Learning from the past, altering the future: The effects of past relationships on couples who remarry
Brimhall, Andrew S.
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Over 20 years ago Furstenberg (1979) called for more research on the relationship between former spouses. Despite that call, not many empirical studies have examined this relationship, particularly among those who are remarried (Buunk & Mutsaers, 1999). The small body of literature that has studied remarriage is primarily based on large national databases that take a distant, external, stance to the data. Little, if any, research exists that takes a process-oriented approach to understanding the difficulties faced by individuals who remarry. Yet, 4 out of 10 people entering marriage today are entering a marriage where one or both spouses have been previously married (Ihinger-Tallman & Pasley, 1997). Currently, the applied literature lacks the necessary information to establish a theory regarding remarriage and how previous marriages affect current relationships. Many of the explanations that exist are speculative and lack theoretical grounding. This study used grounded theory methodology in an attempt to understand a complex social phenomenon that is affecting many lives. The sample consisted of 8 couples who indicated that they left a relationship that was dissatisfying and were currently in a satisfying relationship. Each participant was in their second marriage, remarried as a result of divorce, married less than 5 years, and not severely distressed. Participants were interviewed individually and then together with their spouse and were asked to describe how their first marriages were currently affecting their second marriages. Trust, and how it was affected over the course of the relationship, was the central category that emerged. From this central category three categories were developed: lack of trust in the previous relationship, attempts to increase trust in the development of the current relationship, and presence of trust in the current relationship. The experiences of three participants were highlighted to show the relationships between categories and how the trust in relationships varied among these categories. Through the use of participant feedback, internal and external auditors, and existing literature the findings were validated. From these results provisional hypotheses were developed and implications for clinicians working with couples who remarry were discussed.