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The thought of bonding in a stepfamily can sometimes seem impossible — or at least challenging.  Step-parents sometimes fear rejection and  bio-parents might anticipate lots of stress or pressure.

But the truth is, bonding can be light-hearted and even fun.  Building strong bonds in a stepfamily is all about small steps.  It's the culmination of hundreds of little moments all added up that creates secure relationships.  It's all about patience and persistence — bonding takes time!

As you think about how you can 'blend' your stepfamily by building close bonds, consider 2 different perspectives. 

First, pay attention to all the 1-on-1 relationships.  Everyone in your family needs focused time with each individual.  For bio-relationships that may mean a couple of hours connecting in a way that is meaningful.  For step-relationships it could be a 15 minute activity.  And for couples it could be a fun date night activity.  Whatever stage you're in, be creative about your intentionality as you support the individual connections in your home.

Second, make some time for everyone to be together.  But keep in mind that tensions are often highest when everyone in the family is together.  Be strategic with family time based on your unique level of connection as a family.  If you notice lots of stress for yourself or others when you're all together — then keep that time short and have an activity like the ones below that holds everyone's attention.  If stress is low and connection is high in your family, great!  You may want to enjoy more extended time and choose activities that allow for lots of interaction.

With those two thoughts in mind, consider how your stepfamily can enjoy some of the suggestions we've gathered together that can make bonding fun:

  1. Have a Movie Night (at the theater or at home)

  2. Go for a Picnic

  3. Visit a Water Park or Waterslides

  4. Hang out at the local Park or Playground (bring a frisbee for the older kids)

  5. Enjoy a Hike

  6. Go for a Bike Ride

  7. Visit the Beach, Lake or River — see if you can spot some fish or other water creatures

  8. Visit a Museum — Children's, Art or Historical

  9. Cook a Meal or Bake Some Goodies!

  10. Visit the Zoo, Aquarium or Wildlife Refuge

  11. Fly Kites

  12. Do some Crafts, Art or Sidewalk Chalk

  13. Play Hide & Seek

  14. Play Video Games — Interactive Dance or Sports Games are fun for families

  15. Go for an Ice Cream or other Treats

  16. Hang out with older kids at your local Coffee Shop

  17. Play a Board Game or Card Game (We like Ticket to Ride and Skip-Bo)

  18. Go to your local Arcade or Skating Rink

  19. Play Tag

  20. Go Bowling

  21. Go Mini-Golfing

  22. Ride Go-Karts

  23. Do a Community Service Project Together

  24. Go Camping — in the Wilderness or just in your Back Yard!

  25. Have a Water Gun Fight

  26. Go Kayaking or Canoeing

  27. Have a Water Balloon Fight

  28. Hook up the Slip 'n Slide (Careful Adults…don't hurt yourself! :-)

  29. Arrange a Neighborhood Baseball or Softball Game

  30. Play Kickball

  31. Have a 4-Square Tournament in the Driveway

  32. Build a Blanket Fort in the Living Room

  33. Have Snowball Fight (sorry if you don't get snow where you live)

  34. Go for a Walk Together

  35. Go Jogging or Running

  36. Put on a Puppet Show or Family Play

  37. Play Dress-up (You too Dads & Step-Dads!)

  38. Play with Dolls or Action Figures — or Yo-yo's, Jacks or Pick-up-Stix (yes…we're old school!)

  39. Read a Book Together

  40. Learn to Play a Musical Instrument Together

  41. Have a Tea Party

  42. Build a Tree House

  43. Fix up an Old Car Together (teach kids the lost art of changing their own oil!)

  44. Go Shopping — at the Mall or your favorite Consignment Stores

  45. Hunt for Treasures at Garage Sales

  46. Take a Class Together (cooking/art/crafts/life skills)

  47. Take a Road Trip or Day Trip

  48. Have a Dance Party

  49. Do some Bug Collecting (like butterflies - but let them go :-)

  50. Leaf or Flower Pressing

  51. Spend some time Star Gazing

  52. Explore whatever Nature is Near You

There's so many ways you can be intentional about building strong bonds in your stepfamily.  Think about one thing you can do this week to connect either as a family or 1-on-1.

