Marriage first- always- in your blended family
When you and your new love merged your two families, you knew that a blended family came with challenges, but nothing you couldn’t handle together. Your kids would eventually become friends as well as step siblings, ex-spouses would eventually see step parents as just one more person to love their kids, new – and former – in-laws would eventually see that you and your new partner had made excellent choices, and your step kids would eventually accept you as a caring and respected adult in their lives. And you both set out to help these eventualities come to fruition.
Successful marriages create an environment for successful step families
Successful couples create an environment of strength in their partnership, setting limits and boundaries regarding when, where and how they interact with their families. They still maintain a loving relationship with parents and siblings, but their couple relationship remains the focus of their loyalty and is where they put the most effort. This commitment creates a unity between the couple that cements their new relationship.
Blended family facts of life
Cementing a remarriage relationship becomes more complicated when it entails children from a first family. A blended family spouse without biological children must accommodate contact, often daily contact, with his or her former family unit. Daily telephone calls and weekend visits with the kids, or having them live with you, are a constant reminder of the ongoing commitment, as are regular and sometimes emotional phone calls from the ex-spouse. Step parents often struggle with the reality that the ex-family is there to stay. While they had anticipated the presence of children, they really had no idea just how intrusive contact with the ex-spouse would feel. When both partners bring children to the blended family mix, intrusions and the resulting conflicting loyalties are doubled.
Dealing with intrusion
Constant intrusion and conflicting loyalties are a fact of blended family life. But that does not mean you and your partner cannot protect your limits and boundaries. Work together to build a strong couple relationship, making it a priority you both honor. Compromise over the number and nature of calls you will tolerate from the ex-spouse. Keep in mind that co-parenting and the welfare of children rely on effective communication. Be aware that while one partner may have other commitments, they do not negate his or her commitment to you and to your relationship, or to the limitations you set regarding the nature of intrusions.
Build your couple-ness within the blended family
Successful blended family couples rely on a solid foundation of love and empathy, with each partner valuing each other as an individual, as a step parent, and as a lover. This does not mean having lots of sex, but it means making time for love and intimacy in your marriage. Partners with strong marriages keep a strong focus on being a romantic couple. They cherish their time together. Maintaining a strong intimate connection helps to keep the focus on you as a couple, no matter how many outside intrusions there are.
Make a date
Some blended family couples dislike the concept of date night because they say it seems contrived. They think intimacy should only happen spontaneously and naturally. But in a blended family, the only thing that happens naturally on a regular basis is exhaustion and having to cope with the realities of step kids and ex-spouses. Because the survival of your relationship has a direct impact on the survival of your blended family, give your relationship the time it deserves and make time with one another to play, to laugh and to make love. Why wait for an opportunity to spontaneously appear? You didn’t wait when you were dating, why wait now? Make a date!
The importance of your blended family success extends well beyond you and your partner. Your children are depending on it, too; they have already experienced loss and hurt. Do absolutely everything you can to protect the integrity, the commitment, and the passion of your relationship as a couple. When you put your marital relationship first, everyone wins! If your marriage is experiencing problems due to your blended family, visit The Blended and Step Family Resource Center for help.