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Posts tagged ‘blended family’

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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Blended Family: Protecting Your Marriage: The Art of the Repair Attempt – Part 2

SOURCE:  Cheryl A. Rowen

We saw in Part 1 of this series how easily our re-marriage can become plagued with the Four Horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling or withdrawing. We learned that criticism has no place in a marriage filled with honor and love (1 Corinthians 13:3-4, Proverbs 15:33). We found, however, that if we restate our criticisms into complaints, recognize when we are becoming defensive and try to understand what our mate is saying to us before defending our own position, and if we can call a time out if we start to feel ‘flooded’, then we are on the right track to protecting our marriage from these deadly predictors of divorce.

Another step we can take to protect our marriage against divorce is to learn the “art” of the repair attempt. Repair attempts, or statements and actions that prevent negativity from getting out of control, are the secret to keeping the Four Horsemen at bay. John Gottman, researcher and expert in the field of marriage found that he could predict divorce with a 94% accuracy rate if the Four Horsemen and failed repair attempts were present in the marriage1! We must find a way to eliminate this type of communication from our marriage.

Many of us living within a stepfamily know how easily our conversations can turn from ‘discussions’ to ‘debates’ to ‘demands’ in a matter of minutes. Repair attempts are those words or actions we can take to deescalate or control the negativity of a situation. Some examples of repair attempts are:

  • “I’m sorry.”
  • “Let’s take a break.”
  • “Wait, I need to calm down a little before we continue.”
  • “Please listen to me.
  • “Would you please stop interrupting me?”
  • “We’re off the topic.”
  • “Please let me finish.”
  • “That hurt my feelings.”
  • “Go on.”
  • “I love you.”
  • “I understand how you feel.”
  • “O.K. Maybe you’re right. Can we compromise?”
  • Humor
  • Love gifts

You can see from the list above that repair attempts don’t always have to be verbal. They may take on the form of a loving or even silly act. That foolish grin, the flowers sent to her office, or arranging for some quite time to talk about the issues calmly may be just what the doctor ordered.

When is it a good time to use repair attempts? Any time you feel that your conversation is taking on a negative tone, or you feel the situation is escalating out of control. Chances are, if this starts to happen, the Four Horsemen (or at least some of them) or close at hand. Beware!

We must note, however, that it is not enough for a couple simply to learn how to use repair attempts effectively. Couples must learn to recognize when repair attempts are sent their way! Remember, your goal is to communicate your feelings and needs, and to hear and understand those of your partner.

The wisdom of Proverbs 10:19 warns us, “Don’t talk too much, for it fosters sin. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” We must learn when to turn off the flow! When our discussions are becoming negative or disrespectful, we need to use repair attempts.

Let’s look at an example where repair attempts would have stopped the escalation of negativity:

Bob: I feel like you’re on my case all the time about how I parent.

Carol: You never keep the same rules. You say one thing, and then if you’re upset you change the rules and I never know how to enforce them when you’re gone. I don’t know if they’ve changed from one day to the next.

Bob: It’s amazing that I raised her all by myself for all these years before you came along. Most people think I’ve done an excellent job with her. All I hear from you is criticism.

Carol: And that’s all you’re going to hear from me until you follow through on what you say.

Bob: I probably should just let you run the household!

Carol: Maybe you should!

Whew! Bob and Carol could benefit from using repair attempts. Let’s take a look at what happened here:

  • Bob did a good thing at the beginning by using “I” statements, and telling Carol how he felt;
  • Carol has a legitimate complaint about the inconsistency of Bob’s parenting, but uses the First Horseman, Criticism, to voice that complaint. Notice the “you” statements instead of “I”, and the absolute language “You never keep the same rules.”;
  • Bob and Carol then become defensive (the Third Horseman);
  • Finally, based on how the conversation ended, I’m sure one of them will withdraw or stonewall (the Fourth Horseman).

Let’s take these same issues now, and apply repair attempts. Notice how the use of repair attempts stops the Four Horsemen, and the negativity from getting out of hand. Repair attempts are in bold:

Bob: I feel like you’re on my case all the time about how I parent.

Carol: Really? I’m sorryI don’t mean to get on your case. I guess I’m just frustrated with the inconsistency of the rules of our household.

Bob: What do you mean?

Carol: Its very hard for me to enforce the rules you set because I feel that when you get upset, you change the rules or the consequences. I’m not sure what rules are in place from day to day, and I don’t think that shows consistency to the kids, which we’ve both agreed was important to us.

Bob: I didn’t realize I did thatThanks for pointing that out to me. I’m sure that can get frustrating. What can we do to change that?

From here, Bob and Carol can start to calmly discuss parenting strategies for their stepfamily.

Can’t you just feel the tension and the anger melt away when repair attempts are used? Also, Bob and Carol did a great job recognizing when the other was using a repair attempt. Bob, instead of taking personally Carol’s comment about inconsistency of the rules, recognized her apology or repair attempt, and asked for clarification (“What do you mean”). This kept the conversation moving forward.

God very explicitly tells us that repair attempts work: “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing” (Proverbs 12:18). He also guides us by telling us “If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).

Recognizing and avoiding the Four Horsemen, and learning the “art” of the repair attempt will restore honor to your marriage, and bring healing to that which the tongue has hurt!

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References:

1 Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), p. 40.

Cheryl A. Rowen is Director and Founder of America’s Family Resources, a national organization focusing on the preservation of today’s family. She is author and facilitator of the seminar and small group study “When 1+1=3: Discovering God’s Plan for You and Your Stepfamily”. She and her husband Thom live in Johnston, Iowa and have two children.

Blended Family: Protecting Your Marriage: Avoiding the Six Predictors of Divorce – Part 1

SOURCE:  Cheryl A. Rowen

So what does make a marriage last a lifetime?

I once heard this question asked to a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. The husband simply replied, “Going out to dinner twice a week”. “That’s it?” asked the interviewer. “Yes,” answered the husband, “I go on Tuesdays and my wife goes on Thursdays”.

Surely there must be a better way!

With an alarming 60% of second marriages ending in divorce, stepfamilies today need a way to fight back! Many of us who remarry find ourselves focusing on issues that are urgent to the daily ‘operation’ of the stepfamily:

  • Establishing the carpool schedule;
  • Defining roles of the stepparent in discipline;
  • Establishing a relationship with the stepchildren;
  • Dealing with a former spouse and potentially different parenting styles.

Although the health of our marriage may not be “urgent” (especially if newly married), it certainly is a necessary component to a successful stepfamily, and one that is often ignored.

Hebrews 13:4 instructs us to “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage”. One way to honor or respect our marriage is to spend time nurturing and preserving our relationship with one another. No matter where you are in your “re-marital” journey, you can take steps now to protect your marriage, by avoiding those things research has shown will destroy it.

Predictors of divorce

After studying marriages for 20 years, John Gottman has found six predictors of divorce1:

  1. Harsh startups. You find yourself beginning a discussion with your spouse using criticism, sarcasm, or harsh words.
  2. The Four Horsemen. Criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling (withdrawal) invade your communication.
  3. Your spouse’s negativity is so overwhelming that it leaves you shell-shocked. You disengage emotionally from the relationship.
  4. Body Language. Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure mounts, and your ability to process information is reduced. This makes it harder to pay attention to what your partner is saying.
  5. Failed Repair Attempts. Efforts made by either partner to deescalate the tensions during a touchy discussion fail to work.
  6. Bad Memories. Couples who are “stuck” in a negative view of their spouse and marriage often rewrite their past – for the worse.

Two of these predictors have great impact on the ability to predict marital breakups: the presence of the Four Horsemen and Failed Repair Attempts.

The Four Horsemen

“You are never supportive of me in front of your daughter. Why are you so weak when it comes to her?”

“Can’t you ever be consistent with your consequences? I always have to do your dirty work!”

Statements like those above appear on the outside to be simply a way to ‘vent’ or verbalize frustrations with our spouse. However, a closer look reveals the First Horseman: Criticism.

Many of us do not make the distinction between a criticism and a complaint. It is common and natural for many spouses to have complaints about the marriage or household. A complaint offers a specific statement of anger, displeasure, or frustration. We begin to see from the above statements, however, that criticism brings with it a personal attack or global accusation (e.g., you NEVER support me, etc.) which usually entails blaming.

It is easy to see how criticism in a marriage can lead to the Second Horseman: Contempt. Contempt usually involves the intention to insult your partner, and is an open sign of disrespect.

Clearly, when criticism and contempt are present in your marriage, respect and honor are very likely absent!

Welcomed Complaints

How can we turn criticisms into complaints? The following offers an alternative to the statements above:

Criticism: “You are never supportive of me in front of your daughter! Why are you so weak when it comes to her?”

Welcomed Complaint: “When you disagreed with me in front of my stepdaughter last night, I felt defeated and devalued.”

Criticism: “Can’t you ever be consistent with your consequences? I always have to do your dirty work!”

Welcomed Complaint: “I don’t feel we have the same rules for all our children. That’s frustrating!”

It is easy to see that rephrasing our criticism and contempt into welcomed complaints allows us to communicate our frustrations in a way that continues to honor our marital relationship.

Proverbs 12:18 teaches us that “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing”. We can bring healing to our marriage by guarding our tongue and our tone!

When stating a welcomed complaint, make sure you:

  • State your specific feeling (e.g., I get frustrated, or angry when you….etc.) or needs (e.g., I need you to be more decisive…etc.) behind your complaint;
  • Stay away from using global words (i.e., never, always, etc.);
  • Use “I” more than “You”.

It is natural to see why the Third Horseman, Defensiveness, enters a relationship, once criticism and contempt are present. Who wouldn’t defend themselves against such attacks of character?

But what does defensiveness look like? Defensiveness can take on many forms:

Category2 & Example:

  1. Denying Responsibility: “It wasn’t my fault, it was yours.”
  2. Making excuses: “If you would have told me sooner that I needed to take him, I could have gotten him to school on time.”
  3. Cross-complaining: Your Spouse says, “You never stand up to her!” Your cross-complaint: “You’re always on her case!”
  4. Rubber man / rubber woman: Your Spouse: “You’re not consistent with their discipline!” You: “Well, neither are you!”

What can we do if we find ourselves becoming defensive? Try these suggestions:

  • Stop seeing your spouse’s words as an attack. See them as information that is being strongly expressed;
  • Try to understand and empathize with your partner. Steven Covey, in his Seven Habits for Highly Effective People states, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
  • Be open and receptive during conflict.
  • Remember to breathe!
  • Keep your mouth shut (Proverbs 21:23).

By now, we’ve seen that it’s ok to have complaints in our marriage. But to honor our spouse, and to avoid the predictors of divorce, we must stay clear of criticism, contempt, and defensiveness. The Fourth Horseman is Stonewalling or withdrawing from your spouse.

Although those who stonewall may claim they are trying to remain ‘neutral’, stonewalling makes a very strong statement to your spouse. It says, “I’ve checked out of this discussion. I don’t find it important to continue to talk about this with you anymore”. It certainly does not convey honor or respect for our partner.

Interestingly, most men are physiologically unaffected by their wives’ stonewalling. This is quite the opposite for women. Wives’ heart rates increase dramatically when their husbands stonewall. To add to this, about 85% of stonewallers are men3.

It’s important to note that either spouse in a marriage may stonewall. The key is to avoid letting it becomehabitual. If you or your spouse find yourself wanting to withdraw or stonewall, try to:

  • Stay calm – learn to recognize when you are feeling overwhelmed and make a deliberate attempt to calm yourself;
  • Call a time out – make sure, though, to return to the discussion when you’ve cooled off!

We can see that the Four Horsemen can be deadly to a relationship. God warns us again and again that although the tongue is small, it can produce enormous damage (James 3:5, 3:8, Psalm 34:13, 57:4, 64:3, 140:3). We also learn that before we can have honor in our marriage, humility must precede it (Proverbs 15:33).

In Part 2 of this two-part series, we’ll take a look at Failed Repair Attempts. By learning the ‘art’ of a successful repair attempt, coupled with unbridling the Four Horsemen, you will be on your way to taking a proactive approach to protecting your marriage!

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References:

1 Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999), pp. 26-44. Reprinted with permission.

2 Dr. John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last (New York: FIRESIDE, 1994), pp. 89-90.

3 Dr. John Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last (New York: FIRESIDE, 1994), p. 95.

Cheryl A. Rowen is Director and Founder of America’s Family Resources, a national organization focusing on the preservation of today’s family. She is author and facilitator of the seminar and small group study “When 1+1=3: Discovering God’s Plan for You and Your Stepfamily”. She and her husband Thom live in Johnston, Iowa and have two children.

 

Staying Close in Remarriage

SOURCE:  Ron L. Deal

Strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen.

Blended family living can create a unique barrier that often keeps couples from staying close to one another. This barrier grows with the concerns, frustrations, and struggles that are all too common in remarriage. I call it “third party thorns.”

These prickly, blended family realities include things such as tenuous stepparent-stepchild relationships, an antagonizing ex-spouse, leftover debt that preceded the marriage, the memory of a wonderful marriage that ended in death, and even an ex-mother-in-law. But despite these thorns, healthy couples find a way to stay close.

For example, let’s look at Matt and Sherry. Matt has a very high need for closeness. His father and mother divorced when he was very young, so he grew up without a great deal of family stability. He mainly lived with his mother and blamed himself for his father not being around much. His grandfather served as a surrogate father for a few years, but then died an untimely death when Matt was just 10 years old. Because closeness in his childhood family relationships was not something he experienced, he longs for it in his marriage.

Matt’s wife, Sherry, grew up in a hard-working middle-class family. While they loved one another deeply, the demands of earning a living kept parents and children going in multiple directions. As a result, Sherry learned quickly how to remain emotionally and financially independent from loved ones. She prided herself on working her way through technical school after having a child in high school.

A later marriage added another child, but the marriage didn’t last. Sherry found herself divorced and the single parent of two. This series of fragmented romantic relationships fueled her emotional independence as a parent and woman.

When Matt and Sherry met, they quickly became romantically and sexually involved. Matt was enthralled with the amount of attention he received from Sherry. She seemed to be a dedicated mom, but went out of her way to make time for him.

Sherry saw in Matt the kind of stability she wanted her children to experience so she pursued him with passion. Her physical and sexual availability and his need for closeness quickly fused their emotional connection, but substance was lacking. They were fooled into thinking sexual passion equaled a healthy future.

After a rushed courtship and wedding, things changed considerably. Sherry didn’t feel the need to pursue Matt as much as she did before and he felt it. The significant drop in time together produced a great deal of anxiety in Matt. He complained to a friend, “Now that we’re married, Sherry is much more worried about being a mom than she is a wife. I feel like I’ve lost her.”

Neither Matt nor Sherry carries all the blame for their increasing distance. Yet each is responsible to fight through the thorns and stay close.

The doing and feeling of closeness

In general, close couples:

  • Trust and have confidence in one another; they feel secure as a couple.
  • Include one another in important decisions.
  • Have a mutual respect for one another.
  • Have many similar likes and interests.
  • Are committed to spending time together on a regular basis and intentionally plan ways to be together.
  • Feel the freedom to ask each other for help.
  • Choose to be loyal to one another.
  • Balance time with family and friends so as to not take away from their relationship.

The largest study conducted on the strengths of healthy blended family couples reveals that strong couples feel close to one another because they know what to do to make that happen. In The Remarriage Checkup: Tools to Help Your Marriage Last a Lifetime, Dr. David Olson and I reported that 94 percent of happy couples have hobbies and interests that bring them together. They find it easy to think of things to do as a couple (compared to 62 percent or less of discouraged couples). In addition, a full 94 percent said togetherness was a top priority for them, revealing strong couples’ intentional effort to invest in their relationship. Doing things that facilitate closeness certainly contributes to feeling close.

Every healthy relationship has a balance of time spent together and time apart. Healthy couples have both a desire to be together and a respect for the individual interests, pursuits, and freedoms of their spouse. In strong relationships, individuals place emphasis on the “self” as well as the “we.” And there’s something else.

Healthy blended family couples also strive for an appropriate amount of sharing, loyalty, intimacy, and independence within the larger family dynamic. This dance of intimacy is not easily achieved in blended families and demands attention and good communication since couples are continually pulled apart by stressful thorns.

Patience and persistence

Matt and Sherry found balance and a loving heart by doing a number of things. First, both had to calm their fears. Matt had to remember that it was good and right for Sherry to spend focused time with her children and that he really wasn’t in competition with them. Sherry had to recognize that maintaining her independence and emotional distance from Matt was in part an attempt to protect herself from depending on someone she couldn’t guarantee would always be there for her. If she was ever to move closer to him, Sherry had to risk trusting Matt.

Second, both Matt and Sherry became more intentional in carving out time to be together to enjoy a leisurely activity. For them, playing golf on occasion helped them to laugh and connect. But, of course, saying “yes” to golf meant saying “no” to other activities and time with children so they communicated often about finding the appropriate balance.

With patience and persistence, Matt and Sherry removed their thorns and stayed close.

Questions Answered: Blended Family; Sex Silence; Anger Styles

SOURCE:  Dr. Diane Langberg

Dear Dr. Langberg,
I’m in a second marriage, and the holidays are just the worst because that’s when my husband’s teens visit (his ex-wife has custody). There’s a lot of tension between his children and our children, and they compete for attention. It’s placing stress on our relationship. What can I do?

Mixing children from two different marriages does often cause quite a bit of tension. It usually requires hard work and good communication for the various relationships to mesh well.

As the adults in the home, you and your husband need to set the tone for all the children and their respective relationships. So think about how you’d like the children to relate to each other. What are your goals for your time together? What characteristics would you like to nurture in the children? How can you two work together to help both sets of children grow in love and respect for each other?

As you discuss these issues, you’ll also need to consider how you help or hinder your children from relating effectively. Do you carry any resentment toward the older children? Do you wish they didn’t come to your home? Does your husband feel guilty about not seeing more of them, and either distance himself or give them excessive attention? Hidden attitudes such as these can leak out and infect your home’s atmosphere. As you and your husband establish goals and examine your attitudes, pray together for yourselves and each child.

Help your younger children prepare for your husband’s teens’ visit well in advance. Why not encourage the younger ones to pray for their father’s other children? Perhaps they could send notes or cards to them throughout the year. Teach them about hospitality—what God says about it, and how they might demonstrate it to their guests at Christmas. Perhaps your husband could encourage his teens to reach out to your children throughout the year as well.

This difficult, stressful situation is full of potential for demonstrating to all your children God’s great love for us—and his call to us to love each other in like manner.

Although my husband and I have sex, we never talk about it. How can we broach the subject so we both feel more fulfilled in our sex life? I’ve never felt comfortable talking about sex, and I don’t think my husband does, either.

I’ve found, through years of marriage counseling, that many couples have sex regularly but never speak to each other about it. It seems rather common that what husbands and wives do with the lights out they cannot bring themselves to discuss when the lights are on. It’s a shame because many couples end up spending decades merely guessing whether or not their spouse is pleased, fulfilled, and comfortable, or miserable, unfulfilled, and in pain.

When I work with couples in similar circumstances, I find it helpful to use an outside resource as an aid to get them talking to each other, such as The Gift of Sex by Clifford and Joyce Penner. Such a book provides a helpful medium. You might begin by each reading the first chapter, then setting aside some time during the week to discuss what you’ve read. Simply choose one thing from the chapter that speaks to you, then talk about it. As you progress chapter by chapter, week by week, you’ll begin to read portions to each other that are important—and you’ll begin to use some of your own words rather than relying on the book. Soon you’ll find a growing freedom to discuss sex together.

If you think your husband’s discomfort level is too high even to suggest reading a book together, then simply hand him this column and tell him you would like to try what’s suggested here.

Sex is a wonderful part of marriage, and we aren’t meant only to enjoy it but to be free in our enjoyment. Since God is the one who thought of sex in the first place, it’s something we ought to be free to talk about. And there’s a side benefit: As you and your husband work through your discomfort and awkwardness, your relationship will improve—in all areas!

My husband and I are having a real problem handling anger. I like to blow off steam and get my anger out of my system, while my husband simmers. He’ll stay angry with me days after an argument, while I’m ready to kiss and make up minutes after I’ve vented. I’m frustrated by how long he holds on to a grudge.

You’re frustrated by your husband’s slow simmer, which lasts for days. But do you know how your “blowing off steam” affects him? Are you careful with your words, or do they run away from you? It’s possible that part of what feeds your husband’s slow simmer are the words that fly out of your mouth when you vent.

You and your husband need to discuss your different anger “styles” and find out how they impact each of you. I think you’ll find that your venting and his grudgebearing are both damaging. Scripture says, “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:20). As you delve into God’s Word and open yourselves up to his Spirit, you’ll find you need to be careful with your words and gracious in your speech. Your husband will discover that letting the sun go down on his anger opens the door to bitterness and resentment, both of which erode love.

You cannot keep your husband from holding a grudge. You can, however, encourage dialogue, listen to his perspective, pray for and with him, and most important, ask God to transform the way you manage anger.

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Diane Mandt Langberg, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice and the author ofCounsel for Pastors’ Wives (Zondervan) andOn the Threshold of Hope: Opening the Door to Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse (Tyndale).

Getting Married (Again): Tips for Blending Families

SOURCE:  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center

Getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime.  Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.

It is exciting to get married.

Marriage offers the opportunity to create a new family and new traditions. However, getting married when there are children involved can bring with it a new set of challenges and anxieties about making your relationship work successfully for a lifetime. Stepfamilies are very common, but creating one can be challenging.  In the United States, more than 1,300 stepfamilies are formed every day. It is a great responsibility to model healthy relationships for your children, and now is the perfect time to show them your best stuff! This tip sheet is designed to help engaged parents develop strategies to avoid potential areas of conflict and sustain a healthy marriage while co-parenting and combining families.

Develop a Shared Parenting Philosophy 

It is important to communicate about your parenting styles, beliefs and practices with your fiancé early in the relationship. This will allow you to identify a shared philosophy regarding how you will parent.

Marriage is a team sport. When a couple follows the same parenting “rules,” it sends a positive message to the child/children about your commitment to each other, and to them. Different rules for “yours” and “mine” create division and confusion for children. Discuss with your fiancé in private the rules that will apply to all children such as: bedtime, chores, allowance, homework, computer time, telephone, television and anything else related to the children’s daily routine. Consider giving teenagers a voice when setting the rules and when identifying the consequences for breaking the rules. Participating in a parenting or marriage enrichment course can help you discover parenting differences and similarities, and also help you agree on how to approach parenting conflicts ahead of time.

Establish Rituals

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) Journal of Family Psychology finds that family traditions and rituals are associated with marital satisfaction, adolescents’ sense of personal identity, children’s health, academic achievement and stronger family relationships. A blended family has a wonderful opportunity to create new family traditions.  You, your fiancé, and all of the children in your “new” family will need to take the time to develop these new traditions. This will allow them to be more open to different ways of doing things, as well as help the bonding process.

In addition to creating new rituals, it is important to recognize the ones that are already in place in your family or your fiancé’s family. Embrace established traditions without feeling threatened by how they were created or who may have started them.  Family traditions can be found in celebrations such as birthdays, religious ceremonies, holidays, scheduled family time (e.g. movie night or game night), Sunday dinners and family reunions. Be prepared to gracefully accept the rituals that come with your partner’s family and look forward to creating new ones together.

Address Grief and Loss

Ending a relationship (be it a marriage or otherwise), especially one that produced children, is difficult. Our relationships are part of who we are, and breaking up or divorcing is a loss. Even when the break up is “the right thing to do,” your expectations and life course have changed.

Any time there is loss, there is grief. Be sure to address your child’s grief as well as your own prior to remarriage. Talk with your children about what they are experiencing and their expectations for your marriage and family.  Even the creation of an exciting new family can trigger a grief reaction or anxiety for some children as they are reminded of what they have lost. The consequences of not doing this with your children can be severe, as grief and loss tend to become apparent through behavioral and emotional problems.

Similarly, talk with your fiancé about this difficult topic. Not being able to do so may indicate a lack of trust and openness in the relationship that can be detrimental in the long run.

Define Expectations

Everyone enters marriage with their own expectations about who does what, and how things get done. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of our expectations. Thinking about your expectations (even concerning the little things) and talking with your partner about them are essential.

Not all households are run the same. If your children are splitting their time between multiple homes, they are adapting to different rules in each setting. We all do better with some structure in our lives. Children especially need organization, structure and consistency. It is important for you and your fiancé to talk about what is expected in your home, and to understand the environment in other home(s) where your children may spend time. This will allow you to create the most stable situation possible for everyone.

Attend a Marriage Education Course

The best thing a couple can do for the family as a whole is to build and strengthen the couple relationship. Research suggests that the ability to communicate well and solve problems effectively are keys to lifelong marriage. Participate in a marriage education workshop to enhance your communication skills and learn strategies to deal with conflicts and challenges that may arise, including with those that could arise with your ex husband or wife. Some marriage educators have even adapted their programs specifically for blended families. One of the most important lessons to teach your children is the understanding of what a healthy relationship looks like. When children see the commitment and dedication the two of you have toward one another, it can provide a sense of security, reduce fear and anxiety, and reinforce the family bond.

Be Patient 

Good relationships require work. Being a good parent or stepparent requires work as well.  Do not expect the children to immediately bond with your new spouse. Remember, your marriage is a new relationship for them too.  When children are involved, allow friendship and respect to evolve on their own. Make sure you and your fiancé are discussing your individual relationships with the children to prevent any build-up of resentment or the perception of parents taking sides. Keep the lines of communication open and be flexible.  Even after developing a plan and parenting strategy, you may need to alter and adjust it over time.

Conclusion 

A marriage is a joyous occasion and an exciting event in your life. Preparing for a marriage that includes blending two families requires special preparation and consideration. The more open you and your fiancé are with one another about your parenting styles, former relationships and expectations, the better prepared you will be for a healthy marriage. This will set a positive tone for communication and problem solving throughout your relationship.

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The National Healthy Marriage Resource Center would like to thank Joyce Webb, Ph.D., for her contributions to this Tip Sheet. Dr. Webb is apsychologist with 18 years experience working with couples. Contributing authors also include Rhonda Colbert, Rachel Derrington,MSW, and Courtney Harrison, MPA,  of the NHMRC.

This is a product of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, led by co-directors Mary Myrick, APR, and Jeanette Hercik, Ph.D., and project manager Patrick Patterson, MSW, MPH.

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