DON'T Put Your Marriage First - 3 Reasons Why
"You must keep your marriage first...no matter what!"
This is a common message heard by couples in the beginning stages of marriage whether in a first family or a stepfamily. While this advice comes with best intentions and marriage is a partnership that should always be a high priority, marriage also requires many sacrifices. In stepfamily life, the levels of sacrifice may be even greater...especially in the early years!
As Kim and I entered marriage, I had an ideal in mind that put our marriage above everything. Often, what that really means to many people is that time, energy and focus will always be on my partner first and everything else (kids, work, etc.) second. There is a certain amount of this in the beginning that we refer to as the "honeymoon" period.
In a stepfamily the honeymoon period can be short circuited because the marriage relationship is not the FIRST relationship...the parent/child relationship is. As a couple Kim and I quickly became aware of this reality and had to make some adjustments to our expectations and our goals. We had to experience a reality check and adjust our forward movement. Here are three discoveries we made in the early season of our marriage:
1. Loss and Insecurities are Realities for Kids
In a separate post, Kim discussed how our gain in marriage can actually create feelings of loss for our kids. The significance of these feelings vary depending on age, personality and previous family experience of each child. Our job as parents and step-parents is to identify the level of our kids insecurity, then make it a priority to create an environment that increases their experience of security. Often, this requires sacrifice as time and energy might shift away from the partnership and onto the parent/child relationship.
- Step-parents: you can give your partner and step-children a gift. That is to honor the need for your partner to maintain stability with their kids. You can also encourage them by stepping aside as some of the habits, traditions and 1 on 1 time is maintained between them.
- Parents: You can balance this sacrifice made by your partner by intentionally reserving time to focus on them through expressing gratitude, encouragement and energy. (Learn each other's Love Languages and speak them often)
2. Re-Balance Relationships
Just as important as regular date nights with your new mate, intentionally developing new step-relationships is important. Building in one on one time for the step-parent and child can be valuable, but needs to be approached with wisdom and patience. Find out what the child is interested in and educate yourself in how to interact around those interests. This can be easier with younger children as play is a universal language in early development. It may be more challenging in the adolescent years, but in the long run will be worth the investment.
This can be supported by the parent by helping initiate a family activity and then intentionally excusing themselves leaving the step-parent and child to continue. Creating family times that begin to develop new habits and traditions where all members can grow in relationship at their own pace without pressure can build intimacy and camaraderie. This leads me to the final thought…
3. Team Building
All families have some element of teamwork. Any team develops over time and in most cases whether in sports, business or any other area of life require intentionality. What do you want your team to be? How do you interact with each other? What do members of the team feel? How can each member learn and grow and contribute to the team? This might be somewhat natural in a first marriage, but in your stepfamily the team starts out with more players that are at different skill levels...that needs a different approach.
Let's be clear...I am in not suggesting that any stepfamily ignore or defer the priority of the marriage relationship. What I am suggesting is to intentionally develop a strategy to ensure an appropriate rhythm and balance for ALL of the relationships within your stepfamily.
QUESTION: How have you been able to intentionally create connections for all the relationships in your stepfamily? Leave a comment below: