How Do I Know When I Am Ready to Remarry?

Advice for Single Dads on Remarrying

Man surprising woman with engagement ring at restaurant table
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When a man with children divorces or loses a spouse to death, his emotions often run in wild directions. The grieving process can be a major drain on a dad's life and there may also be a whole host of legal and financial issues involved in the separation. Men might simply find themselves at a loss as to how to cope or how to begin a new life that involves being without a significant other.  Sometimes the numbness that follows the loss of a spouse - not wanting to engage in daily life - can be quite debilitating for a man.

Then, after some period of time, the day often comes when a new woman comes into the man's life and a relationship begins to form. Some of the old feelings of love, excitement and anticipation return as he begins dating. But in this state of mind after experiencing loss and creating a new life, he may wonder whether it is time, or ever will be time, for him to consider remarrying.

When there are young children involved, the equation becomes even more complicated. They may have experienced real trauma as a result of a divorce, and may still be dreaming of Mom and Dad remarrying. Or they might see Dad as disloyal if their Mom died and he is considering remarrying. Deciding to remarry when you have children - especially younger children - can be a tough task.

If you find yourself at that point where you are wondering if it is time to consider remarrying, there are some important issues to consider and evaluate.

Try asking yourself these key questions. If your truthful and unvarnished answers suggest it would be good to wait, you should probably wait. But if not, you should move toward remarrying.

Has enough time passed since my divorce or my wife's death? You should always beware of the tendency to "rebound" after the end of another relationship.

Giving yourself enough time to reestablish yourself as a single person is important before considering remarriage. Most relationship experts suggest that two years is a good rule of thumb for the time needed before remarrying. But in your own circumstance, it might be more or less, depending on how you have adapted to your status as a single dad.

Are there unresolved legal and financial issues from the prior marriage? Starting a second marriage is hard enough without bringing major legal or financial challenges from the prior marriage. If you are paying alimony and child support, have you adapted your personal budget and lifestyle to accommodate those demands? How well prepared are you to sustain two family units financially? Are you dealing with things like wage garnishments for unpaid child support? These issues should be resolved and you should be on a firm financial and legal footing before entering into a new marriage.

Are my children stable emotionally and ready for a change? Don't go into a new marriage thinking that the kids will just adapt. Way too many second marriages have failed due to issues with his or her children. When you marry a second time, it is not just a marriage between a man and a woman but also involves children.

You need to put the needs of the children first and make sure that they are ready for you to remarry. They should know and love your new partner and feel OK about the idea of you remarrying. They may be hoping that you and their Mom will get back together, and you will need to work carefully with them to help them adjust to the finality of the former marriage and family situation. If they are still exhibiting behavior resulting from the stress of the divorce of the death of their Mom, you might consider waiting to remarry. You might also consider family counseling if the transition seems unusually difficult.

Are all my custody issues resolved and working? If you and your ex-partner are still dealing with child custody issues and if things are rocky there, it would be good to get things resolved and on an even keel before you remarry.

You can still handle visitation once you are in a stepfamily, but if you are still in a battle about custody, you should not add the complication of a new family to an already tense situation.

Are all my emotional issues resolved? After a divorce, you may still be in love with your ex or may not be OK with her having a new relationship. You may still harbor resentment over the reasons for the divorce or how it was handled. If your wife passed away, you may still have guilt or bitterness about her death. Are the old wounds healed? Do you still need some help to resolve and find peace? You should not step into a marriage relationship if you are not at peace with all of these issues. It is unfair to your future spouse to bring all of this emotional baggage into a new marriage.

Have we dated long enough to have good experience with my significant other? It may be tempting to jump into marriage after only knowing the other person a few weeks or months, but doing so is usually dangerous for both of you. The initial attraction may be strong, but it needs to be tempered by experience. Have you seen your significant other in many different situations and can you judge her character objectively? Have you gone through some stress together and seen how she reacts? Have you spent enough time with her and with your children to build a relationship together? Have you explored each other's financial commitments and assets and figured out how to merge them together? The decision to remarry should come naturally and not be forced. If everyone is wondering why you haven't proposed yet, it may be time. If people would be surprised by the proposal, it probably isn't the right time.

Do I have realistic expectations for a stepfamily? The relationships in a stepfamily are significantly different than in a nuclear family. If you are heading into a marriage that will create a stepfamily, you need to go in with eyes wide open. You and your significant other, and even the kids may want to participate in some family counseling or attend a stepfamily support group before becoming a stepfamily.

Is there a stepfamily you know who seems to have the process down and is happy? Visiting with them might be a good way to get your expectations clear and realistic.

If you are careful and thoughtful about the decision and if your children and ready and supportive, starting a second marriage can be a positive thing in your life. But moving cautiously and going into the experience with clear and realistic expectations can make the process even better for all concerned.