Inspired by my own experiences, and the experiences of the stepfamilies I work with, I write about the stresses of day to day challenges in step families and provide simple solutions to help you sort out the mess.
L-O-V-E that thing we want to have, that lasts a lifetime. Well, if you are part of a stepcouple you already know that it doesn’t last a lifetime. And if this is your second or even third time down the aisle, you want to make darn sure this one will be the last. But, also the best. How do you ensure your stepcouple success? Is there some magic involved? Maybe a little bit of it. Here are some tips I call the Magic 7
1)Focus on the positives: Think of your relationship as a garden. Sure, you want to pluck the weeds but you also need to plant the flowers and fertilize your garden. Focussing on all the things going wrong eclipses the good stuff, the small stuff and that is the stuff that matters. Make sure the positives outweigh the negatives. Successful relationship guru John Gottman said the ratio of positive interactions is 5:1.
2)Think highly of your partner: Think the best of them, give them the benefit of the doubt, believe in them. What’s your frame of reference for their behaviour? Are you constantly criticizing or are you building them up? We all make mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. But, when you are on the same team, team members support each other, bring their best and expect the other to bring their best. In other words they bring out the best in each other.
3)Speak highly of them to others: Sometimes our friends and family only hear our complaints about our spouses or the mistakes they make. But, if that is ALL they hear, then they think that your spouse is a total jerk. Your friends and family will be on your side. All you wanted to do was vent? That’s ok, as long as your vent is to let go of the negative to elevate yourself and come back to your partner with a clearer perspective, head and heart. And your friends and family need to hear about the time he went outside in the freezing cold to brush the snow off your car or the time she took your sick mom to the doctor when you were out of town.
4)Have a piece of humble pie: See their perspective too. You aren’t the only one who thinks they are right. You should frame this through the lens of do you want to be happy or do you want to be right? Keep in mind, everybody’s point of view is valid. And asking yourself “am I also contributing to the problem?” is a good question to ask. Maybe your perspective of the problem can shift and the problem won’t be as big of a deal. In other words, let go of your fixed position.
5) Have high standards for their behaviour and yours: If you wouldn’t say nasty things to your boss or co-workers, why would you be nasty to your beloved? Being mean and nasty should not be meant for your partner. EVER. Bambi’s Thumper said it best: If you can’t say anything nice don’t say anything at all. But don’t accept it from them either. Keep yourself and your partner accountable for bad behaviour.
6) Learn to repair and say you are sorry Further to the high standards, it’s important to own your mistakes. If you hold grudges, then there is no room for making amends. And learn how to say sorry in a way that your partner will hear it. Don’t know what I mean? Check out the book by Gary Chapman called “When Sorry Isn’t Enough”
7) Let it go: Tallying the bad never gets you ahead. In anything. Again if you are looking for the bad, that is all you will see. Are you looking for how often they leave dirty socks in the bathroom? Then you will surely find evidence. Is this petty record keeping really worth how it chips away at the foundation of your relationship? Choose to let it go.
And I want to leave on a great quote from Mr. Rogers: Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people. And might I add, the healthiest of relationships. I hope that these steps are helpful in making your last one… last.
Here’s a little known fact about me. I have been working with families in crisis for about 25 years. When I say crisis, I mean child protection crisis, where I had to ensure kids’ safety by investigating and sometimes removing them from their parent’s care. That was the most difficult job I’ve ever done. Yes, even harder than being a stepmom.
In my support group of awesome stepmoms, I have read and responded to many mama’s whose stepkiddos have been pushed aside by their birth mom. These stepmamas have time and again shared the heart and gut wrenching stories of watching their stepkids celebrate milestones, birthdays, concerts, and semifinals without their moms sitting in the audience. Or fail to follow though on promises and commitments. Or lie and manipulate. While I know these biomoms are an epic disappointment to their children, there is more going on than we realize. “IF they REALLY loved their children, they would NEVER say/do this/that”
Yet, when these fully invested and committed stepmoms who have wiped tears, bandaged cuts, cleaned up puke and drove to every practice, game and championship match see their kids chose mom over them, it’s like a piece of their heart has been cut out of them, stamped on, driven over and shredded. Especially if the kids were with them full time. Especially if biomom managed to cause as much shit disturbance as she possibly could.
Here’s what I know about those birth moms who push their kids out of the way and willingly hand over their kids to you and your man: She is still “mom”. And they hold onto the smallest of glimmers of anything resembling a good thing about their moms. I believe deep down they know you are safe and they can be angry at you. In a way, it’s a backhanded compliment. But, it also has nothing to do with you and EVERYTHING to do with how mom didn’t show up they way they were supposed to. The way these kids need them to. The way these kids deserve!!
They are afraid of saying their deepest hurts and darkest feelings out loud to their mom. They’ve already been rejected by her. It’s just not safe for them to be honest with her. If they do then they erase any miniscule hope and fantasy that she will find them worthy of her time, her energy and her love. It’s like if mom wants them back, it redeems them. It validates them. And intermittent reinforcement- sometimes mom follows through or shows up, sometimes you get a reward and sometimes not- is THE toughest reinforcement to break in terms of habits
There is an inexplicable connection between a pregnant mom and her baby in utero. There is research that shows how there is a psychic connection; an energetic connection that is only experienced in pregnancy. (see for example : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3083029/) Indigenous Cree culture teaches it. An Indian man in one of my parenting classes shared it is similar in his culture. For kids who have been rejected by mom, or something or someone is perceived to have been chosen over them as a child, its monumentally huge for their self esteem, self worth and for future relationships. We say to our foster parents, who are hurt and frustrated by the exact same stuff, “these kids have a mom sized hole in their heart”
But from a birth mom perspective, and we discuss this with foster parents too, maybe losing their children is the wake up call they need to change. But, sometimes it drives them deeper into their pain, sometimes addictions, further self loathing, or mental illness. But bigger picture, for all of you who sacrifice for your stepkids, they eventually get it and eventually figure it out. But, it takes time. Trust me. My own bio kids aren’t appreciative of all my sacrifices because they don’t know what those sacrifices are, and they shouldn’t have to. They are kids. They seem to only figure it out when they are having to sacrifice for their own kids.
If we stop and we look at this from a bio mom perspective, where you are just being your awesome self, you”threaten” mom just by showing up. We tell foster parents -who sometimes only have kids for a few weeks or months- that during their time with their family, these kids experience and know love, safety, security, nurturing and the possibilities of healthy family that they otherwise never would have experienced. So stepmama, reassure them that they are valued, loved, cared for, and seen for the pain that runs so deep the wounds may never entirely heal. And then remind yourself of how awesome you are for your commitment to a child you never gave birth to.
Now that the hustle and bustle of Christmas is over, I like
to take stock of my year before heading into the new year to set my intentions
or goals for the coming year. I do a
quiet reflection and look at my growth,
change, and accomplishment in particular. I want to start my new year
strong and positive. Why would I want to focus on loss and negativity and
things I did not accomplish when I can spend the exact same amount of energy on
the good things this past year? I also have been doing some reading and some
personal work on the universal law of attraction. That law states that where and
what we focus on becomes our reality. We focus on the positive, we invite more
of that in. The same goes for negativity.
So why would anyone want to spend their precious time on the
Some of the reason why our default setting to focus on the
negative can be connected to our own families. We are influenced by our family
of origin in many ways. The influence
they have on our perspective or point of view can become background noise and
taken for granted as “that’s just the way things are”. Then, unconsciously, we
are naturally inclined to focus on the negative if the influence has been
negative. That default setting can feel like we are cemented into that spot. I
know, I’ve been re-writing my mental script for a long time. It is a mental
script that gets stuck on auto-play. It’s intentional work to undo it. But, the
more we focus on the negative, the more of that we become aware of. Loss moulds
and shapes who you are, but it doesn’t have to limit you. Pain doesn’t have to
weigh you down. You can CHOOSE to let that loss and pain be a gift. It’s hard
in the newness of loss to choose gratitude, but in reflection of the greatest
losses I have experienced, I can be grateful for how those experiences shaped my
resilience, my compassion, and my patience. However, that does come after you
have given yourself the space and grace to heal. All of those gifts have been incredibly important
in my stepfamily evolution.
You can decide right now that 2019 is going to be magical,
or potent, or ridiculously amazing, or successful. Choose one word or a two or
three word phrase for yourself for the year ahead (or start with that word for
January and as you grow, change and evolve pick another). You can also think
about the word you want for your relationship with your spouse. Pick a word or
phrase with your partner like fun, courageous, unity or strength. Or pick your
focus phrase or words every month as you feel like you are accomplishing your
desires and goals.
Think about what seeds you want to plant and the flowers or fruit you want to grow for 2019. That is your focus, that is your strength. I like to write down my focus phrases. It makes them more intentional. I like to use post it notes- they are simple and easy, and I post them on my bathroom mirror. You can post yours on the bathroom or other places too like the rear view mirror in your car, your computer screen, inside your brief case. Any place you will see it, and be reminded of it more than once during your day. Remember, you are rewriting old scripts you’ve told yourself 1000’s of times. It will take some practice to get yourself believing and internalizing it.
Another thing I like to do for setting goals is reading some
books for my year ahead. I want to improve myself. If I improve myself, then
the rest of my family benefits. It’s part of my self care. I like academic
books and inspirational books. I am
reading “The Four Agreements” By Don Miguel Ruiz. And I cannot believe how helpful
it would be for stepfamily dynamics. I am also reading “Laugh Your Way to a
Better Marriage” by Mark Gungor. (By the way, these are two books I highly
recommend and I’m not even done reading them yet!) My hubby and I attended Mark’s
weekend workshop of the same title and we LAUGHED and cried and grew. Best part
of that? We grew together. As I type this I’ve decided to add to my 2 words I’ve
chosen for 2019 and add GROWTH. I feel
that coming for me, for my husband, my marriage and for my stepfamily.
Now that the season of bright lights and big expectations is here, it is a good time to share a few ways to help you manage the stress and anxiety this time of year often brings for stepfamilies. There are so many competing priorities and responsibilities. We often find ourselves stretched with additional commitments, additional expenses, and additional stress! Not to mention, when we are SUPPOSED to be enjoying time with our loved ones, this season can highlight painful loss. We must take time for ourselves and balance that with the time we feel we must make for our family, our friends, and our spouses. Contending with the chaos to create peace can take some intentional effort, but it doesn’t have to be hard.
Start with Faith:Faith isn’t hard this time of year. For many, it’s Christmas! We celebrate the birth of a miracle baby, and that’s what faith is all about. For other religions, it’s a magical time of celebration. Or is it? Merriam Webster Dictionary says that to keep the faith means “to continue to believe in, trust, or support someone or something when it is difficult to do so”. As a stepparent, our faith is tested daily. We must extend this grace to not only ourselves, but to our children, our stepchildren, and our partners. But, particularly our partners. After all, it will be them that we share the rest of our lives with as the kids grow and move on with their own lives. We must believe in and trust our spouse, that they are doing the best they can and we support them in doing that. For example, a good stepmama friend of mine says she has learned to graciously allow her husband to be as good- or bad- a parent as he is, no judgment. His mistakes are his to learn from and to choose to grow from. She is also quite good at sidestepping the negative tail spin that sometimes is the result. Not easy to do, but, showing them that we have faith in them, that we respect them and their decisions (even if we don’t agree with them) will light them up brighter than the twinkling lights on the exterior of your house.
Have a little Hope:In my work, I often share that some of the healing that we all need comes from taking the telescopic view rather than the microscopic view. When we focus on the details of here and now, we forget to keep our heads up and look at the bigger picture, where we want to go and how we want to get there. I remember reading about Nelson Mandela and how his hope kept him alive while he was imprisoned for 27 years, despite experiencing brutality. His hope inspired me. How can a man who has been discriminated against, traumatized and degraded for his values and his beliefs sustain hope in a hopeless situation? He never let “them” win. He focused on his mind set and his attitude.A positive mind set despite the outside noise is potent. We only have control over our thoughts, behaviours, and feelings and no one else’s. When we view a person through the lens of good intentions, of faith and hope then we allow the possibility that they will rise to the occasion. Where is the incentive to change bad behavior for better when all you expect is negativity? What would be the point in changing or doing better? At times, we feel our situation is hopeless, but hope is faith’s fire. Even if things don’t appear to be getting better, if we shift our perspective on how we see things then it does get better- we take things less personally for example. And as Mandela stated: May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.
Create a space of Love: Self love is critical. If you can’t first love yourself, where does the rest come from? You cannot give what you do not own. If you believe that love starts with or comes from someone else, then that source can be finite and fickle. If you have love for yourself in abundance, then the spill over flows to others around you. Self love is never a finite source. There are people, I can honestly say, I do not love but, I send them loving energy and compassion. Forgiveness, if not for them then for you, is an important piece. Another key is not taking things personally. That starts with self love and self confidence. If I have those in place I set clearer boundaries with bad behavior and because I am worthy enough, I keep them.
Be Thankful: Take stock of the things that you find peace in, that bring you joy, and focus on the things that are going well. When you do that, the good, small things become more defined, more clear, bigger, and more sweet. And as you notice the small things, then you start noticing the big and you start to notice that they are everywhere. And when you see it, believe it, and share it with your family. We all shine when we are encouraged,noticed, seen and feel that we are valued. That is where your power lies. That is a foundation builder.
Make Peace a Priority: The noise and the chaos can be overwhelming. But, having peace in your head, your heart and your soul are survival tools all stepparents need. Peace doesn’t come easy. It requires intentional time and effort, in other words, it requires self discipline. Don’t let anyone take away your self care time and opportunities.Especially you! The more you are taking some breathing space, time to clear your head and be right in your heart and soul the easier it is to keep the low hum from becoming an overwhelming roar. The little things bounce off you better and don’t accumulate and overwhelm you. Peace starts from recognizing what is sacred to you. If it is a little nook to retreat and read, then nobody else is allowed to be there. If your master bedroom is sacred, children and their belongings should have no access. Carve out and care for your piece of peace.
My hope is that you are able to incorporate some of these ideas to help you be your best and bring your best to your family this holiday season. Warmest wishes for joy and peace to you and your family.
In my role as a stepfamily coach and the administrator of several stepmom support groups I made a recent, painful self discovery. I am guilty of a serious stepmom advice sin: telling a stepmom: “ Don’t take it personally” I’ve said it many times to many women over my stepmom coaching career. Not until recently did I realize how serious my error was. And how incredibly hard “not taking it personally” was to do. Stepmoms aren’t supposed to take their stepchild’s rejection personally, or a high conflict ex wife telling the stepkids to hate you personally, or when your partner undermines your discipline in front of the kids personally. I was recently in the midst of my own stepmom pain and thought to myself “stop taking it so personally, this isn’t about you”. But I couldn’t stop taking it personally. What was happening felt VERY personal. And the behaviour was directed at ME.
Here’s the problem. It wasn’t blatant. It was subtle, and in my opinion that was more damaging. I could feel the rejection and it was very real. And it hurt. A lot. In my opinion I couldn’t understand how I deserved this. But, I had to remind myself of something that I had repeatedly told myself in the past: I was a painful reminder to my stepkids that their family was over. Their family would never go back to the way it was. Marrying my husband and having more children changed their original family. It was hard to wrap my head and heart around the fact that my love and desire for a family, that was to include my stepchildren, turned out to be the very reason I was rejected. Here’s what I know. I didn’t deserve it. Not at all. And I always knew this wasn’t about me. I did in my mind at least. However, that wasn’t exactly true of my heart. So, then my next step was to figure out how to take what I knew in my mind and place it in my heart. Those two parts of my body felt at polar opposites to each other and that was going to be hard to reconcile.
I know that am a smart woman, but matters of the heart are harder to rationalize and figure out. In fact, our brains aren’t wired to be rational when our emotions are triggered. So, I was left to think of ways that THEIR behaviour didn’t impact me. I had to let their hurtful and disrespectful behaviours roll off me. I had to remind myself that how they treated me was a reflection of their lack, and their loss rather than a reflection of me. What were the necessary steps I had to make for me? When I read the following quote, I knew I had the answer:
The goal is to build up the wall of positivity so high around you that no matter what negativity comes your way it can’t get through and bounces off and no longer affects your well being. – author unknown
I had to do some research to know how someone else did it. (here’s a great article to read ). However, I had to make it specific to stepfamily life.
But in the end, it was the hard, painful kind of stretch- yourself -out -of -your -comfort- zone work that I needed to do. Honestly, I’m not done with my personal work of following the tips below. In fact, if I am feeling vulnerable in general then I’m more prone to taking everything personal. Here’s what helped me. I hope it helps you.
1) A quick check up: do they treat everyone this way or just you? If this is their pattern and how they treat everyone then it’s not personal. If it’s only you, there are 5 other steps to take to insulate yourself.
2) Approval Denied: We think we need their (the ex or the stepchildren) approval. We believe we need to know they are ok with our presence. If they like us we win. We equate their approval with extra validity in our relationship with our partner. It means we are approved as a part of the family, it gives us legitimacy like a check mark on the list of building successful families. But our happiness should not and cannot depend on their approval. In our minds we know we aren’t a threat to them but they haven’t gotten that interdepartmental memo. We also need our CEO- our spouses- to send an upper management memo that respect IS not an option. Seriously, approve of yourself first. Be strong in who you are and what you bring to your family. Own your awesomeness and own your power. A key to this, if you KNOW you have been respectful to everyone and their process of adjusting to the huge changes that blending brings, you are golden. If not, you have some work to do on YOUR end as well.
3) It’s about them not about you. Very likely, jealousy or insecurity (or both) is at the root of this. How do people who do not value themselves value others? It’s not possible. And often, you reflect something that they lack. They have no control so feel that they have to take as much as they can get. You have something they want. You are a constant reminder that the relationship is over. That is a loss that has to be grieved. That takes time. And if they never get over it? Then that means you have to get around it. The following quote keeps that in perspective:
Hurt people hurt people, whole people heal people- Yehuda Berg
4) Take a deep breath. Take 10 deep breaths. Replenish your bucket with self care activities. Baths or exercise, a good book, journaling, catch a comedy, nature walks, prayer, meditation whatever it is you need to build your wall of strength and create positive flow. And then actually do it: prioritize it, make it happen. EVERY. DAY.
5) BOUNDARIES!! Yes, stand your ground and be clear that their judgments, their criticism, their opinions, their values are theirs. My favourite quote attributed to many authors over time is “What other people think of me is none of my business” You do not have to listen to their opinion or buy into it. Clearly they don’t care about yours. You can say what you will and will not allow from them. You do not have to deal with them at all, if that protects your head and heart. In fact, just ignore PERIOD!
One of THE most profound “a-ha” moments for me came a few years ago when I was in tears talking to my brother, who is also part of a stepfamily. He said to me your stepkids don’t have to like you. WOW! What?! That is not what I was trying so desperately to accomplish. But it’s true. If they did not like me it doesn’t mean I was any less of a wonderful person with a good heart. It didn’t make me any less of a great wife and mother to our daughters. In fact, it held very little importance to me once I really thought about it. I know who I am. I had to start with insulating myself. I had to disengage. I set boundaries for myself. I refused to participate in many activities. Some were unavoidable, but it helped me to stop caring so darn much.
6) Mantras and affirmations. When you are in a calm state, it’s easier to “know” that this isn’t really about you. It’s a practice you need to do regularly (hourly if need be for the first little while) so that when you are emotional or triggered you already have your practice honed. Once it becomes a practice, you can focus and be centred in a matter of breaths. The quotes above can be your mantra. My other favourite affirmation isn’t actually an affirmation, it’s an ancient Hawaiian prayer. It’s the Ho’ oponopono prayer. It’s a powerful prayer that I have been using a lot lately. This is it:
It helps me find peace within myself, which then extends beyond me, to those around me. I trip up a bit on the love part but think of it rather as loving energy/vibes.
So, on good days you may have to use one or two of these tools, on the not so good days, a combination of all of them. Know that this is a work in progress. In fact, that is a guarantee. So, the most important person to be gentle with is you! We all know about the fluid nature of steplife. If you are doing the job you have to of caring for your own well being and focusing on boundaries and positive re-framing, you are well on your way to letting the words and behaviors of others not affect you. That is where you will find your true peace and your true power!
Peace to you in your head, you heart, and your soul!
One of the most painful and repeated stories I hear in my work with stepparents is that they often feel like they take a back seat to their stepkids. They feel like they are not the priority for their partner. That awareness creates a particularly acute and unique kind of pain. I remember reading that stepparenting is not for the faint of heart. That is very true. Another part to add to that sentiment is falling in love with a parent is not for the faint of heart either. It is incredibly hard to have a successful intimate relationship when you are in a stepfamily.
But, the most amazing thing about stepcouple success is that we are fighters for our relationships and survivors of EVERYTHING that gets thrown our way: high conflict exes who call the shots in your home, children who want nothing to do with you except when you give them something, in laws who are loyal to the ex, family and friends who do not have the slightest idea what telling you to take the high road actually costs you. So here are 10 steps to get you feeling better about your stepcouple relationship.
#1 You’re Number 2: the reality is that the bioparent and child relationship was firmly established before you showed up. The attachment is there and so is the forgiveness that goes with unconditional love. Every child deserves unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness. But, just because you showed up a little later in the game DOES NOT mean that your position isn’t important. According to the time line, you showed up second but that doesn’t mean your power position should be less than a child’s position. However, being respectful of that first relationship is important. You can’t insert yourself into an automatic place of authority without developing a relationship with the kids first. But, your partner must pull you up to his or her rank and position as an equal. You are in a partnership after all. Adults are the authority figures. It’s like the captain of a ship and the CEO of the company. Adults take the lead.
#2 Friends First Parents Second: When you see your partner spending more time on being a friend to his/her children rather than a parent it is painful to watch. This IS a tough and very common issue. We ultimately have no control over how our partner will parent – or not parent- HIS children. You can have discussions and negotiations where instead of insisting on YOUR way vs THEIR way becomes a 2.0 version of OUR way. In my stepmom discussions a very smart stepmom had this to say: I have to trust that my partner is doing his best to parent his children the best he can. And I also want to add that the consequences of his choices to parent or not are his to deal with. How his parenting style plays out down the road is not a reflection of you.
#3 Rejection Sucks: so your stepkids give you the cold shoulder? There are reasons why they want you gone. Here’s what you represent: the end of their life as they knew it. Even if that life was full of fighting and hurt, it was what they knew and believed to be normal. And you BEING there means that there is no way that their mom and dad will EVER get back together. From their perspective, you are the intruder. But here’s some perspective: they would feel that way about any other partner their parent takes on. Especially for the stepmom. But the bottom line? The kids must be respectful. Here’s the tricky key though- so must you.
#4 What is Your Investment? And futher to that, what is your return on that investment? Remember the point in number two? The long term outcome doesn’t reflect on you as a person, a partner, or a parent. You can be the supportive, positive influencer. More important is your role is as the bio parent to your own children (if you have them) and as your spouse’s partner. Put in as much energy as you choose to. You are the only one who actually gets to decide what you WANT to put into this. They have parents already, they may not be doing a great job, but those are your standards based on what you see in the situation. They managed before you came along. And remember, you should NEVER work harder than their bio parents.
#5 Fixing the Broken: You cannot and SHOULD NOT fix what is not yours to fix. Hard boundary and full stop. Stepping in where and when you are unwanted and unwelcome only creates resentment for you, your partner, your kids and very likely the ex. Trying to fix something you did not break takes away the opportunity for the players involved to learn their lessons and clean up their own messes. And if they don’t learn from their lessons, that is their lesson too. Take a deep cleansing breath and let go.
#6 The Stepparent Stepback the best way for you to take a look at what your investment in the outcome is, is to do the stepparent stepback. When you aren’t getting the outcome you hoped you would and it hurts you more than it helps them it’s time to take yourself out of the equation. There is no sin in saving yourself. Sometimes you are the only person who can…and should. Be your own champion
#7 Selfcare Above Everyone Else. Seriously. That is no joke. I remember the quote- but not where it came from “I want to build a life I don’t have to escape from”. If you are scraping the bottom of the barrel, what are you giving to the people who need you? Self care is not selfish. Everyone around you benefits when you are in a healthy head and heart space. It must be a non- negotiable.
#8 Boundaries: control what you can control your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviour. What goes into your body and what comes out and where. That is it. Set some boundaries when the other people are trying to control the stuff out of their control. Make your boundaries clear.
#9 Build on Your Intimate Relationship take your focus away from the kids. You didn’t get together because your partner had kids, in fact you probably got together despite them. And once they move out and move on with their own adult lives and have spouses and kids of their own, all you have is each other. So, you need to nurture your foundation.
#10 A Stepfamily IS Successful Stepcoupling. You are the fabric of the family. You can be that strong foundation, showing the kids how successful partnerships look, feel and sound like. So show up as a team, an unbreakable, unstoppable stepcouple team. Nothing is impossible with a solid team with solid communication and intimate connection. Facing the stresses of stepfamily life together and turning it into stepfamily success. You are a power couple. See it. Believe it. Be it.
You can learn key steps to success at my The Successful Stepcouple Retreat. Sign up today!
Marriage is tough stuff. It takes intentional work to keep the fire that brought you together burning. There will be many times when the fires burn bright and strong and there will be many times when the embers are barely visible or felt. Re-marriage adds extra layers of complication and dynamics. Remarriage with kids and exes who are still part of the picture require extra intentional efforts. What are the best ways to make sure your spark roars into a flame? Here are 10 tips for successful stepcoupling.
1) Be realistic. It will never be just the two of you. Your kids, your spouse’s kid, former spouses and in-laws will be part of your new family in some way. Re-evaluate your expectations about how this is supposed to be to how it actually is.
2) Be patient. It takes time to gel as a family unit. The one big happy family may not happen until a few years down the road. So, be patient with yourself, your kids, his kids, and your new partner. Everyone adjusts to change in their own time.
3) Be Flexible: You won’t always have things your way. Accept that your spouse and your stepchildren may have different feelings, styles, traditions and values than you do. Be open to new ways of doing things. Creating your own new traditions that you all can celebrate and look forward to.
4) Do NOT personalize or take seriously the negative things that your stepkids say to or about you. Remember the kids didn’t choose this relationship. They didn’t fall in love with your partner the way you did. They may be scared, angry, confused and grieving about the changes in their family that they have no control over. It’s safer to be angry with you than their own parents.
5) Learn how to co-parent. While stepkids are different than your own kids in many ways, all children deserve to be treated with fairness and respect. You don’t have to be the disciplinarian right away, build trust first. Relationships make room for rule enforcement. But it’s up to adults to build that trust.
Openly discuss parenting values and family expectations with your spouse. Ideally, this should happen before you move in together. But, it’s never to late to get on the same page together. Work together as a stepcouple team to establish routines, rules and consequences that work for your family. And, if you include them in the process, the kids will feel more invested because they helped make their rules and their consequences.
6) Take care of yourself. Stepparenting often is a thankless job. Acceptance, appreciation and affection may not flow freely from your stepkids, so make time for yourself and acknowledge yourself for your hard work and dedication.
7) Make your marriage a priority. Nothing can come between a strong stepcouple. Difficult kids or contentious ex- spouses can’t divide you. Having a supportive relationship makes it easier for both of you to handle the challenges of stepfamily life. A supportive relationship is the foundation for a strong and successful stepfamily.
8) Listen to and talk with your spouse each day. Invest in and develop your communication skills and work to stay connected. Resist the temptation to point fingers at each other, blame the kids or ex- spouses.
9) Have fun with each other and your kids and stepkids. Use your sense of humour and laugh together. Often. It presses the reset button when you are feeling stress and tension in your home. It’s easier to build relationships with the kids when you aren’t feeling stressed and so serious all the time.
10) Talk with supportive people who understand what it’s like to be in a stepfamily. If you think being in a stepfamily is hard you are not alone! Find support by networking with other couples, by joining a support group or by finding a coach experienced in the unique dynamics of stepfamily life.
Life is stressful. We have pressure on us from multiple sources. But as a partner in a stepcouple we can add on many more layers those in first time families NEVER have to contend with: spousal support, child support and the spin off financial constraints, you know it and have heard me say it. And the list goes on. The best way to handle and navigate the stress is to team up. Two heads- and hearts are better than one. And remember, the one who has your heart, should also have your back. The stepcouple weaves the fabric of 2 worlds together. The successful stepcouple is the foundation for a successful stepfamily. Children and angry exes can’t come between you two. You can be unbreakable. How? These are 5 ways to start 2018 on a strong foundation, so it can carry you through trials and tribulations of the coming year.
1) Talk to each other. The good stuff. The bad stuff. Get to the nitty gritty of the heart of the matter and the heart of your spouse and your relationship. Conflict can be hard and really scary. We typically want to avoid it. But if you can reframe it through the lens as an opportunity to make things better and to change your trajectory as a team then grab the opportunity. You don’t have to wait for conflict to arise before you talk. In fact, having good heart to heart talks can prevent the conflict.
Men and women communicate differently. Our patterns come from our past experiences. Not all of those patterns are healthy or helpful. Get help if you get stuck with not being heard or having a hard time listening while not reacting. There are loads of resources to keep your boat afloat. It fends off resentment and assumptions.
2) Touch each other. It doesn’t have to be the physically intimate kind but if it leads there all the better. Do you remember how much you looked into your partner’s eyes when you first were together? That’s how you touch each other’s heart. That’s how you bond to your partner. It was nature working it’s magic, to build the chemistry required for long term coupling. Do you remember how often you held hands, tucked her hair behind her ear, rubbed his arm in reassurance or squeezed his leg saying “Hi, I want you? Go back to those magic moments and sneak a little squeeze in. But keep the heavy groping for closed doors. In other words, be discreet. Especially if your stepfamily is new. Where do you start if you are feeling shy? Try the above step in earnest, it will bring your hearts closer together. Date nights are a great way to get the ball rolling.
3) Be tenacious with each other: Tenacity means you have determination, purposefulness, perseverance. It’s commitment. And it’s a key ingredient for stepcouple success. When the going gets tough you dig in. It’s a trait in all stepparents and stepcouples. And, to have tenacity you have to have the above two areas covered. You have to spend time talking about where you are going to focus your energies as a team. There can be so much noise and distraction from the kids and exes and, and, and. But, as a solid stepcouple, you prioritize your relationship and nurture it and each other. It’s a great way to fend off monotony.
4) Be tender with each other: Be kind. Harsh words, swearing and cruel criticism have no place in an intimate partnership. When you are angry, take a deep breath before you lash out. Stop and remind yourself how you would like to be spoken to. Start soft and have respect for the person you’ve chosen a life long commitment to. Let your lens you look at your partner through be one of compassion and understanding. Maybe they had a bad day at work. Maybe they heard some bad news they haven’t yet shared with you. Everyone has a battle they struggle with. Likely you know what their battle is but let the tenderness soften your heart and don’t assume anything. If you can find the tenderness that will set the tone for how your partner treats you.
5) Trust in each other: Trust is not a one time event that is present and no longer requires attention or energy or work. According to researcher and therapist John Gottman, “The work of trust building occurs as you move through life together. This is not to say that the trust you have now isn’t real. It’s an acknowledgement that the trust you do have is not yet as strong as it one day will be.” Without a strong commitment to talking and touching and turning to each other when you are seeking refuge from life’s challenges, trust erodes. Gottman says it’s not only the big things, it’s the small daily things. Your partner is your person, as you are for them. You are each other’s refuge Make it a safe refuge.
The more you talk, touch, have tenacity within your relationship, share tenderness with each other and nurture the trust, the deeper your relationship and the more unstoppable you will be. In 2018 and beyond. For many, many years to come.