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Excerpt from Chapter Seven. Empowering Everyone: The Key to Stepcoupling Success

Unfinished emotional business is rooted in the individual’s history and plays out in the stepcouple. Healthy stepcouples have learned that both partners bring unfinished emotional business to the relationship.

Remarried adults often become aware of repeating relationship patterns and wonder why they’re occurring.

I thought everything would be different with Rick. He’s not at all like my first husband. For several months, things were very new and exciting, and I was thrilled.

Then, some of the old feelings I’d had while married to my first husband started to come up. I started feeling resentful. I can’t even remember what prompted these feelings now, but I vividly recall what they felt like.

I also remember what I thought. Whoa! I’d put myself and my children through the trauma of divorce because I’d been so unhappily married. Now the very same thing seemed to be starting all over again.

When it happened the first time–in my first marriage–I thought it was about him being a terrible partner. When it happened the second time, and with someone I loved so deeply, I began to wonder what was inside me that made me feel that way in a committed relationship.


We do a pretty good job now most of the time. We’ve gotten to know each other’s hot spots and how to respond. Every once in a while, though, one of us will still go ballistic. It can still get really ugly really fast. The only thing we can do at that point is to try to just stop because we’re not fighting about what we think we’re fighting about.


Successful stepcouples recognize the impact the past can have on the present.

Some questions about unfinished business to explore with each other are:

  • When do you feel most insecure or hurt in your relationship? Have you felt this way before? When? Do you remember feeling this way as a child?
  • When are you most anxious? Have you felt this way before? When? With whom? As a child?
  • When are you most angry? What provokes you? How do you express your anger? Do you lose your temper? Physically threaten or hurt people? Verbally abuse, degrade, or humiliate them?
    Withdraw? Who do you resemble when you’re angry?
  • In your relationship, when do you feel like a child—weak, insecure, incapable, powerless?

The following four strengths enable stepcouples to resolve outstanding issues and balance power within their stepfamily.

  • Identifying unresolved issues
  • Knowing who has to resolve the issue
  • Having a strong enough relationship to withstand the issue
  • Being open to change


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