25.11. Remarriages of middle-aged or older widow(er)s: A follow-up study

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of psychology
Doctoral candidate: Kirsi Pankarinkangas, M.A.Psych.
Date and venue: Friday 25.11.2011 at 12 noon, Natura N100, Joensuu Campus
Language of the public examination: Finnish


This study explored motives of widows and widowers to remarry and reasons for
hesitation concerning a second marriage, remarital quality and its change during the first four to five years of remarriage. The respondents were widowed, middle-aged or older (50+) women and men who had remarried. In this study, the quality of marriage is defined as the experience of happiness in the marriage, satisfaction with different
aspects of the marriage, the activeness of the interaction between spouses (cohesion) and, on the other hand, the degree of (dis)agreement between spouses (consensus) and the amount of tension. The data were collected by questionnaire. The study is a follow-up study and covers the whole defined population. The first data collection was in 2004, and the response rate was 74 % (n = 308). Women answered more actively than men. The follow-up data were collected in 2007 by sending questionnaire to all those who had participated in 2004 and were still remarried (n = 272). 240 of them responded and the response rate was 88 %. Nonresponse did not exist in the focal variables.

The focal motives for both women and men remarrying were feelings of closeness to and confidence in the partner, love, enjoying each other’s company and a satisfying mental companionship. Attachment to the spouse and companionship were thus emphasized as the focal motives to remarry. The individual motives for men remarrying reflected the change of life accompanied their widowerhood more strongly than in the women’s answers. Men had thus thought that remarriage would ease the grief and loneliness and lighten housework and remarriage was considered to be a new beginning at the sum variable stage. In addition, traditional Christian sexual ethics, including the notion that sex should only be part of marriage, motivated men more strongly than women. Men had also hoped to have children with the new spouse or have the spouse’s children in the family. Three of four respondents also explained their reasons for opting to remarry instead of living together or dating. Life values were emphasized in the answers; moreover, the women’s answers particularly noted the security, stability and clarity the marriage would bring.

The respondents were not strongly hesitant concerning the decision to remarry. The reasons for hesitating included pondering the compatibility of habits, the attitudes of the children, the possibility of having to care for the spouse should (s)he become ill, and potentially complicated inheritance issues appeared among both the women and men. In addition, women had pondered the threat of being widowed again, the spouse’s use of alcohol and issues of complications involving inheritance more than men, and at the sum variable stage the trustworthiness of the spouse. Men had pondered the issues of married life more: this included housework and committing to a steady sexual relationship and, on the other hand, marrying again after the death of the first wife. Thus, men weighed the appropriateness of remarriage and another woman replacing the deceased wife. Issues of loyalty to the first spouse, however, were among the least troublesome matters for both women and men. Among women the length of living together was the factor most specifically connected to motives and reasons for their hesitation; among men the factor was how long they had been widowers.

The quality of the remarriages was good at the start of the marriage. About nine of ten considered his/her remarriage at least “quite happy” and the respondents were on average more than “quite satisfied” with all aspects of their remarriage. Interaction between spouses was quite active and there were only few tensions. The focal issues of disagreement both at the newlywed and later stages for both women and men were politics, habits and customs. When the issue was raised, an examination of the answers given to the open-ended questions indicated that the focal reason for quarrelling in both women’s and men’s remarriages was a dissimilarity between the spouses. However, remarriages were more harmonious than dissonant. Remarital quality at the newlywed stage for those who had divorced during the follow-up period was lower for almost every aspect than for those who were still remarried.

Even though the respondents considered their remarriage slightly less happy, less satisfying and observed more tensions, the overall quality was still high at follow-up stage. In women’s remarriages the greatest changes reflected decreasing interactional satisfaction, cooling of the emotional climate and increasing negative interaction. In the men’s experiences the normative stability of remarital quality was somewhat stronger than among the women, changes in the remarital quality were fewer and they did not emphasize changes in interaction as clearly as the women did. The focal changes in men’s remarriages reflected the lowering of sexual satisfaction, increasing negative interaction and an increase in the possibility of getting a divorce.

Important factors related to the remarital quality of both women and men, at the start as well as at the later stage of remarriage, were the nature of the decision to remarry and satisfaction with their financial situation. However, as motives for remarrying, financial factors were not significant. Financial satisfaction was more important in the remarital quality of men than women. Moreover, in men’s remarriages the duration of widowerhood and living together prior to getting remarried was related to remarital quality at the newlywed-stage and in the follow-up. A longer duration was related to lower quality in some of the indicators, especially the interactional indicators at the later stage of remarriage. In addition, it seemed that gender was a somewhat more strongly related to remarital quality at the later stage than at the newlywed stage.

The strongest motive to remarry, attachment to the spouse and companionship, was an important factor concerning remarital quality and stability. A stronger attachment to their spouse and companionship as a motive for remarrying was related to stability and predicted higher quality at the later stage of remarriage for both women and men. Considering the potential negative consequences, the trustworthiness of the partner and the restrictive nature of marriage as reasons for hesitating prior remarrying correlated negatively with remarital quality in the follow-up. Those who had divorced had considered the first two reasons for hesitation more than those who were still remarried. Even though the strongest reasons for hesitating were the same for both women and men, the reasons for hesitation which were related to remarital quality were partly different for them. Women considered the trustworthiness of the partner, whereas men pondered the restrictive nature of marriage in the follow-up. At the sum variable stage the most important reason for hesitation, contemplating the attitudes of the children, occupied a different position in the marriages of women and men. It was insignificant to the remarital quality of women, whereas for men’s remarriages, especially at the newlywed stage and specifically for the attitudes of the spouse’s children, it was related to remarital quality. However, in the follow-up, consideration of the attitudes of children was not highly significant for quality of men’s remarriages either.

Age was not related to attachment to the partner and companionship as a motive for remarrying, nor was it consistently related to remarital quality. Thus, marrying for love and companionship is not restricted only to young couples, nor is advanced age an obstacle to enjoying a new marriage. Answers to an open-ended question indicated that the keys to a successful remarriage were seen to be the experience gained from ageing and from the first marriage, and emphasis was placed on avoiding the “mistakes” made in the previous marriage. One should value the new life-companion and enjoy closeness and companionship with her or him and appreciate the chance to grow old together securely, supporting one another. The couple should deal with their financial and inheritance issues, in writing, when necessary. It is important to consider and accept issues concerning their past life and marriage. The most important of the new family relations was the relationship between the new spouse and the children from the previous marriage. The approval of the children is a significant factor. Widowed and remarried persons need not forget their deceased spouse, but it is important to value the new spouse for who (s)he is.

The public examination of M.A.Psych. Kirsi Pankarinkangas, doctoral dissertation entitled "Remarriages of middle-aged or older widow(er)s: A follow-up study” will take place in the Philosophical Faculty at the University of Eastern Finland. The field of the dissertation is Psychology.

Professor Helena Hurme (Åbo Akademi) will act as the opponent and Professor Emeritus Hannu Perho (University of Eastern Finland) will act as the custos in the public examination.

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Publishing year: 2011

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