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John Johnston, The Enquirer, 2007

When she wants to demonstrate the pressures couples face in a second marriage, stepfamily expert Elizabeth Einstein gets out the ropes.

She asks a couple at one of her workshops to tie themselves together, signifying the bonds of remarriage.

Then she gets volunteers from the audience, representing children and ex-spouses from the first marriage, to tie themselves to the couple.

Einstein loads down the couple with luggage, each piece labeled with issues common in remarriage, such as anger, guilt, unrealistic expectations and fear of another divorce.

Then she blindfolds the couple, signifying denial.

Finally, with the couple being pulled every which way, Einstein instructs them to get close and be intimate.

Darn near impossible. And that's the point.

About 60 percent of second marriages fail, usuall! y withi n the first three to five years, Einstein, a family and marriage therapist, says in an interview from her Ithaca, N.Y., home.

Although a lack of data from the federal government makes it tricky to pinpoint divorce rates, it's generally agreed second marriages fail at a higher rate than first marriages.

"We take our same old self to the new marriage, too often unhealed and unaware," says Einstein, author of "Strengthening Your Stepfamily" (Impact Publishers, $17.95) and other materials. "We've got hurting kids that haven't healed. We've got former partners who may either support or sabotage the situation. And then there's a whole batch of challenges inherent with the stepfamily."

The good news is that second marriages not only can survive, but thrive. Consider Holly and Dave Mouch of White Oak. When they married in 1995, she'd been divorced 10 years and had three children. He had four and had been divorced about a year.!

"At the beginning, I didn't think it was going to be so much work," says Holly, 47, provider relations representative for the Visiting Nurse Association.

But Dave, 52, a family practice physician, had dealt with enough stepfamilies to know it was important to head off possible pitfalls. So before he and Holly married, even before their children had met - at the time they ranged from age 4 to 16 - he suggested the couple seek counseling.

Both agree it was a wise move. The counselor stressed that the children "still have their mom and dad," Holly says. "We weren't trying to replace either of them. (But) we'd always be there; we're a support system."

Dealing with stepchildren is the No. 1 challenge facing couples in second marriages, but it's hardly the only issue, Einstein says. Second marriages also fail, she says, because of:

  • Unresolved grief. If a person can't forgive an ex-spouse, that anger can impinge on the ne! w stepf amily in the form of badmouthing the ex in front of the children. A child's grief might focus on the loss of a parent. When that grief is unresolved, the child may have trouble accepting a stepparent.

  • Unrealistic expectations. People often expect an instant bond with the stepchildren. "That's a setup for failure, because you can't do it quickly. It's a process," Einstein says. "What you want to shoot for is respect and trust and civility."

  • Uninformed adults. Many people "don't have a clue what living in a stepfamily is like." It helps to read books, attend workshops or check out Web sites that deal with stepfamily issues.

  • Denial. People may deny feelings of anger, guilt, resentment and fear. Also, many people deny their children contact with their former spouse.

After her first marriage ended two years ago, Linda Ivy Rosser says it was important to make "a clean break" - that she be emotionally detached from her! first husband and healed - before she remarried.

"My goal was not to get emotionally involved in the remnants of divorce," says the 38-year-old mother of one. She married Glenn Rosser, 42, in December and moved into his Mason home, comfortable that he, too, was not carrying emotional baggage.

Glenn has 17- and 19-year-old sons from his first marriage, which ended after 13 years. Linda has a 5-year-old daughter. As stepparents, they are coming to terms with new roles.

"When we first got together," Glenn says, "Vaughn (the 17-year-old) would say (to Linda). 'This is how we do things. You'll get used to it.'

"(But) in a new relationship, it's not how you used to do things, it's how we're going to do things together. This is our beginning."

Linda says it's about building "a family culture." And that includes meshing different parenting styles.

When Glenn has disagreed with her approach, "he wouldn't jump right in andcorrec t," Linda says. "He waited for the right moment where he felt I would be receptive."

Discipline is an issue that often pulls a couple apart, Einstein says.

"Stepparents have to earn the right to discipline," she says. "They must avoid taking it on too early. There are no bonds between them and their stepchildren, no trust yet. I recommend stepparents work on nurturing first, which keeps them out of the role of the heavy."

It takes time for bonds to form.

Stefanie and Guy Adams of Kennedy Heights married last April. Each has one child from a previous marriage. His son is 3; her daughter is 4.

When the couple was dating and their relationship grew serious, Stefanie's daughter, Gretchen, became withdrawn from Guy.

"I decided to sit back and count on her coming around when she's ready," Guy, 42, says. "To push would only delay the process."

Gretchen once said to Guy: You're not my daddy.

He agreed and t! old her she has a great dad. Then Guy said he loves her, too, and that she must follow his rules.

"It was like a light switch went on: OK, we all got the same definition," Stefanie, 37, says.

Says Einstein: "Young children adapt fairly well (to stepfamilies). Teenagers have the greatest trouble, and children who have been in a single-parent family for a very long time.

"If you marry and you've got teenagers, and there's never any really powerful bonds of love (with the stepparent), that's OK. The important thing is to make sure there's respect and trust there."

The Mouchs, with a much wider range of ages to deal with, over the years have concerned themselves with meting out discipline fairly, dealing with ex-spouses, and being equitable with finances.

"We've tried to make it so it's not 'her kids' and 'my kids,' " Dave Mouch says. "There are times there's friction because of that."

That's normal, Einstein says. Bu! t many second marriages end in three to five years because couples think they'll always be in crisis.

The National Stepfamily Resource Center says it often takes at least four years for the people in a stepfamily to get to know each other, create positive relationships and develop some family history.

When that happens, the rewards can be great.

Remarriage offers adults a second chance to succeed with a life partner. Children who have been through a divorce learn that marriage can work. Powerful bonds can be created within the stepfamily.

The Mouch children now range from age 18 to 29. Last July all but one went on a vacation with Holly and Dave. (Holly made a photo mask of the one who couldn't go, so he appears in many of their vacation pictures.)

"It was, so far, the highlight of my life, (being with) those kids on that vacation. It was just so fun," Holly Mouch says.

"You could tell they genuinely liked each other! and wa nted to be around each other. There were no 'steps' involved. No stepsister, stepbrother."