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8 Things You Shouldn’t Say If Someone You Love Has Depression

SOURCE:   Kelsey Borresen/Huffington Post

And what you can say instead.

When your partner is dealing with depression, you want to be as supportive and loving as possible. But it’s hard to know what to say or how to help, especially if you’ve never experienced depression firsthand.

Starting a conversation with your significant other is critical, but sometimes offering the wrong words ― while well-intentioned ― can do more harm than good. We asked experts to tell us some of the most damaging phrases people with depression hear from their loved ones and what more compassionate things you can say instead.

Don’t say: “You need to get help.”

Instead say: “I’m worried about you and us. I love you and want to support you. How can I help?”

“Ask your partner, ‘Do you want me to look into a therapist for you, or a couples counselor for us together? Or I​ can make an appointment for you to talk to your doctor about medication?’ This way it’s a team approach, not blaming one person. And if he or she is depressed, you finding a therapist or making an appointment for them may make it seem less daunting or exhausting. Tell him or her, ‘We’ll get through this together. It will get better.’” ― Shannon Kolakowski, psychologist and author of When Depression Hurts Your Relationship

Don’t say: “Things can’t be THAT bad right now.”

Instead say: “How have you been feeling lately? Is it worse at some times than others?”

“Ask, don’t tell. Don’t try to reassure your partner by telling them it couldn’t be that bad. Don’t tell them that they will get over it soon or that tomorrow will be a better day. Don’t tell them how to fix the problem. Instead, ask questions. How have they been feeling? Ask if it seems to be worse at some times than others. Ask what they think might have been the trigger. Asking gives your partner permission to talk about feelings. Talking establishes connection, which is very helpful because depressed people tend to socially isolate.” ― Susan Heitler, psychologist and author

Don’t say: “How much longer until you’re better?”

Instead say: “How are you feeling?”

“One of my previous partners used to ask me this after every therapy appointment, as though there was a set timeline for depression and an end date for treatment that was the same for everyone. This would make me feel as though I was failing at therapy, and would actually work against any progress I had made, since I felt so far from being where I ‘should’ be or where he thought I needed to be.

Open-ended questions, like ‘how are you feeling?’ or ‘in what ways do you think therapy sessions are helping you?’ may be more beneficial and feel like less of an attack. Stay away from statements that may cause your partner to feel like what they are experiencing is their fault. Acknowledge that your partner is not feeling well, and that you support them and love them, even if it takes a while for them to start to feel like themselves again.” ― Lauren Hasha, counselor and writer

Don’t say: “Why don’t you just get out of bed and go for a walk, or watch a happy movie?”

Instead say: “Would you go for a short walk with me?”

“When our partner is depressed, we want to help and fix it immediately. As the caregiving partner without depression, we tend to start sentences like, ‘Why don’t you just ― fill in the blank: go for a walk, watch a happy movie, get out of bed.’ After all, we can see what would help! While depression does often make it difficult to get motivated and create action, we cannot presume that our partner is ignorant to a healthier way of doing things. It may just be that in that moment, they simply cannot do what seems healthy. Depression is a liar, and often keeps those experiencing it stuck in a negative vacuum of destructive thoughts, immobility and inaction.

A different way of suggesting action and movement in a depressed partner may be to ask, ‘Would you go for a short walk with me?’ Or, ‘I’d like to watch this funny movie, would you watch it with me?’ You are asking your partner to participate with you in something that you suspect will also help them. They feel needed and wanted, and you may be able to move them off their depressive center.” ― Angela Avery, counselor who specializes in depression and marital issues

Don’t say: “How could this happen to you?”

Instead say: “I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.”

“Any remarks which communicate judgment, disappointment or negativity are problematic. A depressed person is already feeling terrible. What is needed are statements of acceptance and care. It’s helpful to say stuff like, ‘I am with you. You are not alone in this. This happens to others.’ While a depressed person doesn’t necessarily need a cheerleader, it is important to communicate confidence that he or she will be well again, and that this is a dark and difficult period but not a permanent situation.” ― Irina Firstein, couples therapist

Don’t say: “You’re so negative.”

Instead say: “It won’t be like this forever.”

“It’s true that depression can transform even the most positive person into someone who may only be able to see negativity in the world around them. This has nothing to do with the person and everything to do with the depression. When making a statement that begins with the word ‘you,’ it can feel to the other person that you are pointing your finger at them, accusing them of something that may be entirely out of their control in that moment. This will lead to hurt, defensiveness, and isolation between your partner and yourself.

Depression is a lens through which they are currently seeing the world, one that is unwelcome and unpleasant. They don’t want to see the glass as half empty, but right now, depression has taken over and that’s all they might be able to see. Gently and kindly remind yourself and your partner that in those moments, it’s the depression doing the talking. Also remind yourself (and them) that after the depression lifts, they will be able to see the positive things in the world once again. When someone is depressed, it truly feels as though the symptoms may last forever, so it’s important to remind your partner that they will pass.” ― Lauren Hasha

Don’t say: “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

Instead say: “I’d like to remind you that you matter to me. I need you, I want you, I love you.”

“Clinical depression is not a choice, it is a mood disorder caused by any number of biopsychosocial factors. When our partner is down, it’s normal to try and negate their seemingly irrational thoughts and argue for the positive, more constructive side of things. However, when a depressed person hears ‘you shouldn’t’ before any further words, he or she often feels more guilt, shame and sensitivity about their thought patterns, as if they’ve done something wrong.

The better choice is to frame their thinking and validate it through their depressive lens. What that sounds like is, ‘Your depression is telling you that you don’t matter to anyone. I understand it has a strong hold on your mind. I’d also like to remind you that you matter to me, I need you, I want you, I love you.’ Whenever we can promote the distinction between what depression is saying, and what reality is presenting, we are not arguing with our partner. Rather, we are showing them that there are alternatives to a thought.” ― Angela Avery

Don’t say: “You’re not fun anymore. We never go out.”

Instead say: “Let’s get coffee together.”

“Take simple steps to get out of the house with your partner. Suggest a walk together, or coffee with friends ― one simple routine activity each day can help lift your partner’s mood. ​And take care of yourself, too. Plan outings with friends or family, or take a day of relaxation to get support for yourself. This is essential to buffer you from also becoming depressed, which can happen when your partner is down.” ― ​Shannon Kolakowski

Self-Interest is Not Selfish in Relationships

SOURCE:  Alli Hoff Kosik/The Gottman Institute

It’s hard to fault someone for being selfless.

We’re taught to put a high premium on kindness, generosity, and the needs of others. Sharing is one of the first lessons that many of us can remember learning as toddlers.

Making a decision based on our partner’s preference or going out of our way for a significant other — even when we’ve had a difficult day ourselves — is sort of the adult equivalent of letting a classmate borrow the crayon that we really wanted to use, no? At any age, these selfless acts are considered fundamentally good.

But that doesn’t mean that being in a relationship with a supremely selfless person is fundamentally easy.

What happens when a spouse’s unflinchingly self-sacrificing behavior is built, brick by brick, into a wall so airtight that it’s no longer possible to understand the interests and desires that they hold near and dear?

Maybe it’s as simple as your partner constantly deferring to you to choose the movie or restaurant, or perhaps they are always willing to talk through the challenges of your day, while never quite opening up about their own. Maybe you feel they are always telling you just what you want to hear.

These selfless acts may feel good in the moment, but over time, they’ll limit your ability to authentically connect in your relationship. You may never learn whether they really like Mexican food and comedies best, and you may always wonder if their political views could actually be so similar to yours.

Finding yourself in a constant state of agreement may grow frustrating — and you’ll likely find yourself questioning if your partner’s selfless behavior is too good to be true. (For your sake, we hope it’s not… but your concerns are perfectly valid!)

In extreme cases, you may even feel as if you are being stonewalled, which, according to Dr. John Gottman, happens when a listener withdraws from an interaction. Have you ever felt as if your partner’s conversational generosity was simply a tool to shut down the discussion and avoid becoming more fully engaged?

Jackie: Where should we go this weekend?

Jim: I’m happy to go wherever you want to go!

Jackie: That’s great, but I want us to decide together. What would be your perfect getaway?

Jim: I will go anywhere you want. Just say the word!

Even if this conversation is sealed with a kiss and plans for an amazing weekend trip, the fact remains that Jim’s selflessness comes with a side of disengagement — and there’s no way that this goes unnoticed for Jackie.

If you’re struggling to find a healthy balance of authenticity and honesty with your selfless partner, perhaps you need to consider working toward deeper, more intimate conversations with them — drawing out their core opinions, setting a standard for more intentional, open, engaged, and reciprocal communication. Dr. Gottman has three basic rules for intimate conversations:

1. Put your feelings into words
2. Ask open-ended questions
3. Express empathy

In order to draw your partner further into more connected conversations, I suggest focusing on the latter two tips. Practicing these skills in your day-to-day interactions may help your spouse to communicate more genuinely — dare we say selfishly? — with you. Here’s how you can apply these principles more specifically with your self-sacrificing special someone.

Ask open-ended questions

Start paying closer attention to the way you engage your partner in conversation. If they are more selfless than most, you may need to be especially careful to avoid the use of yes or no questions. After all, what selfless spouse wants to say “no” when their favorite person wants to hear “yes?”

Maximize your partner’s ability to assert their opinions and preferences — in their entirety — by keeping your questions to them wide open. You may need to do it more often than feels natural. Ask “What would you like to have for dinner tonight?” instead of “Should we go out for Mexican for dinner tonight?”

The results may not be immediate, but as you establish a more consistent pattern of open-ended questioning — about everything from restaurant choices to the best way to manage your finances — we’re willing to bet that your partner will begin to realize that you expect them to engage with you at a deeper level.

Reestablishing the ground rules for conversations in your relationship may take time, but it will pay off in the long run in the form of a deeper connection with your partner.

Express empathy

Perhaps your partner struggles with authentic self-expression because their innermost opinions have never been validated with any sort of intentionality. Assuming you’ve started asking your spouse more open-ended questions, they may have begun opening up about their true preferences and desires. The trick now is to turn toward them (as Dr. Gottman always says) by engaging more fully in the conversation.

Show your partner that what they’re saying makes sense to you. If your partner is only taking baby steps away from constant selflessness, take baby steps with them. You can even show empathy for something as simple as your typically deferential spouse’s admission that they prefer Italian food to Mexican food (bear with us, we know this sounds a little crazy).

“Oh, I totally understand that,” you can say. “I feel like we always get more for our money when we go out to that Italian place down the street. And they have a great bread basket! What’s the best Italian food you’ve ever had?”

Engaging with your partner in this way shows them that you are paying attention to theirneeds, and that you may be in agreement with them as often as they are in agreement with you! Start small by validating their restaurant preferences, and watch them become more comfortable asserting their input in more consequential situations.

Tips for Giving Advice to Your Adult Children

SOURCE:  Mark Merrill

For years, I’ve marveled at how good my mom is at giving advice.  She has a knack for knowing when, and how, to do so.

And as my kids have entered adulthood, I’m even more impressed by her example.  But it can be so hard, with all my years of experiences and hard knocks, to keep my parental opinions to myself.

Giving advice well starts with knowing when the conditions are right for our older children to hear, and really think about, our advice.  Giving advice well also requires some artful actions.  Here are some tips to consider:

The Best Times to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice when you’ve been asked for your advice.  I’ve noticed through the years that my mom, as well as my dad and Susan’s parents, were patient with their advice. And that patience made me more willing and interested in seeking their advice. For the most part, they only gave advice when they were asked to do so, plain and simple.
  • Give advice when you recognize something that could potentially harm them physically, emotionally or spiritually, and you’re not sure they see it. Generally speaking, my mom keeps her thoughts to herself and lets us work through things on our own.  But when she believes she sees a landmine in our lives that we might be blind to, she isn’t afraid to speak up.  She risks being viewed as nosy because she cares more about us than about her own feelings.
  • Give advice when you are in a frame of mind to be gentle with your advice. Whether I asked for my mom’s advice or not, she has always been gentle in her delivery. She understands that a parent should want not only to be effective in expressing advice but in getting that advice to be grasped. If you are in a highly emotionally-charged state of mind, that’s not the best time to share your advice.  Be sure you can maintain control of your emotions.  Wait for a better time, with a cooler head, rather than forcing the issue.

  The Best Ways to be Giving Advice:

  • Give advice by being clear about the difference between opinions and facts. When you give advice, you can use both facts and opinions. Either way, let your child know whether your statement is fact or just your opinion based on your wisdom and experience.
  • Give advice by thoroughly listening to them. Don’t just wait for their lips to stop moving so you know when to shower them with your insights. Listen well and repeat back to them what you heard them say. Being a great listener is key to your relationships.  And as your kids get older, they need to know they can just express themselves without getting lectured.
  • Give advice by asking thought-provoking questions instead of making blanket statements. When giving advice, my mom always uses great questions to get me to think, which inspires me to use a sort of “Socratic method” with my kids, even when they were younger.  I like to ask them questions that stimulate their critical thinking and leads them to the conclusion I had in mind in the first place. When they get more active in the discussion and do some thinking as well, they’re more likely to receive your advice.

5 Things Strong Families Have in Common

SOURCE:  Sanya Pelini

The perfect family is a myth. Every family experiences stress-provoking changes time and time again. Some families, however, are better able to cope with tough times. Science defines these families as “strong families.”

Several studies have found that strong families share similar characteristics. Here are five characteristics of strong families.

1 | Strong families spend time together

Families that spend time together are more likely to build stronger ties than those that don’t. However, that time doesn’t count if it’s spent sitting passively together in front of a screen. It also doesn’t count if it’s spent arguing. In other words, quality trumps quantity.

Reaching an ideal work-life balance is often a challenge for many parents. However, installing simple family routines can ensure that you get to hang out as a family even when you’re busy parents. Simple everyday activities such as playing games together, taking walks together, sharing meals, sharing household chores, watching a movie together, etc. help strengthen family bonds. There is evidence that having everyday or regular routines provides family members with roots and helps families overcome moments of stress.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Little pieces of time matter too. Take advantage of the moments spent in the car or in traffic to talk to your kids about your day and ask them about theirs.
  • Create your own family rituals.
  • Schedule “hang out time” in your to-do list.

2 | Strong families foster optimism

Positive psychology research has proven that strong families have positive emotions. They have a more optimistic outlook and believe that they are equipped to adapt to change. Strong families are able to “withstand and rebound from disruptive life challenges” and are also more ready to accept the things that cannot be changed.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Focus on solutions rather than on problems.
  • The book “Beliefs: The Heart of Healing in Families and Illness” states that “family belief systems powerfully influence how we view a crisis, our suffering and our options.” Considering challenges as opportunities to strengthen family bonds can make it easier to overcome life’s challenges
  • Explore all possible options when a problem arises.

3 | Strong families work on their emotion regulation skills

There is evidence that strong families consider stress and change normal and set up processes to help children adapt to changes and distressing situations. Strong families do not attempt to shield their children, but give them the skills to adapt to everyday situations as well as to traumatic life events. When families learn to regulate their emotions, there are more likely to respond effectively to traumatic experiences.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Develop your family’s emotion regulation skills. Emotion regulation means knowing how and when to express emotions in a respectful manner.
  • Provide your child with tools to manage his/her own strong emotions.
  • Teach your kids that while it is normal to experience strong emotions such as anger and anxiety, each individual is responsible for how he or she reacts to those emotions.
  • Teach your kids to respond appropriately to emotions by modeling these reactions yourself.

4 | Strong families promote open communication channels

Multiple studies have highlighted the importance of promoting open communication channels. A common characteristic of strong families is that they adopt an authoritative parenting style. Authoritative parenting requires parents to hold high expectations, but to also be flexible and attentive to their children’s needs. Children raised in such family settings are less likely to turn to drugs and also have better academic, social, and psychological outcomes.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Set realistic expectations for your kids. Expect neither too little nor too much.
  • Clearly communicate your expectations to your children.
  • Foster mutual respect.
  • Be flexible. Remember that you too were once a child.
  • Listen, then react.

5 | Strong families show their appreciation for each other

We are all the best versions of ourselves when we feel appreciated. In strong families, the members know that they are appreciated. They know that their family would not be the same without them. Showing our kids we appreciate them is also likely to reinforce positive behavior and it may even help them develop a positive sense of self.

What you can do to become a strong family:

  • Focus on your child’s positive behavior.
  • Give praise where praise is due.
  • Celebrate your family’s accomplishments.
  • Establish gratitude routines to celebrate family members.
  • Show your children you think they’re awesome.

How to Ruin Your Kid for Life

SOURCE:  Tricia Goya/Family Life

Ten ways to ensure that your child will not succeed.

1. Give your kid everything he wants. Don’t deny what will truly make him happy. Overvalue money and things in his eyes.

2. Dress your child in designer clothes, no matter the cost. Show her that her outward appearance matters most of all.

3. Place your child’s needs over those of your spouse. If she cries, run to her immediately. If she interrupts, give her your full attention.

4. Entertain your child throughout the day. If she wants to play tea, put your plans aside. If she wants to watch her favorite movie for the hundredth time, forget your idea of going for a walk and getting some sunshine.

5. Plan your menu around your child’s desires. No child should have to eat something he doesn’t like. If, by chance, you want to make something other than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly, feel free to cook your own meal, just as long as you have time to fix what your child likes.

6. Sign your child up for as many extracurricular activities as she desires, even if it means giving up your evening plans on a regular basis. Don’t worry about trying to gather around the dinner table either. He can only be in the junior soccer league for so long, and you don’t want him to miss out.

7. Don’t discipline your child when she acts up. Everyone should learn to express herself in her own way. If she demands something, then applaud her efforts. At least you know that she will not be a pushover or a doormat in this world.

8. Don’t worry when your child fights with neighbor kids or even when he is a bully. Life is not fair, and someone always has to be the underdog. At least your child is learning to elbow his way to the top at a young age.

9. When your child has a disagreement with her teacher, always choose your child’s side. Don’t show up when the teacher wants to discuss your child’s problems. The teacher will want to take a course of disciplinary action and that’ll hurt your child’s feelings.

10. Don’t share your faith with your child. After all, you don’t want to offend. Let your child decide if she wants to hear Bible stories. And don’t pressure her to memorize Scripture verses. She might get disheartened if she doesn’t get it right the first time and you’ll ruin her self-esteem. More than that, you don’t want her to know there’s a God who runs the universe, makes the rules, and determines eternity. The thought is too hard, and your child might not understand. More than that, she won’t be self-dependent and strive to be a good person.

How to Ruin Your Teens for Life

SOURCE:  Tricia Goyer/Family Life

Eleven ways to ensure that your teenager will not be prepared for the future.

1. Hide your past mistakes. Put on an act that you are perfect and your teenagers are the ones with all the problems. (After all, if your teens hear what you did in your past, they might want to follow.)

2. Don’t worry about where they are going and what they are doing. You didn’t want to be hounded at that age. You didn’t want to be asked all those questions. Instead, trust that they know how they should act and where they should go.

3. Don’t worry about them getting a summer job and having to work to make money. Teens are only teens once. They need time to have fun with friends and relax. There will be time to work later. They don’t need to worry about a work ethic now.

4. Don’t force them to attend church and youth group. Things are already touchy—you have to hound them about homework, about their friends, and about their clothes—don’t make church another thing you hound them about.

5. Don’t worry about talking to them about sex and purity. You’re their parent, for goodness sake. You don’t want to bring the subject up and have them thinking about you having sex. And you don’t want to think about them in their sexual lives. There are other people more knowledgeable and trained to talk to your teens; leave it to them.

6. Completely shelter your teens from the outside world. Make sure they don’t watch any secular movies or listen to any secular music. Hide the newspapers, too. Their “world” should only be about your family’s values. They don’t need to learn about all that bad stuff out there. They don’t need to make wise media choices or deal with unwholesome people. They don’t need to see that there’s a world out there that is greatly in need of Jesus. Let someone else deal with impacting and influencing culture.

7. Tell them, “Do what I say, not what I do.” Make them accept the areas where you fall short, but expect them to do better.

8. Buy your teens whatever they ask for. That’s your role as a parent—to make your teens happy.

9. Don’t let your teen get involved in an overseas mission trip. There are all types of scary things that happen on those trips, and your first priority is to keep your teen safe.

10. Don’t become your teens’ sounding board. They’ll need to learn to figure things out on their own in the future, so they might as well start now.

11. Don’t share with your teen how important God is in your life. A personal relationship with God is personal, and it should stay that way.

Blended Families: 10 Things to Know Before You Remarry

SOURCE:  Ron Deal/Family Life

Challenges every single parent should consider before deciding to remarry.

Specializing in stepfamily therapy and education has taught me one thing: Couples should be highly educated about remarriage and the process of becoming a stepfamily before they ever walk down the aisle.  Remarriage—particularly when children are involved—is much more challenging than dating seems to imply. Be sure to open your eyes well before a decision to marry has been made.

The following list represents key challenges every single parent (or those dating a single parent) should know before deciding to remarry. Open your eyes wide now and you—and your children—will be grateful later.

1. Wait two to three years following a divorce or the death of your spouse before seriously dating. No, I’m not kidding. Most people need a few years to fully heal from the ending of a previous relationship. Moving into a new relationship short-circuits the healing process, so do yourself a favor and grieve the pain, don’t run from it. In addition, your children will need at least this much time to heal and find stability in their visitation schedule. Slow down.

2. Date two years before deciding to marry; then date your future spouse’s children before the wedding. Dating two years gives you time to really get to know one another. Too many relationships are formed on the rebound when both people lack godly discernment about their fit with a new person. Give yourself plenty of time to get to know each other thoroughly. Keep in mind—and this is very important—that dating is inconsistent with remarried life.

Even if everything feels right, dramatic psychological and emotional shifts often take place for children, parents, and stepparents right after the wedding. What seems like smooth sailing can become a rocky storm in a hurry. Don’t be fooled into thinking you won’t experience difficulties. As one parent said, “Falling in love is not enough when it comes to remarriage; there’s just more required than that.”

When you do become serious about marriage, date with the intention of deepening the stepparent/stepchild relationships. Young children can attach themselves to a future stepparent rather quickly, so make sure you’re serious before spending lots of time together. Older children will need more time (research suggests that the best time to remarry is before a child’s tenth birthday or after his/her sixteenth; couples who marry between those years collide with the teen’s developmental needs).

3. Know how to “cook” a stepfamily. Most people think the way to cook a stepfamily is with a blender, microwave, pressure cooker, or food processor. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of these “cooking styles” attempt to combine the family ingredients in a rapid fashion. Unfortunately, resentment and frustration are the only results.

The way to cook a stepfamily is with a crockpot. Once thrown into the pot, it will take time and low heat to bring ingredients together, requiring that adults step into a new marriage with determination and patience. The average stepfamily takes five to seven years to combine; some take longer. There are no quick recipes.  (Read more about how to cook a stepfamily here.)

4. Realize that the “honeymoon” comes at the end of the journey for remarried couples, not the beginning. Ingredients thrown into a crockpot that have not had sufficient time to cook don’t taste good—and might make you sick. Couples need to understand that the rewards of stepfamily life (security, family identity, and gratitude for one another) come at the end of the journey. Just as the Israelites traveled a long time before entering the Promise Land, so will it be for your stepfamily.

5. Think about the kids. Children experience numerous losses before entering a stepfamily. In fact, your remarriage is another. It sabotages their fantasy that Mom and Dad can reconcile, or that a deceased parent will always hold his or her place in the home. Seriously consider your children’s losses before deciding to remarry. If waiting till your children leave home before you remarry is not an option, work to be sensitive to your children’s loss issues. Don’t rush them and don’t take their grief away.

6. Manage and be sensitive to loyalties. Even in the best of circumstances, children feel torn between their biological parents and likely feel that enjoying your dating partner will please you but betray the other parent. Don’t force children to make choices, and examine the binds they feel. Give them your permission to love and respect new people in the other home and let them warm up to your new spouse in their own time.

7. Don’t expect your new spouse to feel the same about your children as you do. It’s a good fantasy, but stepparents won’t care for your children to the same degree that you do. This is not to say that stepparents and stepchildren can’t have close bonds; they can. But it won’t be the same. When looking at your daughter, you will see a 16-year-old who brought you mud pies when she was 4 and showered you with hugs each night after work. Your spouse will see a self-centered brat who won’t abide by the house rules. Expect to have different opinions and to disagree on parenting decisions.

8. Realize that remarriage has unique barriers. Are you more committed to your children or your marriage? If you aren’t willing to risk losing your child to the other home, for example, don’t make the commitment of marriage. Making a covenant does not mean neglecting your kids, but it does mean that they are taught which relationship is your ultimate priority. A marriage that is not the priority will be mediocre at best.

Another unique barrier involves the “ghost of marriage past.” Individuals can be haunted by the negative experiences of previous relationships and not even recognize how it is impacting the new marriage. Work to not interpret the present in light of the past, or you might be destined to repeat it.

9. Parent as a team; get your plan ready. No single challenge is more predictive of stepfamily success than the ability of the couple to parent as a team. Stepparents must find their role, know their limits in authority, and borrow power from the biological parent in order to contribute to parental leadership. Biological parents must keep alive their role as primary disciplinarian and nurturer while supporting the stepparent’s developing role (read this series of articles for more on stepparenting). Managing these roles will not be easy; get a plan and stick together.

10. Know what to tell the kids. Tell them:

  • It’s okay to be confused about the new people in your life.
  • It’s okay to be sad about our divorce (or parent’s death).
  • You need to find someone safe to talk to about all this.
  • You don’t have to love my new spouse, but you do need to treat him or her with the same respect you would give a coach or teacher at school.
  • You don’t have to take sides. When you feel caught in the middle between our home and your other home, please tell me and we’ll stop.
  • You belong to two homes with different rules, routines, and relationships. Find your place and contribute good things in each.
  • The stress of our new home will reduce—eventually.
  • I love you and will always have enough room in my heart for you. I know it’s hard sharing me with someone else. I love you.

Work smarter, not harder

For stepfamilies, accidentally finding their way through the wilderness to the promised land is a rarity. Successful navigation requires a map. You’ve got to work smarter, not harder. Before you remarry, be sure to educate yourself on the options and challenges that lie ahead.

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