The Blended Family Marriage: More Than Two to Tango!
Who else did you marry?
Anyone in a blended family marriage knows that kids are part of the package. With 1 in 3 marriages today forming a stepfamily it's no secret that parenting and step-parenting is challenging.
Many couples head in expecting to marry a new spouse AND their kids. However, they can be blind-sided when they realize that they married their spouse's ex too!
I am Kim's third husband. I knew that fact well before our wedding day, but it was well into our marriage before I realized her Ex's were actually on this journey with us! Countless times I have unintentionally triggered a negative memory from Kim's past relationships launching us into a battle.
I was not previously married, but I was in an extended relationship which ended just six weeks before we intended to be married. That relationship combined with some of my family of origin issues caused me to enter our marriage carrying my own bags full of trip wires that Kim often stumbled over.
Over the years we have spent many days in cold silence and many nights hugging opposite sides of the bed. We were being haunted by what Ron Deal calls "The Ghost of Marriage Past".
Leaving the Past Behind
If you have ever felt haunted by your past relationships, you're not alone and it's not hopeless. Every step-couple can find freedom from the past and connection in their current marriage by taking two steps.
In their book Saving Your Second Marriage Before it Starts, Drs. Les & Leslie Parrott share that two important qualities for spouses in a second marriage are, "a healthy self-concept and independence from [their] first marriage."
A Healthy Self-Concept
We all have pasts that impact our present. We have a narrative in our head that plays about us and about the people around us. We have insecurities and blind spots that are rooted in past relationships. Some are from previous marriages and others even further back to our family of origin.
The Parrott's say, "Self-concept refers to your mental and emotional well-being, and it's build on two qualities: knowing who you are and liking who you are."
Spouses with a healthy self-concept have faced their "ghosts" from the past. They are able to recognize that their current partner is not a reflection of their previous partner. Having a healthy self-concept gives them an internal stability that helps them weather the storm of conflict in this marriage…and we all know those storms are inevitable.
Sometimes this work is not easy. It requires commitment and sheer grit to dig up our past and put in the effort to find healing. The work is worth it! It can mean the difference between a peaceful, thriving home or another painful separation.
Les & Leslie suggest that, "At conscious and unconscious levels, your first spouse taught you to either trust or not, to be intimate or stay distant, to express your feelings or keep them private."
In blended family marriages, we all bring baggage into our relationship. Whether we've been through a painful separation or the grief of losing a spouse to death, our experience of this marriage is most often seen through the lens of the previous one(s).
It is critical to your current marriage that you find independence from your former partner. If you are still connected through your kids, you must ensure proper boundaries. If your Ex is absent or deceased, you must examine the impact of their memory. Gaining independence from your previous partnership is a gift to you and your new spouse.
Finding your healthy self-concept and independence from your previous relationship(s) may require you to get some help. The value of a qualified counselor or other professional helper is well worth the investment of time and resources. Kim and I are convinced that we would not still be married if we had not invested in counseling as we sought out our own healthy self-concepts and independence.
A word to the wise…if you seek help, please reach out to a counselor or coach that has specific training or experience in stepfamily dynamics. Many counselors who have not been exposed to the unique dynamics of stepfamily structure may attempt to apply a "first family" model in helping which can unintentionally create further conflict for a step-couple. Be sure to choose your helper wisely!
To live with confidence and connection in this marriage, you have to gain clarity about the baggage you're bringing with you for the journey. Examine your self-concept, be honest about your level of independence and consider what help you might need to invest in.
In blended family marriages, it takes more than two to tango!
QUESTION: What is then next step you need to take to invest in your current marriage? Leave a comment below…