hellerman notes. "Children act out the anxieties they feel in their parents. Divorce and re-marriage is a situation in which everybody's worst instincts can come out.
"I think the blended family is the next logical place to go in developing mental health resources," she says.