Blended family conflicts are to be expected
It goes without saying that a blended family will have its share of step family conflict. Conflict is part and parcel of families that are a blending of divergent people with different experiences, family rules and expectations, and mixed loyalties. Feelings of loss, anger, blame, and suspicion color relationships that children are thrown into, and parents generally feel a great sense of guilt over what their children have endured. When you toss uncooperative ex-spouses into the mix, feelings can run high.
On the defense in the face of conflict
Often, when people get into a conflict with their step family partner, the kids, or with their ex-spouse, they cope by going on the defensive. Some arm themselves with a list of reasons why they were justified in whatever was said or did, how they are not being respected or are being abused, and where their opponent is wrong in their thinking. Going on the defensive entirely disregards the feelings and ideas of the other person, can serve to intimidate, and often silences opposing views, but cannot get to the crux of the matter because the real issue never gets discussed. Unresolved conflict that is swept under the carpet inevitably continues to grow until it detonates in an explosion of resentment and ill feeling; when the explosion is then defined as an over-reaction to some minor issue, resentment grows even more. Playing defense is clearly not the solution to blended family conflict.
Personal victory often a relationship loss
It is difficult to reach a resolution to conflict when one or both of the people involved are focusing on being right rather than on resolving the conflict. Needing to be right, or perhaps needing the other person to be wrong, is incompatible with conflict resolution and insensitive to the needs of the other person. Make sure you are not being heavy handed in your dealings with the kids, and be sure to hold your marriage above any conflict with your step family spouse. Face each conflict with a mature approach that fosters communication, understanding, and resolution.
Setting the scene for conflict resolution
You have control over the atmosphere in which your conflicts take place. Atmosphere matters. You can make sure the kids feels safe to come to you with their problems, and feel confident that you will listen without correcting or interrupting, and will play fair with their feelings and needs. You and your blended family partner can agree that no matter how heated arguments get, a difference of opinion is not a threat to your relationship. You agree that you will approach every problem as team members looking for a solution. Make your blended family home a true safety zone, where there is no physical violence. Ever. In your blended family home, make it easy to present, discuss, and solve problems important to the people who live there. Conflict can be a calm, mature discussion between people who respect each other, who both listen and truly try to understand each other.
Family meetings are good training for conflict resolution
The family meeting has become a standard in most blended family homes, providing an excellent venue for effective communication, the foundation of conflict resolution. In a step family meeting, step siblings can practice argument and negotiation skills in a safe environment. Step children and step parents still a little unsure of each other can observe each other comfortably, and perhaps learn to understand each other better in the give and take of discussion. Blended family guidelines rule all family meetings, which means no name calling, no yelling, no attacking, and no hurting anyone intentionally.
Conflict resolution is a life skill that, once learned, can lead your kids to a successful life in which they feel competent and capable of meeting and overcoming obstacles. Conflict resolution is a life skill that can make your dealings with your ex-spouse, your partner’s ex-spouse, a difficult co-worker, or anyone else you wish you could avoid. Work together on resolving your blended family conflicts in a patient, caring, and understanding manner, and reap the benefits of great communication. If you need additional assistance, contact The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for coaching.