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It’s Not the Kids or the Exes… It’s You!

It’s you who makes or breaks a stepcouple.

All married couples, partnerships, and families have problems.  Granted, stepcouples may have more problems and certainly different problems than traditional families.  But that’s not the issue.

A stable adult stepcouple relationship with a strong emotional commitment will endure no matter what.  No person and no force can tear them apart.

I’ve seen stepcouples where everything is a problem.  They can’t rise above the fights about his and her kids, the nagging jealous exes who won’t let go, issues over money, ongoing resentments, etc.  They’re miserable!  Everyone’s miserable.

On the other hand, I’ve seen stepcouples who have HUGE problems.  Frankly their stories amaze me.  I wonder how any relationship can survive what they have on their plates.  Yet, they do survive… together.  It’s touching to witness the power of love, commitment, and sacrifice these people exhibit.  Naturally the positive effects trickle down to the kids and everyone who’s part of these stepfamies

WHAT DOES IT TAKE?

It takes a strong boundary between the stepcouple. It’s the primary relationship in the stepfamily.  They’re co-captains of the stepfamily team.  It’s not about his kids vs. her kids.  It’s about the kids.  It’s not about whose ex-spouse is worse.  It’s about dealing with exes using the strength and power of the stepcouple relationship.  It’s infectious. The stronger the relationship at the top, the safer and happier everyone feels.  A united stepcouple is a supportive team defined and protected by a clear boundary.

It takes a partnership based on respect and love… not competition. Stepcouples shouldn’t get tangled up in who’s kids are smarter, whose kids get more, whose kids start all the fights, who’s the trouble maker, who drives you crazy. Take it to a higher plane. Talk about these issues with your partner using non-blaming communication techniques.  Offer and ask for support and understanding from each other.  Try to solve the problems openly.  Talk, listen and hear each other out.  Take time outs from heated arguments to address later.

Don’t keep score and carry grudges. Just do what has to be done to put out the fires. Learn to discipline and soothe the kids fairly and frequently.  Learn to cross over and offer the same to each other’s kids… over time when relationships are established.  Everyone has bad days.  There are attitudes, moods, and poor choices children make. There are always daily messes to clean up…literally and figuratively.  So be the adults. Pick up the messes and move on.

Learn to rely on each other for support, ventilation, love, laughter, and nourishment. Be best friends!  Learn ways to make each other feel worthwhile and lovable.  After a stepchild has dished out an insult, been rude, lied, or done something AWFUL, it doesn’t feel good.  Find your partner to soothe the wounds and help each other move on.

It’s impossible to tackle and solve every problem.  There are always messes in stepfamilies.  It does get better over time.  It gets a lot easier when kids grow up and leave home.  But that’s a long time to wait!  Besides, you won’t make it if that’s what you’re waiting for.

Addendum: My husband and I raised five kids in our stepfamily.   We have the advantage of time passage as our children are grown up now. They tell us how hard they tried to split us up in the beginning.  They wanted nothing to do with a stepfamily. They missed their original families and their absent parents.  They didn’t want outsiders moving in on them, telling them what to do!

Their efforts failed…fortunately for all of us.

Susan Wisdom M.A.
October 2010

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