Mary White’s husband, Devon, suffered from early Alzheimer’s disease and died when he was 51. They were married for 30 years, the last five of which Devon didn’t say a word—until his final day, when he called her name. Mary, a mother of three, grandmother of six (five of them are living), and great-grandmother of eight from Knoxville, TN, was widowed for 20 years before she found love again.
“I guess it took me quite awhile,” says White, 72, a retired preschool teacher. “I never saw anybody else I wanted to spend my life with.” That is until her new husband, Robert, came along. He, too, had lost his spouse—just two years before he met and married Mary.
“I knew right away,” she says of Robert, 85, who is a mostly-retired pastor. “We just hit it off. I met him in May, and we got married in September.”
Though two decades is a long time to wait for love again, the fact that it took Mary much longer to remarry than it did Robert is illustrative of a national trend when it comes to re-coupling. According to a 2014 report from the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of men remarried, while only 52 percent of women did the same. Paul Peluso, Ph.D., a licensed marriage & family therapist and member of the American Counseling Association, says he isn’t surprised.
“I’d tend to think it would be true for a couple of reasons. From an economic standpoint, men tend to be better off when they divorce than women do. So they have the ability to go out and find another partner, whereas women may not be financially advantaged by the divorce, and may also be taking care of children. They may be focusing on that,” he says.
Spun another way, though, Dr. Peluso says men might seek a new relationship sooner because they find themselves lacking the kind of social support women have in spades outside marriage.
“Women have greater support networks; they’ve usually invested more in friends and children and family, and as a result have more connections socially. So that can translate into wanting to take care of themselves better after the loss of a marriage, or having people around them to help care for them better,” he says. “Whereas men who maybe have not invested in those relationships tend to be more stressed. They don’t have the emotional support around them. If you extrapolate that for what would be a desire for men to get married earlier, it might be to seek out those social supports.”
And that kind of support doesn’t just make men happier, it makes them healthier.
“There are a lot of health benefits for men to be in marriage or partnered," Dr. Peluso says. A study by Harvard Medical School found that married men live longer, and a Japanese study found that men who are married are at less risk for heart disease. “The effect is not so good for women. Women in unhappy relationships tend to suffer more health problems than their single counterparts.”
Remarriage for both men and women at any age is tougher to make last. “Fifty percent of first-time marriages end in divorce, and for second and third marriages, that goes up to almost 60-75 percent,” Dr. Peluso says.
But psychotherapist Pandora MacLean-Hoover, L.C.S.W., says remarrying, particularly after divorce, can be a positive, life-fulfilling experience if undertaken in the right frame of mind.
“I ran into a gentleman getting married for the third time, and he was so excited about it. I said, ‘This is the exception to the rule, you exude this enthusiasm and it’s very rare. What’s your secret?’ And he said, ‘I believe that marriage has nothing to do with divorce.’”
Maclean-Hoover advises men and women to enter into a second (or third) marriage with the same positivity they had on their first wedding day.
“Most people get married with a level of enthusiasm and a hope that it’s going to work,” she says. “Divorce is something completely separate and has to do with whether or not it did. So why not celebrate and give yourselves the best chance at giving this commitment and life together the best chance?”
How should you approach remarriage to up your odds of success? Our experts have some tips.
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