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Thursday November 2, 2006

Couples who remarry their exes say it's a sweet second chance

MINNEAPOLIS - Ethel and Larry Lockman of Anoka, Minn., would be celebrating 57 years of marriage, if it weren't for that sticky 17-year blip in the middle.

That blip called a divorce.

Rebecca and Jeffrey Rydbom of Annandale, Minn., were wed Oct. 18. That's Oct. 18, 1980. And Oct. 18, 1990.

Jacque Austin of Burnsville, Minn., hated her first husband. Her second husband is her best friend. Same guy.

Here's a love story that may require some readers to take deep cleansing breaths. These couples, and many more, left lousy, lonely first marriages and found marital bliss the second time around.

With their exes.

Marrying a former spouse isn't terribly unusual. Celebs do it all the time: Liz Taylor, Melanie Griffith, Larry King and Robert De Niro, among them. Juicier, though, is when the pair down the street does it.

What drives couples to wed one another not once, but twice? Amnesia? Insanity? Those who have done it say it is something else: A precious second chance.

Statistics on remarriage to an ex are not routinely recorded. What is known is that, of the nearly 50 percent of first marriages in the United States that end in divorce, 75 percent of those divorced people remarry somebody. Most still won't get it right. Nationwide, more than 60 percent of second marriages break up.

Why? Therapists say many didn't take a look at themselves, convinced that a different spouse was all they needed. Others succumbed to the tremendous stress of trying to blend families. They may have married on the rebound, or in revenge. "They're hungry," said Pat Love, a marital therapist based in Austin, Texas, and author of "The Truth About Love." "And when you're hungry, you'll eat anything."

When it's obvious that it's a bad match - again! - they may be less willing to stick around.

That's where exes might have the edge. They share the same kids; they know each other's annoying habits. And, said Love, trying to find a "better" mate can be humbling.

"If you've been alone for the holidays, or if you intimately know certain people on match.com, you begin to realize there's something to be said for sitting on the couch holding hands and eating popcorn," Love said.

It should be noted that re-couplers plagued by abuse, alcoholism or other destructive behaviors are not what we're talking about here. Rather, these are generally healthy people who may have married too young or had issues to work out, but who never stopped loving each other. So they did what they needed to do: They grew up.

Will you marry me again?

That's what Ethel Lockman did. In 1971, after 23 years of marriage, Ethel decided to stay behind when her husband, Larry, was transferred to the Twin Cities. But the parents of three children never lost touch as they shared holidays and friends.

In her early 60s, Ethel got laid off from her job. Who was going to hire her? She felt blue, lonely. "I just wanted to be part of the family again." So she called Larry who, like her, had never found anyone else. She asked: "Want to get married?"

"To who?" Larry asked. "I'll have to think about it," he added. He thought about it. Would she move?

Yep.

After a 17-year split, they remarried in 1987, merging their belongings into a small, craft-filled home. Today, they live a quiet, happy life surrounded by grown children and nine grandchildren. "I moved," Ethel, now 76, says proudly. "I matured, grew up."

"Yep," said Larry, 77.

Adds their daughter, Priscilla Douglas, 56, "He never found anyone like my mother."

Wayne and Nancy Nicoloff needed to grow up, too. They started dating in junior high and married in 1974, when both were 19. Nancy was 2 months pregnant. He worked three jobs. She worked at Sears until forced to quit six months into her pregnancy. He was controlling and jealous. She was hot-tempered. Both had affairs. When their son, Matthew, was 8, Nancy told Wayne, "I'm going to leave you. I can't stand it." And she did. Wayne put all their furniture in the garage and was about to pour car oil on it when a friend talked him out of it. Nancy and the furniture, the friend said, will be back.

The friend was right. Eventually, the anger cooled. The warmth between them resurfaced. She'd drop off Matthew every other weekend, and would start crying. "Well," he'd say. "Why don't you just stay the night?"

Years of counseling at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis taught them to let go of anger and to forgive. Nancy learned how to free herself of a dysfunctional childhood, and move past her bitterness toward "the love we didn't have in the first marriage."

They remarried in 1991, with Matthew, then 16, as their best man and Nancy's mother as matron of honor.

Today, they travel, live in a home they built together in South Haven, Minn., and commute 140 miles round trip to work. "We're older and smarter. We trust each other completely," a clearly content Nancy said a few weeks ago. "The divorce was bad, but so much good came of it."

Adds Matthew, now 30, who married his girlfriend, Katie, 23, two years ago: "It was obvious they were meant to stay together," he said of his parents. "You just need to love each other for who you are, not what you want the other person to be."

That lesson came late to Dick and Bobbie Griffith. Much like the Nicoloffs, they married in their early 20s after their daughter was born in 1968. Dick never wanted kids. Soon, Bobbie was pregnant again. They moved into a mobile home on his folks' land, had no money, no friends, no future. They divorced after six years and Bonnie remarried six months later. "It was the life I always wanted," she said. "A nice home in the suburbs. The kids grew up not wanting for anything." Dick dated a woman for 22 years but didn't remarry. As their kids grew up, the Griffiths kept in touch and became friends.

"If I had a problem, he listened to me bawl," Bobbie said. In 1997, after 21 years of marriage, her second husband left her for a younger woman. "I didn't want men at all at that point," she said. "I had a good job, the kids were grown."

When Dick's girlfriend died in 2000, Bobbie reached out with a phone call: "If you ever want to talk. " He called. They had lunch. "He didn't know I was divorced," she said.

They remarried a year ago January. "We never stopped caring for each other. I tried the dating scene and there are a lot of strange people out there," Dick said with a laugh. "It was great to see her again."

Only fools rush in?

Not everyone is running toward the altar. Melanie Gustafson, 32, and David Sutherland, 36, of Crystal Bay, Minn., married in 2000 on a glacier in Alaska, and divorced four years later. "I wasn't listening very well," Gustafson said. "He tried to tell me that we needed to do more things. He was very unhappy, but he didn't know how to communicate that to me." Feeling he had no other options, David filed for divorce last March. Afterwards, Gustafson felt deep sadness. "I just missed him."

They started talking and went for counseling. She moved back in with David in September. "It feels more real now," she said. Still, she doesn't think they're ready to walk down the aisle. "I want to. We're just not in any rush."

Therapist Love believes such caution is a good thing. Remarriage to an ex can work, she said, but not "if the person just wants to get the dog and truck back."

Neil Clark Warren, a psychologist and founder of eharmony.com, a Web match-making service, also believes in second chances with first spouses. But Warren's rule is, "it won't be different unless it's different." He advises extra caution when children are involved, because they are especially vulnerable. Said Warren: "Ask yourself, `What really makes me think it will be significantly different this time around?' Have things really changed?"

Well, sure. Just ask Ethel: "Who says the second time around isn't the best?" she said, glancing lovingly at her husband, Larry. "We've proved it!"

- Copyright (C) 2006 MCT Information Services

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Want to try again with your ex?

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