Blended Family + One Roof = Strife...Let's Minimize It
Mike and I love to meet with young step-couples that are just starting out on their journey to blend. They often share that shortly after merging their families under the same roof, they discover they weren't prepared for the new stressors and issues that begin to emerge. We've heard the scenarios many times:
- "We never argued before, but now we seem to disagree a lot - especially on parenting issues"
- "I didn't expect to feel resentment and anger when faced with these challenging situations"
- "We're concerned about how the kids are coping with all the changes, they don't talk much"
- "We just don't know how to do this or if we're handling things right"
Often stepfamily couples aren't aware of the hidden challenges they'll inevitably face while 'blending'. Especially early on, most step-couples don't realize just how much they don't understand about the complexities of stepfamily life.
A New "Normal"
We've been working with step-families for over 16 years and we've never heard a new step-couple say that everything in their household is under control and stress-free. That just doesn't happen. In an earlier post I talked about the reordered relationships in step-family structure. This is just one complex dynamic that is very different than a first family. Then you've got kids with their own attitudes and perspectives (usually different than ours). And don't forget the crazy schedule, differing parenting styles, and all those things you have no control over (such as the ex's). Now that's a recipe for chaos and confusion!
The good news is that all of this is normal. Managing complex dynamics, delicate relationships and all the daily responsibilities of step-family life can be overwhelming!
Here's one tip that can help to get your head around the realities of stepfamily life:
Accept Your New Normal and Practice Patient
Hopefully, simply recognizing that your experience is normal eases your anxiety a little. Yes, there are several challenges. Yes, there are many frustrations. Yes, it may seem like this will never end. And this is all normal in stepfamily life. We all need to learn to accept this new normal.
Healthy stepfamily integration takes time. Adults and kids need time to adjust to new living conditions, new parenting styles, rules and responsibilities. They need time to experience one another and develop trust, connection and a shared history. They need time to find a sense of belonging and an identity as a family unit. Patience is crucial for the journey ahead! Click here for more about healthy blending.
A week before our wedding, we heard this statement from stepfamily expert Ron Deal: "There is no honeymoon for step-family couples. You hit the ground running because kids are part of the package!" I remember thinking "WOW…REALLY? That can't be right!" But it's true.
Sure we can get away for a quick trip together, but the kids will always be on our radar because everything we do (or don't do) affects them. Step couples just don't get that ideal, stress-free bonding experience when they start out and move everyone under the same roof.
Even though there may be challenges from the beginning, step-couples can intentionally work toward strengthening and investing in their relationship.
Create Your Own Celebrations
Carve out special time and reclaim your lost honeymoon. I know how challenging this can be with busy schedules, but explore creative ways to celebrate your relationship. It doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive, just something meaningful to you both. Enjoy each other and do your best not to talk about problems or kids (save those conversations for another time). This is your time to connect, so make it a priority! For more insight on safeguarding your marriage click here.
In Search of Strategies?
We've seen couples that have been struggling for years. We hear about long-standing resentments and painful issues that have permeated their step-family experience and caused a wedge of separation between them. It's not surprising that the divorce rate of step-family couples is double that of first marriages. This stuff is hard!
Living under the same roof doesn't have to be filled with strife. Accept your new normal and be patient. Be intentional about celebrating together as a couple. These will help you lead your stepfamily with Clarity, Confidence and Connection!
QUESTION: Are you feeling stuck…what's one step you can take to move forward? Leave a comment below…