Cooking Up a Great Marriage Outside of the Kitchen

Friday, October 29, 2010

Last time you tried a new recipe, you may have felt intimidated about following it correctly: measuring new ingredients and adding them in the right order. Imagine cooking up a great remarriage with unfamiliar things. Here’s how three couples achieved recipe success, and how you can too.

by Renée Canali

What do a master chef and a successful remarriage have in common? They both use proven recipes as a basis for their feasts. A master chef begins with the knowledge of the ingredients he or she wants to combine that will compliment each other and bring out the best flavors for the feast. A successful remarriage also takes preparation and proven recipes.

Each feast begins with appetizers, and relationships are no different. When meeting someone new and developing an interest, we offer that person little “tastes” of who we are. As the relationship intensifies, we continue to entice each other to stay for the next course. When both partners remain interested, they begin to plan their recipe for remarriage.

All recipes begin with basic ingredients. Chefs bring their own creativity to the kitchen as they masterfully add their signature flavors and spices to the feast. In a remarriage, we tend to begin with spices we have always used, leaving the basics for later. Our palates guide us to begin cooking with what’s familiar—and not necessarily what’s desired.

For your own recipe for a successful remarriage, watch the following three teams in action as they demonstrate how to use three basic ingredients:

  1. Love
  2. Understanding
  3. Common values.

Team 1: Love

Our first team of chefs, Angelo and Gloria, start the recipe with love, adding it in heaps and mounds with wide open eyes.

Angelo and Gloria met 2 years ago and are now ready to start a new life together. Angelo has one child from a previous marriage. Gloria has a large extended family that spends most holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries together. Mixing these two spices can be exciting and challenging. Angelo and Gloria concentrate on what it is that brought them together: love. They both want time to enjoy life and share new experiences with each other and with 4-year-old Juan, Angelo’s son.

“It’s important to me to include Juan in my family’s celebrations”, Gloria says. “However, I never want him too feel overwhelmed. My family can be intense sometimes.”

Angelo explains, “I want Juan to feel comfortable with your family as much as I want him to feel he is a part of the family we are creating. I admit, I think your family may be more eager to prove who is better and forget Juan’s welfare.”

Their tool of choice for this recipe is wide open eyes. Before adding anything to the mix, they try wide open eyes to determine if using that tool will improve or detract from their feast. Both Angelo and Gloria are aware that it would be easy to make assumptions about what the other may want. They take time to voice concerns as they talk about how they see this feast coming together. They want to begin each conversation with the first ingredient: love. By keeping love as the focus of what they want to create, they begin preparing their recipe with wide open eyes.

The Challenge: Gloria’s family’s intense involvement.

Frequently during the week, several of Gloria’s aunts and other family members drop in—unannounced—for a visit. Angelo and Gloria brainstorm how to include Gloria’s family in their lives and help Juan get used to having more people around to love and support him. With wide open eyes, they look ahead. Angelo suggests increasing the recipe to include family dinners once every 2 months.

Gloria, who looks forward to adding Juan to her life, suggests this idea: She will request that her family members call before they add themselves to the mix. “My family has to understand that we need time to bond ourselves,” she says.

She and Angelo are creating a special menu with the love they have for each other to, in turn, allow Juan to feel safe and loved. The couple together will tackle the task of writing a recipe for Gloria’s family members to follow and will determine which events and celebrations to include the family recipe. They are working on a formula—a plan—for each of them to spend quality time with Juan. Angelo and Juan will keep some of their established routines; and Gloria’s menu includes a special time each day for just the two of them to play together. Juan’s job is to choose an activity he loves and wants to add to the mix.

The Result for Team 1

Juan’s birthday is an opportunity for both families to celebrate with him. Knowing that one relative overindulges at gatherings and becomes very loud, Gloria and Angelo anticipate this issue and agree to not serve alcohol at this birthday party. Also, Angelo is concerned that Juan is becoming too used to extravagance: “Gloria: What can we do to keep well-meaning family members from going overboard with gifts? I know everyone is excited about welcoming Juan, but I don’t want it to get out of hand.”

“Let’s put a little note on the invitation, such as ‘Due to limited space as we combine our families, smaller gifts are appreciated,’ “ Gloria suggests. “Or, we could remind them that the holidays are close at hand and they could split their generosity between the two events.”

The new couple clearly communicates their wishes regarding gifts. They decided to ask the family to concentrate on spending time with Juan and focus on celebrating his birthday. Remembering to start from the love that brought them together and agreeing to add ingredients with wide open eyes, Angelo and Gloria are creating a winning recipe.

Just as Angelo and Gloria create the recipe for their future with their eyes wide open, imagine your new family creating a recipe for the future. Together, decide which ingredients from the past add to the experience. Separate fears and assumptions from the truth. You can savor the flavor better with a full bite of information instead of settling for a nibble of suspicion and innuendo.

Every chef encounters problems; overcoming challenges adds flavor and richness to the recipe. Remember to keep your eyes opened wide as you carefully decide what common goals will guide you as the love you have binds your recipe together.

Team 2: Understanding

Our second team of chefs, Portia and Michael, add understanding to their recipe, demonstrating how the use of two ears and one mouth help them to overcome a common culinary mistake: too much assumption combined with unrealistic expectations, and all smothered in distrust.

Recently married, Portia and Michael set their sights on a honeymoon cruise. Planning for the trip, though, hasn’t been easy, because both come from past relationships in which trust was an issue—there wasn’t any. Portia’s last mate constantly questioned her about how she spent her time and with whom. He read her text messages and screened her e-mails. In Michael’s previous relationship, his wife had made all of the financial decisions. When he suggested vacation destinations, she simply told him, “That’s not where we’re going.” Michael also wanted to keep up with repairs around the house. His wife told him she didn’t trust him to know what he was doing and would hire someone for the task instead.

Each has experienced what distrust does to a recipe. Their remarriage recipe begins with understanding mixed with two ears and one mouth to improve trust in their relationship.

The Challenge: Overcoming trust issues of the past.

These chefs are creating a honeymoon together and agree to accumulate the necessary funds before leaving on their cruise. They decide to reschedule the trip if they do not have the money in hand before the last day to cancel. With a plan in place, they also agree to discuss any concerns along the way. This task will take several months to complete—and many more to master.

Portia begins working overtime to make extra money; Michael worries that Portia is staying late for other reasons. Distrust could quickly sour this recipe. However, this couple understands that making changes together creates a stronger union, but trying to change one another will spoil the recipe.

These remarriage chefs begin their preparation using two ears and one mouth in combination with understanding. They start on common ground by talking about what they are working toward, and why.

“Portia,” Michael begins, “I know you are working overtime to contribute to our honeymoon fund. But I have to tell you: I’m not comfortable about the number of hours you’re working. Companies aren’t giving that much overtime these days. Why are you gone so long?”

Portia listens carefully to what Michael says and what he doesn’t say. “Michael, I know trust is an issue for both of us. Are you worried I may be elsewhere instead of at work?”

Listening to each other’s perspective using the two ears and one mouth tool, they are able to keep the conversation civil and focused on their goal: to pay for their dream honeymoon upfront. Each time one of these chefs speaks, the other  listens intently to what is being said and may question what might be held in reserve. Michael explains how he is feeling. Portia listens without interrupting. When he’s finished, Michael listens to Portia and asks for clarification on any point he doesn’t understand. Each attempts to focus on what the other is saying, rather than concentrating on what to say next.

The Result for Team 2

Portia understands Michael may feel insecure about her overtime. She is sensitive to Michael’s feelings of being negated in his prior relationships. She asks, “What would make you feel better about the extra time I am working?”

Michael hesitates, then asks, “What other ideas can we come up with to bring in extra money that the two of us can work together on?”

The couple discusses some of their options. Michael concedes that, for right now, Portia has the best opportunity to bring in more money. He conveys his trust in Portia by supporting her efforts to make extra money. “Portia, the money you can make is great and may only last a few weeks. We should take advantage of that opportunity as long as you are willing.”

Portia, in turn, asks Michael to decide what they might try next. Their recipe, which calls for using two ears and one mouth to incorporate understanding and trust, increases the palatability of the differences chefs may bring to the kitchen of life.

Two people who are working together toward a common goal can overcome culinary mistakes. When a conflict in “cooking” styles pops up, try mixing in two ears and one mouth. Create your recipe with understanding and trust in ginormous proportions.

Understanding is enhanced by listening—by placing full attention on the message being received. Listening does not involve the simultaneous exchange of words. If you already know what you are going to say, you have not fully heard your partner. Pause and ask questions that allow you to more fully understand your partner’s view.

Team 3: Common Values

Nicole and Daniel, our third team of chefs, are skilled at blending differences. To achieve consistent results, they use strong arms to embrace their common values.

Nicole and Daniel come from different family backgrounds. Although these two chefs were trained to cook differently, they share an affinity for five valuable ingredients: family unity, acceptance, honesty, growth, and support. They both have strong arms with which to embrace the changes they are seeking to bring to their pantry.

Both have been married previously. Daniel and his ex-wife have gone their separate ways and no longer communicate. Daniel’s former in-laws, though, still want to be a part of his life and the lives of their three grandchildren. Nicole’s ex-husband lives close by and shares custody of their two children. Nicole and Daniel also have a 2-year-old together.

The Challenge: Mixing old and new together in one pot.

Planning the menu for blending this family involves all of the skills a master chef can muster: preparation, open communication, a passion for improving, and teamwork. Like any widely appealing menu, there must be something for everyone to savor. Daniel and Nicole need to use their best tools to fuse the spices and herbs of both families into an intensely flavorful offering.

The maternal grandparents of Daniel’s kids want to stay involved with their grandchildren. Nicole’s ex-husband is inconsistent in his involvement with their kids. Nicole and Daniel have a strong desire for all of the children to feel valued and part of a loving family, no matter how big or how complicated. At first, Nicole and Daniel find it difficult to compromise without sacrificing the ingredients they value.

They agree to plan carefully as they combine the ingredients for their new family feast. By understanding what importance each places on the ingredients on hand, it becomes easier to find the common ground. That’s where they begin the preparation. With love as a guide, Daniel and Nicole take turns explaining which ingredients would be most valuable, and why; they embrace their similarities and their differences.

For Nicole, family unity is vital to a successful relationship. “Daniel, we need to figure out some ways to encourage these kids to stop feeling one is favored over another,” she complains. “I can’t keep playing referee, and neither can you. We have to change something or we’ll be a family divided.”

“I know, Daniel replies. “It’s going to get harder before it gets easier. How can we bring these kids together?” He adds, “Whatever happens, I insist on honesty. Lying will undermine everything we accomplish together.”

Although they come from different backgrounds, Nicole and Daniel can combine their most important values for dealing with both families.

The Result for Team 3

These chefs are consistent in measuring their commitment to unity before adding anything new as they blend families. They agree that each person contributes value. Focusing on common values leaves little room for doubt, blame, distrust, or selfishness.

Daniel is very big on everyone in the family feeling accepted for who they are. When dissention arises, he listens carefully for what is being said between the lines, instead of jumping to conclusions. Each time he listens with compassion and concern, he is rewarded with a bit more trust. He only gives advice to the kids if asked, and when he shares his advice, it is with the intent that the children always feel valued.

Nicole is supportive of Daniel’s ex in-laws’ desire to be a part of their grandkids’ lives. Her prep work involves establishing boundaries around the new family’s needs and schedules. She invites the grandparents to special activities and enlists their help when the kids’ schedules conflict. Daniel and Nicole have also encouraged the grandparents to include Nicole’s kids anytime they want.

Balancing flavors in this recipe is key. This couple is passionate about improving relationships and growing together, so they carefully plan events and activities to build on already established relationships. They are sensitive to each child’s needs and do what they can to balance those needs. With preparation, open communication, passion for growth, a sense of unity, and strong arms, Daniel and Nicole embrace the unique flavor of each family member to mingle in the mix.

When creating a new family unit, you are merging at least two belief systems, two sets of experiences, and two sets of values. When children are involved, the ingredients multiply. Illuminate the common values you share; building on those values will help prevent your making decisions based on an impulse that undermines your family values and the strength of the family’s relationships.

Ready or not, the next master chef challenge has begun! As you prepare your own recipe with wide open eyes, two ears and one mouth, and strong arms, remember the following:

  • Begin with the basic foundational ingredients of love, understanding, and common values.
  • Before you add your own herbs and spices, be careful that you don’t add “expired” flavors.
  • Keep the tools of wide open eyes and two ears and one mouth closed, and use them often. Use strong arms to embrace those flavors that enhance your recipe.
  • Fend off any old tastes that detract from or poison your culinary feast menu.
  • Relax and enjoy your new family feast.

Renée Canali, The Mindset Coach, helps young and old alike create innovative solutions to day-to-day obstacles. She expertly guides others to challenge their existing beliefs and assumptions, confront fear and resistance to change, and completely define their inner self. See her website at

(Photo courtesy of

Tell Us About the Details of Your Second Wedding

1. How much did you spend on your second wedding?

$0 - 1,000
$1,001 - 5,000
$5,001 - 10,000
$10,001 - 20,000
$20,001 or more


Here's What You're Saying

“I find your site extremely helpful and resourceful in dealing with the many and daily issues of parenting, co-parenting and life issues that come along.” –J.P.

“I love the information you all provide. The magazine was so helpful in trying to navigate the remarriage with kids territory. Thank you for all of your information and inspiration you provide.” –K.W.

“Have I mentioned HOW MUCH I love your site?!?!? It's really cool. . . . I'm getting married to a man that has two kiddos, and it's quite a lifestyle change for me!” –M.M.

RemarriageWorks Book Giveaway

My Bonus Mom, Taking the Step out of Stepmom shows children who come from divorced families that a positive attitude can lead to a very happy outcome, thereby springing open the hearts and minds of children to accept their own "bonus" moms and dads.

reMarriage Twitter Feed

Step Family Success