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Excerpt from Chapter Two. Tailoring Your Expectations of Your Spouse and Family

My first marriage had plenty of problems, but at least it felt like home. I love my current husband—and his kids are OK—but I can’t call us a family. We’re more like a bunch of strangers living in the same house.

Initially, you are a bunch of strangers living in the same house. You’re missing the characteristics that define families: a common history, shared memories, family jokes, rituals, norms about appropriate behavior, even a shared surname. Early on in stepfamily life, the absence of these qualities stands in stark contrast to your previous family or to your ideas about family life.

As adults, we all get one shot at a nuclear family. After the end of a marriage in which children were born, we never have a tidy, nuclear family experience again—no matter how much we want one or how hard we try to recreate it.

This (stepcoupling) experience, although unsettling, provides a terrific opportunity for the two of you to decide what your stepfamily will be like. Taking the perspective that you jointly create your new family over time, you remember that you’re in the middle of building something new to everyone. Gently encourage the patterns you like and learn to take pleasure in the process. You’re not bound by old rules.


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