3 Reasons for Stepfamily Failure and 3 Solutions to Help
The weekend before our wedding, Mike and I attended a conference for stepfamilies presented by expert Ron Deal. I remember hearing this disturbing statistic: The divorce rate of stepfamily marriages is estimated to be double the divorce rate of first family marriages. At the time I was a little shocked…really? Double? But, after sixteen years of living in stepfamily dynamics, I don't find this statistic surprising at all!
You see, Mike and I now know just how hard managing stepfamily dynamics can be - we could've easily become part of that statistic . About seven years into our marriage, we faced some tough challenges that took our relationship to the brink of failure. And, we've seen stepfamilies devastated by heartache as marriages struggle and end in divorce. But it doesn't have to be this way!
3 Reasons for Step-Couple Divorce and What We Can Do To Avoid It
Based on information provided in the book The Good News About Marriage and the research of Dr. Mavis Hetherington, Ron Deal estimates the current divorce rate of stepfamily couples is roughly 45-50%. According to in-depth research from the book, the current divorce rate of first family marriages in the US is 20-25%. (see smartstepfamilies.com for more information)
Why is this and what can we do to protect our partnership?
Dynamics are Complicated - In his book, The Smart Stepfamily, Ron Deal says, "The intersection of marital dynamics, combined with complex stepfamily relationships causes family stress. This stress eventually erodes marital trust and commitment. Marriage is tough under any circumstances. Step-family marriages can fall prey to the common issues of escalating conflict over money, sex and parenting just like all other couples. Yet it's those unique stepfamily challenges can be so insidious for many step family couples." Without a strategic plan for navigating through complex dynamics and building a solid marriage, the stepfamily can easily fall apart.
Solution: Get Smart!
Deal suggests that step couples "get smart" about managing the dynamics between them as a couple and the dynamics that surround their stepfamily. A newlywed step-couple that Mike and I were coaching once stated, "This stuff really isn't common sense!" That's why stepfamily couples must work harder - and smarter - at their marriage than anyone else.
Dynamics are Inconsistent - Yes it's true that every family has ups and downs in life. Stepfamily dynamics can take these ups and downs to extreme levels! Because there are often many factors out of our control, stepfamily life can be unpredictable and sometimes catches us off guard and unprepared. There usually isn't a "normal" in stepfamily life, at least not for any length of time.
While struggling through painful issues in our marriage, I remember thinking: "I didn't sign up for this"! It's no wonder that marital commitment can start to wane as unexpected issues and stress press in on us, causing conflict and tension. Sometimes, we just don't know what to do to improve our situation, then frustration can set in and escalate.
Solution: Get Unified!
Work to become a healthy, united, functioning team! Build up your relational skills and learn to effectively communicate. Grow, strive and hold onto each another when the going gets tough. There have been seasons in our marriage when Mike and I didn't feel warm and fuzzy love for each other (or even like each other much). However, our devotion to one other and to our family remained even through the worst of times.
Remember to nurture your romantic relationship regularly…no matter what! Intentionally spend time together daily to connect and don't neglect date nights. When things seem hopeless, stay committed and persevere! I'm so thankful that we held on with determination and fought for our marriage. After navigating through some rocky storms, Mike and I have come out on the other side and enjoyed many happy years together.
Dynamics are Unknown and Uncertain - Stepfamily relationships are complex and often couples aren't aware of the hidden challenges they'll inevitably face while "blending". Especially early on, step couples don't always realize just how much they don't understand about the dynamics of stepfamily life. Things like parent-child allegiances, loyalty binds and stuck insider/stuck outsider issues can wedge their way between a couple and leave them feeling disconnected and lost. If unresolved, these issues can easily lead to resentment, anger and isolation.
Solution: Get Educated!
Don't lose hope…help is available! Challenging dynamics and the resulting stress is difficult to handle, but it can be minimized and you can work through it together. Awareness and dedication are essential for stepfamily success! Stepfamily couples NEED to be educated and they NEED to be intentional! Why? Because stepfamilies are different than first families, regardless of how they were formed. Get smart, get unified and get educated…you don't have to go it alone and you don't have to become a statistic!
QUESTION: What stepfamily dynamics are most challenging for you as a couple right now? Leave a comment below: