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Your Baggage Will Meet You At Your Next Destination

April 29th, 2010

Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. As always we had the kids and grandchildren over for dinner. This birthday party was particularly nice. Beautiful day. Potluck so everyone brought goodies. It was peaceful and fun – no fights or hurt feelings. (This may be a first!) Grandkids played with their cousins. The ADULTS…where did the time go!??… sat around, talked about the news, their kids, etc… We joked about family memories we can laugh about now.

It has not always been that way. Like any stepcouple and stepfamily, we had to get here. The only way we made it was by facing our issues and fighting hard to resolve them.

What I’m talking about are those Unresolved Emotional Issues (a.k.a. baggage) that we grew up with and held on to through adolescence and into adulthood. (By the way, it never goes away completely!) The powerful effects of our UEI’s are experienced and played out in our relationships. Their demons come around when we’re in an emotional conflict of some sort. They write the scripts for the roles we play and positions we take. Without even knowing it, our demons rule us – unless or until we address them and change the script.

I grew up with a terrible inferiority complex. In my family of origin, I was never good enough… or even good at all… so I thought. I married young and impulsively. My husband left with me with two kids to raise. After my divorce, I was more sure than ever that I was worthless and unlovable.

I turned right around and married a man with kids who needed to be cared for and raised… by someone.

As a stepcouple, this is where the work on the Unresolved Emotional Issues began. In the beginning of my remarriage, I was completely out of my element. The kids were killing me. I was a failure. I should have never taken this on! Losing the battle, losing control, I WAS ANGRY. Angry at myself, angry at my parents for not raising me better, angry at both our exes, and angry at the kids… blah, blah, blah

On the other hand I loved this man and he loved me back! That alone was the medicine I needed. It was time for me to grow up and take responsibility, rather than blaming others, for my UEI’s… and the power they had over me.

As a stepcouple, my husband and I trusted each other. We were a team. We took it one day at a time, facing what we had to face. Individually and mutually, we dealt with our issues as they came up. We saw a counselor who helped us pinpoint our issues and guide us in the right direction.

This is a developmental process. It can happen only if/when you’re ready to become consciously aware of yourself, including understanding your UEI’s and how they drive you. When you’re ready to understand and address those issues, they no longer hold the power to rule as before. The journey to heal and move on begins here.

I was ready… so was he. We had a job to do which was raising five kids. As I moved into the position of wife, mother and stepmother, I gained confidence. I was finally growing up.

As our stepfamily celebrated Sunday, I was proud and happy. Our kids are married and have families of their own. They have their kids to raise and hurdles to overcome, I’m sure… just as we did. But that’s not my business. I’m off duty now!

Some guidelines to think about when you want to understand and communicate with your partner better. (It’s always a good idea to think before you spout! It’s helpful to keep a journal too.)

As a stepcouple, what do you need? What does your partner need? What are your stepcoupling issues?

In the meantime …

  • Take an honest look at who you are and what your UEIs are. (Unresolved Emotional Issues) How do those issues play out in your relationships with your partner, your kids… stepkids…others?
  • Ask yourself what you want in your stepcouple relationship. What are you willing to give and receive from your partner?
  • Look for familiar patterns that get in the way of your happiness and fulfillment.
  • Develop the art of self-awareness and communication. Be willing to talk with, listen to and hear your partner. Be curious and respectful with each other.
  • Do you know how to please your partner? Does he know what pleases you?
  • Does your partner bring out the best…or the worst… in you?
  • How do you handle conflict? Are your styles similar or different from each other? Does that cause problems? What about parenting styles?

For more info about unresolved emotional issues and how they play out in stepcoupling, I suggest that you read Chapter 7 of my book, Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family. Three Rivers Press, 2002. It’s available on Amazon.com.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor

Shopping for a Partner? Control Your Impulses.

April 19th, 2010

Have you ever been in a store and seen an outfit that you just have to have. It’s sexy, gorgeous, your favorite color… and perfect for the party this weekend. You want to be a knockout! You try it on. It’s not a perfect fit and it’s really not your style. You buy it anyway because this strong feeling makes you do it. You ignore the voice that says “Don’t… it’s not you!”

We all do this. I can’t you tell how many outfits, pieces of jewelry, shoes, and junk I bought impulsively because I thought I wanted them. Only to find out later I was dead wrong.

It isn’t so bad if you can bag up those mistakes and donate them to your favorite charity or sell them at a garage sale. But what if you impulsively pick a person to fall in love with. Like any impulsive attraction, it feels good. We all know the seductive quality of thinking you’re falling in love. You just have to have him. It happens most when you’re lonely… and he’s available. He’s handsome, has a job, money, etc. Oh, and by the way, he has kids from his previous relationship. You brush that off and convince yourself it’ll be fine. You can handle it. You seal the deal and partner up!

You may be lucky enough to grow nicely into this impulsive find and even love him. The very lucky ones adjust to each other, to each other’s kids, exes, and do fine. I assure you, it happens.

But many don’t. Impulsive partnerships often end badly. They can be avoided by honest self-awareness of who you are and what you want. Be a smart shopper! It’s your life… so think about what kind of person you want to be with. Prioritizing your wishes will help you avoid impulsive picks. Be conscious and alert in social situations when temptation is all around. Always ask yourself – what’s right for you, what fits and what doesn’t. Know your strengths and weaknesses, so you don’t set yourself up for failure. With people you’re attracted to and tempted to take it further, do a reality check! Who is he, who are you… and what chance do you have to build a good relationship together. Those questions may stir up concerns that can save you from disaster down the road.

You should be looking for red flags and signs of warnings to stay away. If the list of negatives is too long and the red flags are waving, ask yourself, “Should I pass on this one?” Trust your instincts. Before pledging your love, be honest with yourself… when you still can be. Get some distance. Take your time. Visualize and imagine what it would be like being a stepmom to his kids. Do you know what broke up his first marriage? What is the custody/visitation arrangement with the ex?

You may think this is a whole lot of roadblocks to the natural process of falling in love… and accepting that romantic proposal. You’re right. But this processing is the best tool against impulsive choices. (It’s best, of course, if both people are forthright and honest and willing to ask the tough questions.)

If your feelings for each other are healthy and strong, and if you’re up to the challenges of stepcoupling, you can consciously rather than impulsively make the decision to go for it… and stay in it for the long haul.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
April 2010

Coming next:

For stepcouples who are struggling, I’ll offer some ideas on how to address the issues and questions for both partners to think about. For example, what were you thinking then? And now? How far apart are you? What would it take for both of you to mend the rift? And what are you willing to ask of yourself and of your partner?

The Computer Age and Social Media, Love it and Hate it

April 7th, 2010

FYI, I was born and raised well before the computer was invented. We used pens and telephones to communicate our thoughts, feelings and secrets. We couldn’t afford to talk more than three minutes on a long distance call because it was too expensive. Somehow we got by.

Moving on to the computer age hasn’t been easy…witness all the mistakes I make… but I’m realizing the benefits every day. For instance, this week, I had the opportunity to talk with four different stepmoms on three different radio shows across the country. These women hosts are full of energy and knowledge about today’s stepfamilies. They’re curious to learn more. The best part is that they’re inspired/motivated to spread their information to stepmoms who struggle in their own families. What I wouldn’t have given to have had this opportunity in my early days of Stepcoupling! I would have been glued to the computer for wise words from the experts for HELP. It’s magical to look back and see how far we’ve come.

Thanks Susan Swanson, Jacque Fletcher, Erin Erickson and Peggy Nolan for having me on your shows. I loved being with all of you!

Susan Swanson on Step

Jacque Fletcher

Peggy Nolan and Erin Erickson

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
April 2010

How Does a Stepcouple Stick Together With All the Chaos Around?!!

April 2nd, 2010

Stepfamily chaos. We all know about it. We’re talking about problems with exspouses, spoiled kids who aren’t disciplined, stepkids who are openly rude, exes who brainwash their kids, teenaged stepchildren, money problems, sibling and stepsibling rivalry … It’s endless. It’s painful. As a counselor I’ve heard some sad, and incredibly frustrating stories. And yet somehow stepcouples make it through and live to a ripe old age …together. How do they do it?

What does it take? It takes resiliency, thick skin, luck (to have found each other), patience and love. It takes a strong bond. It takes two people who accept each other for who they are -baggage and all- and are willing to make the necessary stepfamily sacrifices. No one can control everything that happens in stepcoupling and stepfamilies. But for the ones who survive, they survive by supporting, listening to, and helping each other through every crisis. They do it by loving their partners even if and when they’re in miserable situations. Somehow they KNOW that nothing will break them up. They’re right because nothing can! They’re a team, a force…a stepcouple. They’re willing to go the extra mile for their stepcouple relationship and their stepfamily…end of story!

They’re lucky in their absolute determination that they want each other. Furthermore they need each other to get through their difficult challenges. They’re resilient. They have the ability to not let the anger, resentments and jealousy re: kids and exes destroy their commitment. They fell in love, chose each other and darn it! they deserve to be together in spite of what the kids and ex think about it! They’re fighters. They’re determined to stay in their stepcouple relationship no matter what it takes.

I remember when my husband and I were a young stepcouple going through difficult times in the early years. It never occurred to us that we would split up. We never even came close. But that doesn’t mean that we weren’t at our wits end. We never threatened each other with thoughts of divorce. That was the last thing from our minds.

I’d see my husband drive up to the house after working a busy day. He’d sit in his car listening to the radio before getting the courage to come inside. He was afraid he’d get blasted with complaints about the kids. ( It was a legitimate fear.) I had days also when I didn’t know how I could survive. Like the day I read my stepdaughter’s diary. OMG, the things she said about me! (Advice to stepmoms: Don’t do it. You’ll only be hurt.)

In stepcoupling, how do you know when you have that strong bond? You know because there aren’t huge walls separating you. You know because you deeply care about each other. There is respect and trust. You know because you can reach out to each other, talk without fear of recrimination and ask for help with what troubles you. You know because during angry talks about kids and exes you will be safe. You may not always be happy but you will not be mentally or physically insulted or abused. You know because you are a devoted stepcouple.

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