All Stepfamilies come together only after a loss of some kind occurs in their life. This could be the death of a spouse. This could be divorce, even if that decsion was mutually agreeable, it is still the loss of the family that once was. This loss could stem from not having the other parent present in the child’s life at all, and being the sole single parent. Whatever the circumstances were for you becoming a single parent, it will have left scars of loss on your life. When two single parents blend their families, all members of the new stepfamily bring their individual losses to that mix. The children carry losses, pains, and wounds that take time to work through in their new family situation. The parents likewise bring the pieces of their broken life with them into the stepfamily and navigating the new family unit can be more challenging than they expected due to these losses.
The Loss Created by Death or Divorce
The number one stressor on any chart is the death of a spouse. Few events in life are more painful than the death of a spouse. You may question whether you will survive, much less heal, from the excruciating pain of this type of loss. You may feel like a part of you has died with your spouse, or that part of you is missing.
Everyone grieves differently after the death of a spouse. How you grieve for them depends on the circumstances surrounding their death, the state of your relationship, other losses you’ve experienced in life, your emotional support system, your financial situation, your child situation, and more. This can be a very lengthy process to heal enough that you can accept the situation for what it is and feel ready to move on with life.
Regardless of the circumstances, divorce is the death of a marriage, it’s the death of how you expected your life to look, the death of your hopes and dreams for the future, and the end of the vows you made to one another.
A common denominator in divorce is that one’s spouse put someone or something else above their partner. That could be another lover, alcohol, drugs, pornography, their career, narcissim, struggles with abuse, and a number of other things that took priority over their spouse.
It is the ultimate rejection, when your spouse no longer wants to spend their life with you.
Often times it is also the ultimate betrayal bringing with it excruciating pain very similar to the pain of loss that comes from a death in the family. Divorce can bring feelings of being unlovable, feelings of failure, extreme loneliness, and feelings that you may be alone forever.
Laura Petherbridge stepfamily expert, author, and international speaker, said the following, “Divorce produces overwhelming layers of loss. Many people lose their home, finances, friends, relatives, pets, automobile, health insurance, time with the children, and even ministry/church.” Laura offered the following things to consider when helping someone navigate a divorce:
- The death of a marriage takes a LONG time to overcome.
- There is an incorrect assumption that people get over divorce quickly.
- Love your friend unconditionally. This doesn’t mean you must approve of all of his/her choices.
- Listen for suicide threats and don’t ignore them.
- Give your friend a hug. The bed is empty, the house feels cold. This person needs human touch.
- Remember you are not a professional therapist. Discern when to demonstrate tough love by stepping back and insisting he/she get counseling if necessary.
It takes a great deal of energy to work through a traumatic experience, but one’s capacity to love again is tied to allowing yourself to properly grieve the loss of the relationship. There is no set timeline for grieving and some people don’t get over the grief and loss of the death of a spouse, they just learn to live with it. Most grieve over what could have and should have been in their former relationship. This loss undoubtedly impacts how the individual loves the next time around. This loss will get triggered by the new partner in unexpected and unintentional ways.
The Biggest Mistake People Make in Their Next Relationship
Many people feel they are fully healed from the loss of their previous marriage, whether that was from death or divorce, when they enter into a second marriage and form a stepfamily, but as is common in stepfamily situations, you soon find out that your past trauma gets triggered in the new blended family, and by the new spouse. Close relationships often trigger our most deep seated fears and pain; the wounds we don’t realize still exist under the surface.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is not taking enough time to heal from a past relationship before entering into a new relationship. When people do this it puts a burden on the new spouse to ‘fix’ the pain and trauma their partner brought from their past relationship. Both people bringing unhealed baggage from their past then triggers those deepest hurts in their partner without meaning to. When not properly healed, partners may project past betrayals and fears onto their new companion. All of these behaviors will add strain and stress to the already challenging task of blending families.
Healing from Past Relationships
One way to reduce this friction with your new partner is to take a very honest look at your past relationships and examine the things that you allowed that were not healthy for either yourself or your marriage, and examine what behavior in either yourself or your former spouse was unhealthy or unacceptable. Being willing to be honest with yourself about your shortcomings, your fears, and insecurities can show you what you need to work on in order to have success in your next relationship. Looking back at past behavior in your former partner that should not have been tolerated, but was, will give you an opportunity to ask yourself why you accepted certain behaviors in that relationship. Knowing this can give you a better glimpse into what boundaries you should have in place in order to feel healthy and whole within the new relationship.
The more each individual can examine themselves and heal themselves, the greater the chances of success will be in the stepfamily couple relationship. Making that relationship your highest priority will make blending the families easier. When the couple is united, committed, and continually nurturing their relationship with each other, it strengthens that bond thus pulling the two families closer together.