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Exes who remarry each other feel lucky for a second chance at love

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

For Pepper and Ron Miller, divorce was the best thing to happen to their marriage.

The pair wed in 1988, split in 1996 and then tied the knot again in 2001. They say being married the second time around has been healthier and more stable thanks to the time they spent apart.

In those five years, the Millers attended therapy and reflected individually on what they learned. Pepper practiced putting her needs first in relationships, something she says she failed to do while married the first time, and which led to resentment on her part.

"I wasn't as secure as I thought I should be," says Pepper, founder of The Hunter Miller Group, a consumer research and marketing firm in Chicago. "I made the marriage more about Ron. I didn't stand up for myself enough. If you don't know your own value then the other person doesn't."

Ron, a real estate broker, says he came to understand that Pepper, who was an only child, treats her girlfriends as sisters and spends a lot of time socializing. While those close relationships initially irked him, Ron, who grew up in a large family, came to accept them and appreciate how important they were to Pepper.

So the pair, who continued to attend the same church after their divorce, gradually began seeing each other again -- first over casual lunches and later romantically. They formed a friendship they say was lacking the first time around. They realized they shared values and goals.

And in August 2001, while on a cruise with her father, Pepper found a note from Ron in her suitcase. In it, he asked her to marry him. She e-mailed back a yes.

It's not just celebrity couples who get hitched again after a well-publicized break, though there have been plenty of those. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton did it in 1975, but split a year later. Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner made a second go of it in 1972 and stayed together until her death nine years later. Rapper Eminem and his wife, Kimberly, married in 1999 and again in 2006, the latter marriage lasting a little over three months.

There are no statistics on how many people remarry their exes, or how many of those remarriages succeed. But nearly half of first marriages in the United States end in divorce, and more than 60 percent of second marriages do.

So what compels couples to try again?

Some, therapists say, wed young and regret never having played the field. Once they return to the dating world, they realize that what they had wasn't so bad.

Others split after falling out of love. Convinced they just needed a different spouse, they find they miss the one they were with.

And then there are those who divorce after the ups and downs of marriage become too much to bear. With time and therapy, however, they realize the importance of communication and forgiveness, and rekindle their love.

"Some people get divorced too quickly," says William J. Doherty, director of the marriage and family therapy program at the University of Minnesota and author of "Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart" (Guilford Press, 2001).

"Some people get divorced because they fall in love with somebody else and that other relationship breaks up. Some people get divorced when they are not smart enough to know that they were going through a rough patch."

A couple that breaks up over something relatively clearcut, such as drug or alcohol addiction or an extramarital affair, might seem to have a slim shot of success the second time around, but some experts beg to differ. They say that if the guilty party curbs the habit or wins forgiveness, a second try at marriage could succeed.

"If it is something external like that, I think it is easier for the partners to tie their breakup to that event than if it is something less tangible like, 'Well, I woke up today and decided I don't really like you,"' says James Morris, assistant professor of Marriage and Family Therapy at Texas Tech University.

And there is a second group of people affected by remarriers: their kids, who can suffer more disappointment.

"Many children of divorce carry with them hidden secret fantasies that mom and dad will get back together," says Craig Everett, director of the Arizona Institute for Family Therapy and the editor of the "Journal of Divorce and Remarriage." "But when mom and dad actually get back together, it can rekindle a lot of the pain and anger they experienced when mom and dad were fighting before they got divorced."

So what do therapists advise for couples willing to get hitched again?

Therapy helped the Millers. For instance, Pepper had refused to "fix Ron's plate," a custom among some blacks in which a wife serves her husband his meal as a sign of affection. Pepper found it too subservient. In therapy, she learned that Ron had grown up having his meal delivered by his mother and sisters, and to him it was a demonstration of love.

So one day after they got back together, Pepper brought a plate to him as he watched TV. She then went back into the kitchen to load the dishwasher, only to be interrupted by a bear hug from Ron.

"That's learning to love someone the way they need to be loved," she says. "That's something I didn't see the first time."

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

(Copyright ©2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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