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What Really Happens… After “I Do”?

May 25th, 2010

We hadn’t been married long when we were invited to a party given by my husband’s old friends.  Almost immediately this woman made a fast beeline for me! In a loud voice she asked, “Susan, how’s it going with your new family?”  “OK,” I said.  She probed deeper… definitely fishing for gossip.  She asked me detailed questions about the kids, the ex, what it’s REALLY like…  Slowly I crumbled under the pressure.  I admitted, “It’s difficult.”  She poked around further. I told her way too much!  Her parting shot was, “Susan, I don’t understand why you’re having trouble. They’re just kids!” With trembling lip, I found the nearest exit and burst into tears.

SO WHAT HAPPENED HERE?  Why did I feel so alone… and misunderstood?  Sure, I was in love.  But I was also naïve and idealistic… and LOST.   I didn’t know what my role was. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be, think, or feel. I hardly knew my stepkids…and yet I was supposed to raise them. Just because I had authority over my kids… didn’t give me authority over his kids.

This is where the rubber hits the road for stepcouples! It was time for us to blaze our own trail… chart a new course that would work for us and our stepfamily. We had to redistribute the power and authority to share appropriately as a stepcouple.

It’s a process… a stepcoupling process… and everyone does it differently.

Stepcouples have to respect the past, but focus on the present and future.

HOW IS THIS DONE?

As a stepcouple, you create a team.  You talk… you listen… and HEAR what the other has to say. You talk about goals and values.   By being open, you learn from each other.  You’re both motivated and responsible to look at the part you play as well as the part your partner plays.  As partners, you help each other move into a better pattern of communication and co-parenting.  Patience and mutual understanding is key.

As a stepcouple, you respect each other and are curious about your partner’s feelings and opinions.  Over time as you get used to each other, you notice slowly that you can be honest. You can be who you are and safely say what you want.  You develop a connection, one you can both trust. Habits, laughter, activities, rituals and intimacy are mutually enjoyed.

As a stepcouple, you learn to co-parent by respecting and negotiating each other’s parenting values and styles.  You build healthy relationships with each other’s kids as a basis for co-parenting.

All this time you’re building your relationship.  Sometimes you argue. Sometimes it’s painful. When stuff comes up, you deal with it.  As you both mature in your stepcouple, the defensive walls slowly come down.

When I look back and think of that horrible night with the woman at the party, I shiver.  We had a long way to go back then!  Somehow we traveled the journey… one day at a time.

It’s all in the process of stepcoupling.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
May 2010

What Memories are You Creating for Your Children?

May 10th, 2010

Last week I spent four days in the Bay Area at my high school reunion. What a trip!! My school was a small girls school with 45 graduating in our class. Six have passed away. Twenty-two of us showed up. There was one formal event but many opportunities to be with our close friends over the weekend. It was exhausting!!

Off the plane, a friend met me. We drove to her gorgeous home in Berkeley. Beautiful day. There were seven of us at lunch. Didn’t take long to flashback to what seemed like just yesterday. So many memories! The words most heard were “Do you remember…? Recalling people, places and events was the deal. Revisiting the past and reconnecting with old friends… we never let up!

Those high school years were powerful times. As young girls, we spent all our time together. (No boys to distract us.) We competed with each other, got into trouble, and laughed our way through the boredom. We got drunk for the first time together, slept over at each others’ houses, drove in each others’ family cars… studied hard and played hard. Then we graduated and dispersed.

What I remember the most was spending the night at my friends’ houses. I got the dubious prize for having slept overnight at the most houses during those years.  Apparently I was not happy at home.

I must have been a budding family therapist way back then because I can remember everything about my friends’ families… to this day. I can describe their houses, the people living there and how they acted as a family. I can tell you who the nice mothers were and who you wanted to stay away from… who drank too much… what the fathers were like… who asked too many questions – who you just didn’t feel good/safe around.

Some vivid memories with valuable lessons were:

  • Sally’s family was my favorite. Good people – warm, friendly, always made me feel comfortable. Mealtimes at her house were just like the family TV shows we watched back then.
  • Marsha’s mother drove me crazy. She always wanted to be our pal. She giggled with us and asked way too many questions. None of her business! Felt yucky… aka inappropriate boundaries
  • Betsy’s mother had a serious drinking problem. That was embarrassing. Poor Betsy. We felt sorry for her.
  • Fran’s mother was mean to her. She was also a terrible driver. You didn’t want to be in her car.
  • I really liked Judy’s father because he helped me tell my parents that I wrecked the car. He also told my parents that he found a cheap door to replace the wrecked one. He was great!
  • There was only one stepfamily in the group. Nice people who were doing just fine… so it seemed from the outside. (What did we know back then?)

As I said… this was a very long time ago. We were sheltered, young and naïve.

It’s a different culture today. Regardless of culture, the truth is that today’s stories form tomorrow’s memories.

What will your kids and their friends say about you and your family at their class reunions? What stories will they tell? Think about both the good… and the not so good. You can then talk about it as a stepcouple, if it’s appropriate.

(Names and details in this story have been changed to protect privacy.)

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
May 2010

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