I’ve recently read a stepmom article on ways to gel as a stepfamily. I thought it was great and agreed with all of it except one thing: The article stated not to put your marriage first. Of course there is a time and place for putting children first, they are after all, younger and more dependent on adults. Their survival depends on us. And of course the younger they are the more they need and depend on us. BUT I caution about making this a non negotiable rule. The parents are the foundation of the family. Without the parents there would be no family. Now this might go against better judgment and what otherwise feels instinctual but here’s the rationale. Statistically speaking second marriages have much higher rate of divorce than first marriages. Up to 70% according to some statistics and then you add another almost 10% to that number for third marriages. There are a multitude of reasons why that statistic is high than for first time marriages: dynamics that the ex spouses and children bring, child support payments, alimony, access and visitation, financial burdens of lengthy court disputes- all of that totals up to stress and a lot of it! Then you add to the mix that divorce was a solution for things not going as planned and you survived that right? But there in lies the problem. If you put the right amount of effort of the right KIND of effort at the right moments then your relationship can better handle the stressors of stepfamily life. What does that look like? Well self care is a good place to start. If you are happier and healthier as a starting point then the work of the couple is less. It’s also important to ensure relationship care or couple care. I recommend reading the book “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary Chapman as a simple starting point. In his book Chapman categorizes the 5 ways that couples express their love and receive love (or parents and children) Each person has a love language or the way the person likes to receive and give love and be recognized and feel valued and honoured. Chapman says we must learn the primary love language of our spouse in order to show them we love them. The five love languages include Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch.
For example when you compliment or appreciate your spouse for their efforts and their contributions you are building them up through Words of Affirmation. How about love notes texted during an afternoon safety meeting? Simple words of affection can go a long way, it can be very sustaining.
Acts of Service are doing things like run of the mill daily tasks. Of course you look after your spouse by doing their laundry, cooking them meals, changing the oil on their mini van, mowing the lawn. But that’s the language of love for some people. Doing the stuff that has to be done.It’s pitching in to make the household run smoothly. My husband is BIG on this love language.
Receiving Gifts are pretty straight forward but don’t just assume it’s “flowers and chocolate” easy. Find out what your spouse’s currency is. If it’s time- flowers die but a Roomba robot vacuum may do the trick. Maybe a surprise of packing favourite snacks in his briefcase, If it’s a day at the spa please don’t try a pedicure yourself at home to save a few bucks! Reconsidering yourself being cheap as a badge of honour is a good idea for this love language.
Quality Time means looking at each other face to face and talking. It’s more than just hanging out in front of the TV. It is focussed attention where you are spending genuine time with each other, listening to them and responding to them like you are listening. Discover new places and share adventures!
Physical Touch seems simple and straight forward. It’s a common language in marriage. But it’s more than mere lovemaking. It’s the light feathery kisses first thing in the morning, it’s putting your arm around his waist while you walk down the mall. Knowing he likes the feel of flannel you can buy him that flannel shirt even if you don’t really like it.
Keep in mind that whatever love language appeals to you might not be the love language of your spouse.
So with all of the stuff that causes stress what are you doing to take care of your spouse’s love needs by connecting with them in small ways every day? When we continue to put the kids ahead of “us” the person at the bottom of the ladder eventually starts to feel forgotten, unappreciated, de-valued. Then all of those stressors are harder to manage and compartmentalize. That makes room for resentment and it can start building strength and hiding in places you never thought of looking. The negatives start outweighing the positives, you start blaming each other, fighting becomes a daily occurrence and the slope starts getting more slippery. If you slide too far then you might reach the tipping point. So do some prevention or even early intervention. Do the little things as much and as often as you can. And if you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel then make sure you create your own light. You cant read his mind and he can’t read yours so take the quiz in the book.
The best way to meet the needs of your children are to have happy mommies and daddies whose emotional tanks are full to overflowing!