25 Oct 2023

Second Time Round

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics (2020) indicate that 36.8% of opposite-sex couples and 30.1% of same-sex couples are not marrying for the first time. It is likely that many couples who are planning their weddings are wondering how they should handle the fact that at least one of them is remarrying, and pondering what impact this should have on their arrangements.

The scale and tone of second (and subsequent) marriages depends very much on individual circumstances. The key is to be sensitive and considerate to everyone involved and to use effective communication to manage their expectations and avoid upsetting situations.

Styling the Wedding

If both of you have been married previously, then it is usual to dispense with much of the pomp and circumstance of a traditional wedding and opt for a smaller, low-key affair with close friends and family. This may be a simple register office ceremony, followed by a meal or a drinks reception. Some churches allow a ceremony for a second marriage; if this is not possible, a service of blessing may be held for those who wish to include a religious aspect.

If, however, one of the parties, in particular the bride, is marrying for the first time, then it is likely that the wedding will take more of a traditional route. It may be advisable, especially if children from the first marriage are involved, to openly acknowledge that this is a second marriage.

Traditional wedding invitations would name a divorced bride by her married name (“Mrs Charlotte Debrett”), whereas it is increasingly common for divorced women to revert to their maiden name (“Miss/Ms Charlotte Berkeley”).

Many remarrying couples will choose to host their own wedding and the invitation should be prepared in their own names: “Charlotte Berkeley and Timothy Curzon request the pleasure etc”

Whatever style of wedding seems most appropriate, bear in mind that there are no strictures or conventions that forbid the couple from following traditions that are associated with first marriages. It is quite acceptable for a re-marrying bride to wear white if that is her preference, or she may take a second marriage as an opportunity to defy convention with a bold new colour choice and she is entirely within her rights to do so.

As a rule, it is wise to accept that a second marriage is the signal of a fresh start and to reflect this symbolically in the way in which the wedding is styled. Rather than slavishly re-enacting aspects of a first marriage ceremony (season, venue, style of dress, choice of wedding party, reception rituals), going down a very different route and designing a novel and contrasting ceremony will go a long way towards drawing a line under the first marriage. A winter register office with the bride in crimson velvet followed by a sit-down lunch at a smart London hotel will feel a million miles away from a summer county church wedding with the bride dressed in white lace, followed by a large marquee reception in her parents’ garden.

Widows and Widowers

If the bride or bridegroom has been widowed, then sensitivity should be shown to the family of the deceased, and their status should openly be acknowledged. This means, if possible, inviting them to join immediate family (at the church, register office, or reception venue), and referencing them in speeches.

If the groom has been widowed, he should naturally refer to the loss of his first wife and his gratitude to her family for attending; if the bride has been widowed, then it might be more appropriate for her father to acknowledge her first husband in his speech. It is increasingly common for after-wedding speeches not to follow the conventional father of the bride-bridegroom-best man pattern, in which case mention of the deceased spouse can be accommodated by one of the other speakers, or by the bride herself. The important thing is not to make the family of the deceased feel excluded or bypassed; remember, it may take a super-human effort for them to attend these celebratory nuptials in the circumstances and they should be applauded for doing so.

Wedding Gifts

Given that remarrying couples are probably older and already have set up at least one home, the conventions about gift-giving should be reviewed. Setting up an ambitious gift list for a second marriage, when you have already done so for your first marriage, might look acquisitive and insensitive. You might consider adding a “No wedding presents” plea to your invitation, or perhaps suggest that guests contribute to your chosen charity.

Asking for money can often be awkward, but it is becoming more accepted. It is important for the bride and bridegroom to communicate clearly that the money is going towards something specific, such as a honeymoon.

Remarriage Etiquette

You can put a great deal of thought into planning a second marriage, but the whole day can turn sour if you don’t behave well. Follow these simple rules:

• Don’t allow yourself to become jaded. While the trappings of the wedding may bring back unhappy memories, your new partner may be marrying for the first time and will be enthusiastic to embark on a new adventure.

• Participate fully and do not allow the failure of your first marriage to poison the second wedding day.

• If you already have a divorce behind you and your partner is marrying for the first time, be prepared to find an air of awkwardness and nervousness permeating relations with your new in-laws. This is quite understandable – you do not have a good track record. Devote all your energies to reassuring them of your commitment to the new marriage.

• Don’t sweep your first marriage under the carpet as it may cause confusion for your children and extended family.

• It is quite appropriate to make a brief reference to a previous marriage in the speeches – keep any allusions wry, affectionate and light-hearted.

•Behave as if you are embracing your past, not obliterating it.

Attending your Ex-Partner's Wedding

Traditionally ex-partners weren’t invited to remarriages, but social customs have become more fluid, and you may find yourself on the guest list. If the whole notion of the remarriage makes you feel ill, politely refuse the invitation (no explanation needed).

If you do attend your ex-partner’s wedding it is imperative that you act impeccably. Don’t attempt to upstage the bride or groom. Don’t drink too much and turn maudlin or aggressive. You might be wise to tip off friends to look out for you and make it their job to escort you home as soon as they see your social façade begin to wobble.

The bride or groom may want children from previous marriages to play an important role on the big day, eg act as pages or bridesmaids. Accept that this is their right and do everything you can to facilitate your children’s participation. Never threaten your ex-partner with non-cooperation.


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