Divorce is one of life’s most painful experiences – and, having gone through it once, I’m pretty sure that if my second marriage failed, I’d never trouble Britain’s florists again.
But there are plenty of women whose bruised hearts are ever-ready for another round. These ‘marriage addicts’ are convinced that it’s third, fourth, even fifth time lucky – and are willing to throw themselves back into wedlock, regardless of their past experience.
I do… again: Second marriages are more than twice as likely to fail as first ones.
Leading the ‘Maddicts’ are celebrities, whose relationships apparently speed by in dog years. While most multiple brides are in their 50s and 60s, perhaps with widowhood or grown-up children behind them, plenty of A-listers have bagged a third husband by their 30s.
Twice-divorced Madonna is allegedly considering a marriage proposal from toyboy Brahim Zaibat, while, at 42, Jennifer Lopez is a veteran of one failed engagement (to actor Ben Affleck) and three failed marriages (to dancers Ojani Noa and Chris Judd, and singer Marc Anthony). And that hasn’t stopped rumours she’s ready to retrace her steps down the aisle with her latest partner, dancer Casper Smart.
Let’s not forget singer Britney Spears — twice divorced by 30, and engaged again to Hollywood agent, Jason Trawick. Or Kim Cattrall, who has three marriages behind her and is dating again. Meanwhile, Sinead O’Connor has recently tied the knot for a fourth time.
Multiple marriages may be par for the course in the high-octane celebrity world, but what compels ordinary women to tie the knot over and over again? Often, it is the hopeless romantic in these serial brides that leads them to believe that when they remarry, it really is ‘for real’ or, this time round, their partner really is ‘the One’.
This could be said of Scottish bride Alison Smith, who recently hit the headlines after divorcing four times by the age of 24. Alison, who is now planning wedding number five, said during her fourth attempt, back in 2008: ‘I’m not proud of the fact I’m 24 and have been married so many times. I’ve been unlucky, but now I’m sure I’ve finally found my prince — this time I believe we’ll live happily ever after.’
Sadly, it didn’t work out — but that hasn’t stopped the serial bride. A friend has said: ‘Alison just seems to fall head over heels in love with these men and marry them as soon as possible. She has a good heart.’
So are these ‘repeat brides’ genuinely hoping that, next time, they’ll get it right — or are they simply addicted to attention? ‘Often it’s because they like the security and the feeling that they belong to someone,’ says Mairead Molloy, a psychologist who specialises in relationship issues. She has also used her expertise to found an exclusive dating agency and says that around 25 per cent of her clients have divorced two or more times.
‘Some women see marriage as a status symbol — it’s almost as if, to be accepted in certain social circles, they need to be a wife.’
And the wedding itself can also be a big part of the appeal. After all, it’s infinitely preferable to be the centre of attention again, and be showered with presents and congratulations, than to commit to the dull grind of therapy to work out your own role in past break-ups.
‘I set my partners up to be perfect, then couldn’t cope when they let me down’
But attention and excitement soon fades, admits Sandra Greene, 55, from Kent. ‘I married John when I was 19 — we were teenage sweethearts and, back then, it was normal to wed young,’ she explains. ‘But we grew apart in our 20s and divorced. I then met William at work and we married quietly, in a registry office, when I was 31,’ she says. ‘He didn’t want a fuss. We had two children but, five years later, he left me for someone else. I was devastated. So, when I met Ian through friends, I was grateful for his kindness.
‘Looking back, I was never truly in love with him, but he was so decent. The children loved him and I hoped the attraction would grow after we married.‘Ian kept saying we’d do it “properly”, so we had a big wedding.’Looking back, Sandra admits, this may have been part of the appeal. ‘I suppose I felt I deserved something special, after all the problems — I loved the idea of a big party and a special dress.
‘This time around, I wanted to pull out all the stops — we had 200 guests for a sit-down dinner and we spent a fortune. I got so carried away organising it all, I barely thought about the future.’
But Sandra soon found her third marriage unravelling. ‘We realised we were very different,’ she says. ‘I’d only known him for nine months before we got engaged, and it quickly became clear that he wanted to sink into middle age, while I still felt young and vibrant. In the end, we agreed to an amicable split.’
