As a new stepcouple, you may be stuck in romantic love and drowning in the fantasy that it will always be that way. Then it happens! You get blasted apart by kids…their demands, their complaints, their need for attention and their endless energy. It’s hard to get time to yourselves. The apparent pull of parental love and the time commitment to children feels overwhelming. Your spouse may forget to greet you with those long welcome hugs. Your pleas for attention are sometimes ignored. You feel excluded. It’s NOT what you expected. You don’t like waiting your turn! It certainly wasn’t that way in the beginning.
Welcome to stepcoupling reality! The honeymoon’s over! The adjustment begins. The transition from that romantic twosome to a stronger stepcouple relationship involves a natural developmental process. It’s about letting go of the early fantasies and expectations. It’s about understanding, adjusting to and accepting the stepfamily members, and moving on to a deeper stepcouple relationship – inclusive, not exclusive.
There are five stages in this process: 1. Denial 2. Anger 3. Bargaining 4. Depression 5. Acceptance.
Here’s how it happens…generally speaking.
In the beginning, you think: “Nothing will ever come between us; we won’t allow it. We’ll always communicate our feelings and thoughts. We’re so lucky to have found each other after all we’ve been through” etc, etc.
You honestly believe it. You brush off any early signs of warning. You hide from the truth because the truth is too scary to admit. Finally, you can hide no more and you wake up one day with the chilling thought “Omygod, what have I gotten myself into?” The stepchildren are driving you crazy. You think they don’t like you, and you’re worried that maybe you don’t like them either. You wonder what will happen to you and your new relationship? You hope and pray for your spouse to return to the Prince Charming (or Princess Charming) state so the two of you can hang out in romantic love again – 24/7.
But it doesn’t work that way. It’s a stepfamily after all. In your stepcouple relationship there will always be kids, exes, adults and kids competing for love and attention, and stepsiblings vying for territory and favors. As adults you may begin to feel resentful and jealous of each other’s kids. Accusations are expressed like “You think your kids are better than mine!” or “You always choose your kids over me!” Feeling betrayed, you notice that you’re not communicating and connecting as before. Your sex life is affected. It’s indeed a stressful and difficult time.
NOTE: This may sound discouraging. For some, the transition is relatively smooth, for others not so. Smooth or rough, everyone goes through some developmental process in order to adjust to the complicated system of stepcoupling, stepfamilies and stepparenting.
Hang in there!
Susan Wisdom LPC
Look for the next article about adjustment and acceptance next week.