QUESTION:  What other ways do you like to bond in your stepfamily?  Leave a comment below…

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Last week Mike encouraged everyone to celebrate little wins and let go of 'touchdown' expectations.  We've practiced this ourselves over the years and it's helped to increase the contentment and enjoyment we've experienced - even while we continued to face challenges in our stepfamily.

But this week I'm going to offer a different perspective.  I want to challenge you to back up and look at the bigger picture — because maintaining focus on the long game is so important in stepfamily life, and here's why…

The Short Game vs The Long Game

So often we tend to get caught up in the short game - we're overwhelmed by those daily demands that hijack our time and energy.  And if you're like me…you probably end up making snap decisions in the moment without considering the long-term impact of those decisions.  The bottom line… we get swept away by the short game and this makes it really difficult for us to keep our top priorities straight.

The Urban Dictionary says 'the long game' is having a long term plan, long term goals, or doing things now that set you up for the future.  Sounds good - but what does that look like in our daily family lives?  How do the decisions we make every day impact our family's long game?

The Path of Least Resistance

It's natural for all of us to gravitate toward the path of least resistance.  As someone whose lived in a stepfamily for 17+ years, I know what this looks like:  How quickly can I appease my Ex just to get him off my back…What's an easy fix to make everyone feel better…What can I say (or not say) to dodge a disagreement with my spouse? 

We make countless decisions every day to try and circumvent difficulties and maintain as much peace as possible.  Sometimes we're blatantly avoiding - but other times we naively do what we think is best…in the moment.

But what if taking the easy road doesn't lead to what's best?  What if choosing the path of least resistance, actually ends up destroying our family's long game?

My BIG 'Upset'

When I got divorced, I knew that having a cooperative co-parenting relationship was important,  but I struggled every time I had to negotiate with my Ex.  He's a demanding, condescending guy who insisted on having everything go his way.  And while it's true that cooperative co-parenting is ideal and good for the kids, I really got off track when I failed to maintain healthy boundaries with my Ex.  I often agreed to his unreasonable demands even though I really wasn't okay with it and I wanted something different. 

I was afraid of rocking the boat and I didn't want to deal with the protests that would certainly come if I spoke up.   So I took the path of least resistance — I caved into his demands almost every time.  This seemed easier than having to speak up, engage in difficult conversations and attempt to hold healthy boundaries.

But after 10 years of co-parenting, my Ex became misguided and without cause, he took action to prevent my daughter from visiting our home or continuing a relationship with us.  I was shocked and unable to respond.  Because of my silence and complacency over the years, I was left without a voice.   By not holding healthy boundaries with my Ex, I'd dug myself into a dark silent hole and standing up to him now seemed impossible.  He had all the power and everyone knew it.

Long Game Impact

You're probably wondering what this story has to do with playing the long game in our stepfamilies.  Well…I've come to realize that for years,  I'd been playing the short game with my Ex — just trying to get along and appease him.  But instead, I should've been thinking about the long game and making decisions based on our family's priorities…the right things!  

I thought it was harmless to take the path of least resistance, but I was wrong.  This can cause a lot of damage and regrets. 

I'd made too many of those 'easy road' decisions and I'd given away my power.  Now I was facing a daunting and overwhelming struggle — opposing my Ex and fighting for my parental rights.  This greatly impacted our family's long game.  We ended up in a 3 year legal battle which drained us emotionally and financially and negatively impacted everyone in our family.  Especially my daughter.

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The Easy Way vs The Right Way

I'm sure you've heard these wise words:  What children learn from their parents is caught, not taught! 

The truth is, that when I chose to surrender my boundaries and allowed my Ex to take advantage — my daughter was "catching" that same the approach toward her dad.  Kids learn how to behave and manage their own lives by watching our example.  And my example was to take the easy way instead of the right way — I was focused on playing the short game.

As a result, my daughter spent several years in turmoil because she didn't have a good model for how to stand up to a controlling and overbearing father.  She just didn't have the capacity or skill to stand against his verbal and emotional mistreatment…until she finally saw me do something different. 

Better Decisions Lead to Long Game Wins

Throughout those three difficult years dealing with my Ex in the family courts, my daughter realized that I wasn't going to take the easy way anymore — I wasn't going to give in or give up!  She needed to see that I had finally found my voice and that I was determined to do the right thing - for her and for our family.  And eventually, she too began to find her voice. 

Since that painful season, she's slowly matured and is following my better example.  She's learning how to hold appropriate boundaries with her dad, to speak up and stand up for herself.

This is just one example of how playing the short game can be detrimental to your stepfamily's long game.  We make so many decisions every day that we may not even think about the impact we're making.  I came across this quote from Lisabeth Saunders Medlock, PhD that can help us to shift our focus and become more aware:

"If we place our daily actions into a longer term perspective they become less important, less emotionally loaded, and less urgent. Because if we ask ourselves if each task or decision will be important in 5 minutes or 5 hours or even 5 days, so many times the answer is no. When we are playing the long game every decision on which we choose to make now connects to a longer term goal or desired outcome, a bigger picture. In a sense we are not asking ourselves how much something matters, we are asking how long it matters."

For me, this means that while I was putting a high importance on appeasing my Ex, I wasn't aware of how emotionally loaded my decision making process was in that situation.  Would it really matter 5 minutes, 5 hours or 5 days later if I disagreed with him and held an appropriate boundary?  The answer is NO!  Had I really thought it through and connected those decisions to a bigger picture (a high priority) of holding onto my power and modeling healthy boundaries to my daughter, I could've made better choices.  Our family's long game would've been different.  

How LONG does it Matter?

The next time you have to make a tough decision (or even a simple one), I encourage you to shift your focus.  Are you taking the path of least resistance?  Maybe you don't want to upset someone or deal with the retaliation that may come.  Are you trying to avoid or are you just unaware? 

Be really honest with yourself.  Will the outcome still be important tomorrow…or next week?  Then make a conscious choice to look at the bigger picture.  Consider what you could be giving up and what example you're modeling to your kids.  How will each decision impact your family's long game?

I want to encourage you to think about your decision making process and choose to play for your family's long game success.  Who knows!  You might get to dodge a big upset down the road and you'll never regret doing the right thing!

 QUESTION:  What's one step you can take toward reaching your family's long game?  Leave a comment below…

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Fall has officially arrived and that means the holiday season is just around the corner.  Those of us living in stepfamily dynamics often dread this time of year simply because …well, it just isn't simple for us!

I recently asked my 23 year old daughter this:  What's one good thing about living in blended family dynamics?  She promptly replied: "You get to celebrate two of everything through the holidays"!  

It was interesting to hear that her recollection of the holiday season was positive, because I have some memories of  my own that starkly contrast anything positive.

Managing and negotiating holiday plans and schedules with an Ex is often a complex process filled with stress & frustration (the word 'headache' comes to mind).

And it can be a challenging season for kids too —  parental-allegiances could get triggered and kids may end up feeling disappointed when the schedule doesn't seem to favor them.  My daughter has experienced both of these painful situations, on more than one occasion.  

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions - this is tough stuff.  But it's wise to prepare  ourselves and approach the holidays with a proactive focus. Here are three things you can focus on NOW to help minimize stress for everyone this holiday season:  

1. Plan Ahead

Resist the urge to procrastinate scheduling issues.  If you're like me, you'll put off this dreaded task as long as possible, especially if you've been met with hostility and resistance in the past.

Nonetheless, the sooner the better!  Start the planning process now to minimize stress and pressure.  By being proactive, you'll be able to relax and enjoy yourself more leading into the holiday season — once scheduling issues are out of the way.       

Kids who move between two homes need as much predictability as possible.  Once the plans have been finalized between the adults,  let the kids know what they can expect.  Then, do your best to avoid unnecessary or last minute changes.  Kids feel most secure when plans are predictable and uninterrupted.  Planning ahead will help them to relax too!

2. Practice the 'Golden Rule'

If your Ex is reasonable and able to peacefully negotiate holiday schedules, that's wonderful!  You've got something extra to be grateful for on Thanksgiving!  

But if that's not your situation, you'll need to strategically do what you can to promote a cooperative working relationship — especially going into the holidays when tensions are often high.

The 'Golden Rule' is an effective and practical way to do this (not easy, but impactful).  First, think about how you would like to be treated by your Ex.  You'd probably prefer that scheduling issues are handled in a calm, professional manner - with respect, courtesy and mutual compromise.   You likely want to set a healthy example for your kids by resolving issues in a peaceful and cooperative way. 

Take some time to think about how you really want to be treated when scheduling negotiations take place.

If you've identified how you want to be treated by your Ex, you've just discovered how you need to be consistently treating them (I know…gulp).  The real challenge to truly living out 'The Golden Rule' is that you must hold yourself accountable for your own behavior — despite what others choose to do.  

It's very true that we don't have the power to control how the other home operates or behaves.  However, we can powerfully influence our co-parenting relationship by fostering cooperation and peace.  This can be done by choosing to take the high road and really living out the 'Golden Rule'.

If you have a difficult Ex, you still need to do your best to minimize pressure and animosity as much as possible .  Who knows…this strategy might just pave the way for them to willingly compromise and consent to your schedule recommendations. :-)

3. Manage Disappointments

You'll need to recognize and accept  that there are going to be scheduling disappointments regardless of your best efforts.   You must keep your expectations realistic.  Most likely you aren't going to get everything you want.

How you'll manage and process disappointments — yours and the kid's — is something you need to think about and plan for now if you want to fully engage and enjoy the season. 

Kids living in these dynamics will inevitably miss out on some fun activities in both homes and may feel left out.  As a parent, you might find yourself hurting when your kids are absent from certain holiday events due to scheduling conflicts.

Here are a few things you can do to manage disappointments in a healthy way:

  • Acknowledge your child's feelings and listen with empathy to their perspective.  But don't go into 'fix-it' mode — you probably can't fix the situation anyway.  Try 'Emotion Coaching' techniques to help kids process through their disappointments.
  • Abstain from placing blame or badmouthing the other home in front of the kids.
  • Avoid getting stuck in negativity, bitterness or anger.  Give yourself permission to grieve and process through your own emotions with a trusted friend or counselor (not the kids).
  • Accept that the circumstances are difficult and disappointing.  But do what you can to move forward with realistic expectations and a positive mind set. 
Choose to Enjoy!

Planning your family's desired holiday schedule while respecting and compromising with the other home is challenging.  But you can make meaningful, imperfect progress by staying focused on the right things.  

Be proactive and start the planning process now.  Choose to focus on peaceful cooperation by practicing the 'Golden Rule'.  Start thinking about how you can effectively manage those unavoidable disappointments.

Don't allow stress, frustration and disappointment to rob your family's joy this season.  Choose to enjoy each holiday and be thankful for every celebration you have together! 

QUESTION:  What's one step you can take today to plan for your upcoming holiday season?  Leave a comment below...

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"The marriage comes first...no matter what!" 

These are well-meaning words — usually from those who love us most.  But is this advice really the best way to move your blended family forward to the future you're hoping for?

Finding Middle Ground

A while back, we worked with Fred and Wilma (clearly not their real names).  They were really stuck.  All five of their kids were either acting out or isolating and the older ones had moved out to live at their other home.

As we learned a little more about Fred and Wilma's story, we discovered that they launched into their marriage 'joined at the hip'.  Everything was about the two of them — and I mean everything.  Basically they had poured so much of their time, focus and energy into their new marriage that they left their kids relationally starving.

Always putting their marriage first was sabotaging the good relationships they previously had with each of their sets of kids.  And ultimately it was leaving them heartbroken.

Since that didn't work, then the opposite must be true — right? 

Let's contrast that story with Barney and Betty's predicament (again…not real names).  This couple was stuck too — but it wasn't the kid's behavior that had them trapped.  It was their own.

Betty made it very clear that her kids were first and always would be first.  She consistently focused on reacting to every request made by her kids — even when it meant breaking her commitments to Barney.  Her words and actions continually reinforced to Barney that he was not a priority causing him to shut down and isolate from her.

Both of these couples were stuck in some 'stone age' thinking.  Locked into a belief that a blended family won't succeed without hardline boundaries around either the marriage or being a parent.

The truth is that the healthiest stepfamilies find the middle ground by understanding two big realities and implementing good team building skills.

Two Big Realities:

Your re-marriage most often feels like a loss to the kids

Have you had the feeling that your kids or step-kids tend to be manipulative?  That could be a misunderstanding.

Kids in stepfamilies can tend to act out because they have a significant sense of loss or fear.  This is very common even though the intensity varies depending on the age, personality and previous family experience for each child.  

Our job as parents and step-parents is to identify the level of insecurity they're struggling with and then make it a priority to create an environment that increases their security.  This requires sacrifice as you discover how to balance your time and energy between a focus on your marriage/partnership and the parent/child relationships in your home.  Here's a few tips for each of you:

Step-parents:  give your partner and step-children a gift by honoring their need for 1 on 1 time.  Find something enjoyable to do and encourage them to have some fun together without you.  This will help build security and stability and ultimately help your marriage.

Parents:  You can balance this sacrifice made by your partner by intentionally reserving time and energy to focus on them.  Express your gratitude and affirm their investment in your family.  This will help your marriage remain stable and show your kids a good example of a healthy relationship.

Your relationships need re-balancing

Every stepfamily starts out with their relationships "out of balance". 

The natural progression of family relationships starts with a couple who then become parents — together.  The couple relationship comes first.  The parental relationship is second.

In a stepfamily, that's reversed.  The parent/child relationship has more history and a deeper connection.  To complicate matters, one member of each parent/child relationship is immature, lacks coping skills and has very limited life experience (rest assured, I'm talking about the child here).

The goal is to re-balance your relationships so that the marriage is elevated — while at the same time preserving stability in the parent/child relationship(s).  This is most often a complicated process that takes patience and intentionality.

Couples who are not careful here will experience struggles with Parent-Child Allegiances, feelings of being a Stuck Insider or Stuck Outsider and many other challenges that will threaten their relationship.

It's going to take time for you to work this out.  In fact, the research shows that it takes an average of 7 years for stepfamilies to fully integrate.  So do your research and be intentional about the re-balancing that needs to take place in your home.

Build Your Team

The most effective way to create stability for your kids and be intentional about re-balancing relationships is unity. 

You and your partner MUST learn how to work together as a team for the good of your marriage and your long-term success as a stepfamily.  There will be challenges, disagreements, unexpected circumstances and exhaustion that will all threaten to pull the two of you apart.

When Kim and I were first married, I was blindsided by these realities.  I didn't have any kids and it was my first marriage — so, my unrealistic expectation was that our focus would be primarily on our marriage and my step-daughter, Annika would come second.  That old advice — "The marriage comes first…no matter what!" — made sense to me.

But it was only a matter of months before I realized it wasn't that simple.  And it never would be.  I had to let go of my hopes for a fairytale future with Kim and start learning how to be strategic and intentional.

We had to become a good team.  You need to do the same.

Here's a few tips for good teamwork:

  1. Don't avoid. Avoidance simply creates more problems. You'll have enough to deal with. You've got to communicate and work toward common goals.

  2. Handle your conflict well. You will have conflict. But here's the thing, conflict doesn't mean your relationship is unstable. In fact, most couples report feeling closer when their conflict is resolved in a healthy way.

  3. Make decisions together. All of your kids need the two of you to be united. They need consistency and stability in their home. Establish your code of conduct — as a team. When necessary, decide on consequences — as a team. Work on re-balancing your relationships — as a team.

  4. Work behind closed doors. Essentially, don't talk about the kids in front of the kids. They need to see you building unity as a team. Negotiating a decision about them, in front of them does not help. The kids will typically side with their bio-parent and may insert themselves into the conversation and this will drive a wedge between them and their step-parent. Make your decisions behind closed doors — then communicate with the kids.

  5. Make time for romance. Step-couples have a lot to manage. The 'business' of running a stepfamily can suck the romance right out of your relationship. Be intentional about building your romance and keep that time just for you. Don’t talk about parenting, chores, finances, etc. Just enjoy each other!

The Bottom Line

So, here's the bottom line:  Your marriage is a major priority — and so is the rest of your stepfamily.

Your job is to balance priorities so that all your relationships thrive in the long run.  If you take the "marriage always comes first" advice too literally like Fred and Wilma, the result will most likely not be what you are hoping for.  And remember that Barney and Betty showed us that the opposite approach is no better.

Keep your focus on creating stability for all the kids, effectively re-balancing your relationships and staying united as a team.  Someday when you're playing with your grandkids (and step-grandkids), you'll look back and be so glad you did!

QUESTION:  Which of the 5 tips for teamwork do you need to work on this week?  Leave a comment below…

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We've been talking a lot about our differences lately.  Differences are often what make us a great team, but they can also drive a wedge between us.

And when that wedge creates too much conflict or isolation we face an unnoticed threat to our relationship — a major danger zone for our family.

It's the threat of eroding commitments.

Whether you've officially 'tied the knot' or simply signed a lease together — you have made a commitment.  You're building a relationship together and you're influencing each other's kids.

Over time, when things don't go the way you thought they should — and you aren't having as much fun as you first anticipated — you're in that danger zone.  Your focus is likely on your frustrations and the commitments you made begin to slip from your mind.

Silly Parents — Fairy Tales Are For Kids

I recall the old Trix commercials:  "Silly rabbit — Trix are for kids!"  If you're too young to remember those, you can find them on YouTube.

As a kid, I watched that silly rabbit constantly chase a dream he could never reach.  He always ended up disappointed.  Way too often, we're like that rabbit.

We're chasing a dream — a fairy tale — that we can never reach.  And I don't care if you're a girl or a guy…we all want the fairy tale!  We all want that "happily ever after" from the stories, books and movies that have been ingrained in us for decades.

But alas, fairy tales are for kids.  Aren't I just a ray of sunshine today?! :-)

So, here's the good news.  Even though we don't get to live a fairytale life, you and every other step-couple can experience moments of your own "fairy tale" by avoiding that danger zone of eroding commitments.

Here's how:

5 Ways to Stick to Your Commitments

1. Remind yourself of the commitments you've made

We all need reminders.  As the months and years pass, we can't possibly remember every detail of the commitments we've made.  We might remember the general idea, but the details can get a little fuzzy.

Kim and have the vows we spoke to each other in a scrapbook that we look through every year on our anniversary.  We read the words we spoke almost two decades ago and we remember our commitments. 

If you're in a tough season right now, you may need to print out your vows and keep them up on the refrigerator, the bathroom mirror or the dashboard of your car.  Let the reminder be a motivator to keep moving forward.

Or maybe you haven't spoken actual vows yet.  It might be time for you to consider the unspoken commitments you've made.  Write them down and keep focused.

2. Live your commitment — today

When your relationship is struggling and your commitments are eroding, everything seems bigger than it really is.  You blow things out of proportion, you project things onto your partner and you wonder how you'll ever survive for the long haul.

The trick to turning mountains back into molehills is to think small.  Quit worrying about how the next decade is going to turn out and start focusing on today. 

If you're just identifying those unspoken commitments, great!  Now ask yourself how you're going to live that commitment today.  Don't over focus on tomorrow, just choose how you'll live on this day.

And if you're reading those old vows, ask yourself how you can express them today.  A small gift, some heartfelt words or a little quality time might be all you need to do to live your commitment — today.

3. Remember, it's a Season

Think back over the time you've been together.  Chances are you've already experienced lots of seasons. 

Relational storms give way to a season of fun and enjoyment.  Not every week, month or year passes in exactly the same way as the previous ones.  We all go through different seasons.

Staying 'committed to your commitments' gives you a foundation to weather all the seasons that come your way.  Seasons come and go based on circumstances and emotions.  But our commitments form the bedrock to build a home on.  And at the same time they transcend our circumstances to keep us focused on something beyond our current season.

If you're in a tough season, stand on the foundation of your commitments and then remember the old saying "…this too shall pass".

4. Focus on your own behavior

Countless times in our marriage, I've discovered THE answer to solve all our problems.  I could name the exact thing Kim needed to change so that we could live our own 'fairy tale'!

Okay…so I'm not so bright sometimes.

This can be a big roadblock for me.  That constant over-focus on what Kim needs to change while avoiding the reality of my own poor behavior.  Eugene Peterson says it this way, "It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own."

If you really want to experience moments of your fairytale, then you must stay focused on how YOU are living out your commitments.  I'm challenging you this week — every day — choose to take your focus off your partner's behavior and only focus on your own. 

If you're in the heat of battle, focus only on how you're responding.  If you're in a busy season and feeling exhausted, focus only on how you're reserving at least a little energy for your partner.  If things are going smoothly right now, focus only on how you're going give a little more to make your good season great!

You can't change your partner, you can only change you.  And when you make positive changes that are rooted in your commitments you might be surprised how that brings a bit more of your fairy tale to life.

5. Leave a Legacy

There's more at stake here than your fairytale relationship.  Step-couples start out with kids already in the picture.  That means from day one you are influencing your partner's children and/or they are influencing yours.

That means you're going to leave a legacy — and you need to choose what kind of legacy you'll leave.

When you're focused on your commitments, successfully navigating the challenging seasons and accountable for your own behavior — you're leaving a positive legacy that will benefit your kids and step-kids.

All the research shows that a positive, healthy stepfamily experience can actually undo many of the negative effects kids experience through separation or divorce.  You have the power to change their future and the future of your grandkids as you stay 'committed to your commitments'.

Now that's a legacy to be proud of — and fairytale worth fighting for.

Fading Commitments or Fairytale Moments?

It's often our differences that cause our commitments to slowly fade as the years roll on.  As commitments fade, so do our 'fairytale futures'.  You may not get the 'happily ever after' you were hoping for, but you CAN experience fairytale moments.

Kim and I have had to give up some high expectations in our journey.  But the more we focused on these 5 practical ways of sticking to our commitments the more fairytale moments we get to experience. 

You can too!

QUESTION:  Which of these 5 things do you need to focus on today to move one step closer your fairytale moment?  Leave a comment below…

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We all get stuck focusing on our differences at times.

No matter how in love we are, there's still those little things about our partner that drive us nuts.  And the farther we move along in the journey, the bigger those little things get.

What used to be a minor annoyance becomes a major repellent.  Then we start noticing other things that irritate us even more.  Sometimes we find ourselves looking back wondering how we ever connected in the first place!

The truth is, your partner is different than you.  The first step to accepting those differences is to stop focusing on them — check out last week's article to learn 3 simple ways to do that.

Next, you've got to evaluate the positive ways your differences contribute to your family because realizing how you balance each other promotes unity.

It's your differences that make you a good team!

From Envy to Enemies

When Kim and I began dating, I loved how easy it was for her to "go with the flow".  She seemed confident and carefree.  A change in plans never bothered her.  She adapted quickly and easily in most any situation.

I'm not like that.  I am a planner and can easily get stressed when things don't go as planned.  I envied her ability to easily adapt.  I secretly wanted to be more like her — and sometimes still do!  (I guess it's not so secret any more)

But, as the years have passed, I've noticed something different about her carefree approach to life.  This same strength of hers has a downside.  Sometimes Kim loses track of time and that puts us under pressure.  Her "go with the flow" attitude can make us late for appointments — which drives me crazy.  And on occasion her seeming lack of urgency is interpreted by me as simply not caring about what I find important.

This same quality that I was envious of in the beginning of our relationship sometimes turns us into enemies in heated conflict!

The truth is, our home absolutely needs her influence in this area.  Otherwise, I would be running a bootcamp rather than raising a family.  She has helped me learn to adapt to changes, loosen my grip on control and relax a little more.

This is just one area that makes us a good team — but we had to learn a few things to use our differences to our advantage.

Here are some ways that you can practice this too:

Identify Your Partner's Strengths

First ask yourself a few questions:

  • What do I admire about my partner? 
  • What qualities did I used to enjoy about my partner that irritate me now?
  • What qualities do I see in my partner that I secretly wish I had?

These questions are not always that easy.  They are often hard to identify and difficult to admit.

Take some time to think through these questions when you're in a calm, positive frame of mind.  Go to a place that makes you comfortable and happy.  Maybe you need to take a walk, go to your local coffee shop or just hang out quietly in your living room.

Write down your answers and come back to review them often.  Taking this simple first step can begin to change the way you look at your partner.

Speak Up!

Once you identify these strengths in your partner — TELL THEM! 

It's a great thing when you can admit to yourself that your partner has strengths that you don't have.  It's even better when you can admit to THEM that you realize it!

Every one of us needs to be recognized for our contributions.  Whether that's at our place of work or in our family.  Some of us need affirmation more than others, but ultimately affirmation is a universal human need.

This goes beyond a simple "thanks" for something they did. 

  • "Thanks for making dinner"
  • "Thanks for picking up the dry cleaning"
  • "Thanks for not embarrassing me at that party last night"

That's not what we're talking about.

Affirming your partner's strengths focuses on their inherent qualities and their character.  They sound a little more like this:

  • "Thanks for the way you keep our family organized."
  • "Thanks for how you always make time for the kids and for me."
  • "Thanks for taking the time to think about doing the right thing when we are facing challenges."

When you see their strengths in action, tell them how you appreciate them in that moment.  And here's a challenging question:  How many unspoken affirmations exist in your relationship? 

Don't let the opportunity for you to speak up pass you by.

Own Your Ups — and Your Downs

OK, now that you've identified what your partner brings to the table — be honest with yourself about your own strengths. 

If you want to be a good team when it comes to parenting, dealing with Ex's or navigating your marriage — you have to know your own strengths as well as your partner's.

Identifying and owning your own strengths will help you have confidence when it's time for your strength to shine.  Stepfamily leadership is a team effort, so you both need to contribute at the appropriate time.

In my example above, there are times for Kim to take the lead and help me relax and adjust.  Other times, I need to step up to the plate and use my planning and organizing skills to accomplish what needs to be done.  When we each own our strengths, it makes us a better team.

On the flip-side, we need to be humble enough to own our down side too.  When I under-value Kim's strengths it is usually because I'm unwilling to admit my own weaknesses.  But, when I own those weaknesses I can step back and let Kim shine in her strengths.

Take the time to recognize your own strengths and weaknesses.  Then compare it to those strengths you identified in your partner.  Chances are you complement each other in a few different areas and that can make you a great team!

From Enemies to Enjoyment

Kim and I have had seasons in our marriage where we were in all-out war.  We were enemies centered on our differences.  Our conversations were peppered with conflict and annoyances

We've learned to recognize each other's strengths, speak affirmation to each other and we've been honest about our own ups and downs.  Doing these three things have moved us from viewing each other as enemies to genuine enjoyment in our marriage.

The same can be true for you!

Take the time this week to work through these three team building steps.  You won't regret it.  Then come back next week for one more installment of this three part series where we'll focus on the value of commitment when our differences wreck our "fairytale". 

QUESTION:  What's one strength you admire in your partner?  Leave a comment below…

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