In stepcoupling, it starts with falling in love…of course!  We’re convinced that we’ve found the right mate in spite of some concerns … like kids, exspouses, child support payments, parenting responsibilities, etc. No worries though. It’ll work out over time.  And for many, it does

For others – not so well.  Many people in stepcouples ARE SURE that their choice was right and that they’d have the perfect relationship IF ONLY… her kids weren’t part of the deal …or the ex would suddenly vanish from their lives… or he’d met you first before marrying her.   This is what people believe and vigorously play out in the If Only Game of stepcoupling. This way they don’t have to change, stretch, or take responsibility.  It’s a great excuse.

I’ve seen and heard stories of people believing these myths with all their hearts. I’ve seen stepcouples live in separate quarters of houses – she with her kids and he with his, eating meals and raising kids separately while the stepcouple shares little more than a common bed together.  I’ve seen 2 mini families living together in one house with tension building between the two forces. Each parent protects themselves and their offspring from the other side.  They say they “love each other very much”…until they can’t stand each other.  It’s not surprising that these relationships end in divorce. They have plenty of reasons to blame the other side and leave in a huff.  Parting shot is  if only … or if only you…

They love each other, but they just can’t deal with the day to day hassles and responsibilities of stepfamily life.  They live for the breaks from the kids, their weekends alone to rekindle and be intimate. They live in two different worlds that conflict with one another– one, loving, protecting and raising one’s biological kids and the other sustaining a stepcouple relationship.

Successful stepcouples can handle both with integrity and appreciation for what it is.  They don’t obsess about what they don’t or can’t have, or what they lost in the past.  They work on what they have together.  They do so with conscious attention to boundary issues and conflicts. They communicate and deal with the issues openly.

Lets face it!  Accepting some one else’s children and inviting them into your own family is definitely a challenge.  Dealing with one’s ex-spouse is hardly smooth and natural. Dealing with a partner’s ex is even harder. It all takes motivation, maturity, and incredible patience.

Three questions for stepcouple partners to consider when dealing with stepchildren and exes:

  1. Given that your stepchildren won’t simply disappear, do you want your marriage to endure?  If it continues, they’ll be present.  Is this prospect tolerable?
  1. Are you willing to consider the possibility that you could have a different relationship with your stepchildren, even if they don’t change?
  1. Are you willing to consider including rather than excluding your stepchildren?  Are you willing to consider doing something different?

(Excerpts, Page 63, Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family, Three Rivers Press, 2002.)

These are hard questions, but it’s only by doing some honest thinking about yourself and your situation that can lead you to stop playing the If Only game and work towards accepting/embracing what you have.  What you have is a stepfamily which includes children and exspouses from previous relationships…and that’s just the beginning.

Susan Wisdom
Licensed Professional Counselor
June 2010

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