But while Sandra’s philosophical approach suggests she’s emerged unscathed, there has been an emotional toll — she admits that her children hope she doesn’t marry again and that some friends have been less than supportive.‘My daughter Tasha, who is 22, recently told me that she wished I’d stayed with Ian,’ she says. ‘She understood why we split, but I think she hoped I’d finally settled down. ‘Often we take the mistakes of the last marriage into the next one, without really understanding why previous relationships have broken down’
‘It has affected certain friendships, too. A few of my friends didn’t come to the third wedding, which was hurtful, and a good friend told me she didn’t think we should have a big do “under the circumstances”.’
Given the re-marriage statistics, sadly it seems that the odds were always against Sandra succeeding at her third marriage. A typical first union lasts for 11 years and the average age for a first divorce is between 37 and 42, according to public records. But second marriages are nearly twice as likely to fail as first ones, third marriages around three times more likely to end in divorce and, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the fourth time around, it’s romantic Russian roulette.
One reason third and fourth marriages fail is that couples simply repeat the mistakes of the past.An ongoing attraction to ‘bad boys’ or a tendency to choose partners who seem familiar (J-Lo is clearly attracted to dancers) is common.
Plus, as therapists often suggest that the best predictor of future performance is past performance, third time isn’t always going to be lucky.
‘Often we take the mistakes of the last marriage into the next one, without really understanding why previous relationships have broken down,’ says Mairead Molloy.
Yet, despite the pitfalls, rather than taking time to pause and reflect on what went wrong, a huge number of divorcees have remarried within a couple of years. Molloy suggests a grace period of at least 18 months before tying the knot again because the giddy, ‘honeymoon period’ hormones can last for up to two years, and it’s only when they wear off that the long-term relationship either begins to develop fully, or unravel.
Catherine Bunting, 48, from Norwich, acknowledges that her own ‘Maddict’ past was a direct result of her doomed search for the perfect man. ‘I’ve been married three times and engaged twice more,’ she confesses.
‘But every relationship has failed because I set my partners up to be perfect, then couldn’t cope with reality when they let me down.’
In 1970, 22 per cent of marriages ended in divorce — by 2008 that figure was 45 per cent.‘Each time, I had the same expectations, yet I never learned from my mistakes.’Catherine believes her behaviour was related to her father. ‘He was a businessman, whom I adored, and he wasn’t around much in my childhood.
‘When he was at home, he treated me like a princess, so I went on to expect that in all my relationships with men. He died when I was 25 and after that, nobody matched up.’
Catherine is now single and says: ‘For the first time in my life, I’m happy just being on my own. I think my marrying days are done.’
But it’s not just replicating the same problems that leads to breakdowns.Sometimes new marriages fail simply because the couple tends to be older, and less adaptable. ‘As we age, we get more set in our ways,’ explains Molloy. ‘We’re often less willing to compromise.’ Add to this the issue of adult children, who may resent being expected to welcome a third or fourth spouse, and the financial pressures on a third or fourth marriage.
‘I live in a two-bedroom flat now,’ says Catherine. ‘In my second marriage we had a stunning, five-bedroom Victorian house, but we had to sell it to split the proceeds.’
So why, despite the financial and emotional dangers, do so many couples take the risk again? Perhaps the prevalence of divorce means we take marriage less seriously than previous generations — and believe that any mistake can be fixed, rather than be something we have to live with.‘We see celebrity divorces every day,’ says Molloy. ‘They seem to bounce back within weeks and it becomes normal.
‘Also, women have more financial choice now – if they’re not happy, they no longer have to stay for the sake of the children.’
She adds: ‘ “Why bother?” may be the obvious question – but while 60 per cent of third marriages fail, there are ways to increase the chances of the third, fourth or fifth time around succeeding.
‘Be careful not to move in together too quickly – especially if there are children involved. Make sure you truly understand what you’re both looking for in this relationship, and aim for financial independence.’
You could also add ‘look before you leap’. It may be true that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince – but you really don’t have to marry them all.