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Leaning “all in” to your Marriage and Stepfamily

The stakes are high in marriage for those looking to get it right the second and third time around. While remarriage can heal the scars of divorce and loss, blended families can provide newfound hope and optimism for those wanting to build a stable and happy family. With recent stats showing 67% of second and 74% of third marriages doomed to failure, it is important for couples to place their marriage first and commit to leaning “all in”. Below, we discuss some key steps you and your partner can take to ensure you are both leaning “all in” to your marriage to build a strong foundation resulting in a happy blended family.

In Ron Deal’s session, Becoming Step Family Smart, at The Smart Stepfamily Conference, he explains that in blended families, there is no family without the marriage or partnership that originally created it. The union of the couple is the only tie that brings the two families together into one. If that relationship falls apart due to either of the spouses not fully leaning “all in” to the relationship, the entire family unit falls apart as there is nothing that ties them together but the couple.

Blended families need a strong foundation of trust and communication in order to buffer the challenges that arise from stepfamily life. With the understanding that marriage satisfaction determines stepfamily stability, a loving and well-adjusted stepfamily is possible when couples commit to taking the time and actions necessary to build and maintain a healthy and loving relationship to get there.

How to “Lean in” when you feel like leaning out It is not easy to combine two families into a new unit. Welcoming a new spouse brings with it an explosion of stress-inducing ‘newness’ with new stepchildren, new rules, new demands, new routines and more. Couples who commit to overcoming the obstacles a blended family can bring, together can build a strong foundation to get through tough issues in the future. Staying true to your shared goals as a couple and supporting each other’s future hopes and dreams is essential for staying unified. Daily conversations between the two of you, engaging in shared hobbies and interests together, and regular date nights away from the kids will help to keep the relationship strong, romantic, and deeply connected.

When a couple decides to lean “all in”, their decision not only affects their relationship, it ripples out to each of their respective families, drawing both sides to come together connecting them over time.

The following helpful tips on ways couples can lean “all in” provide a guide to navigating the ups and downs of blending a family while building a strong foundation for your second or third marriage.

Communication is Key Conflict is inevitable and without the fundamentals of effective listening and understanding, a couple can become gridlocked on major marital issues. It is critical that couples learn how to communicate effectively and not be afraid to discuss sensitive topics as they arise. Over time, poor communication can chip away at the foundation of the relationship – the foundation that keeps the stepfamily intact. When communicating, couples should seek to manage conflict with empathy, compassion, and understanding. When possible, couples should communicate using “I” statements to express their feelings and needs to one another. Accepting responsibility, staying respectful, and having gratitude and appreciation for your partner’s positive traits and actions will keep the lines of communication open between you. When things get rough, take a break from the situation and regroup with a calmer and clearer perspective

Parent Together, Not Separately Loyalty to your own child is real and valid and can feel very strong. This can make stepparent discipline a very delicate topic. Remember that love and trust develop over time between stepparents and stepchildren. It’s important to establish roles for parenting and discipline early on and adjust as needed to each child’s developmental cycle and what they are used to. Couples need to acknowledge their role as either parent or supportive stepparent with their children and support each other during the process, giving a unified front. Doing this will build a strong foundation of consistency, strength, and love.

The adolescent period of a child’s life can be a very difficult phase in stepfamily development and can catch the couple off guard and cause strain to the family dynamic as a whole. Be mindful of this time in your own family structure and make plans to help adolescent children understand their emotions and show them that you’re there for them through thick and thin.

Practice Patience and Understanding When blending a family, it is important to remember that the process is more like a marathon and not a sprint. The average blended family takes anywhere from 5 to 7 years to create their sense of family unity and completely blend. Commit to the journey and find ways to enjoy and learn from each moment of happiness and frustration that comes with it. When your stepkids tease you for winning at Monopoly during game night, tease them back and keep it lighthearted. When your partner goes against your wishes on discipline, talk it through honestly, calmly, and respectfully. With every slip up or misunderstanding, keep in mind that you and your spouse are on the same team and have the same goals.

Flexibility A key component to blended families and building successful foundations of marriage is flexibility. Don’t be afraid to shift and change if something is not working for your marriage or blended family. Remember that blended families are like a crockpot meal; they take time to stew together slowly forming bonds that become unbreakable. Give yourselves time to come together and develop as a family. You can help this process along by establishing some special family traditions like a weekly pizza and movie night or a monthly outing to your family’s favorite hiking spot. Shared experiences like these can help families bond and form their own unique identity.

Be Committed and Don’t Give Up Make the decision that you and your spouse will stay together. Marriage is the first and last motivator of a healthy blended family. Being united as a couple not only brings harmony into the blended family dynamics, it shows the children that the new stepparent is an important part of the family. Children will come to accept and respect the stepparent when they see the love and devotion their biological parent has for them. Stress can thicken blood and pull blended families apart. Through love and an unwavering commitment to each other, the couple becomes the solid foundation upon which the blended family can thrive. Being committed to staying together through thick and thin pays off. Stepfamily couples that stay together for more than 5 years see the divorce rate cut in half. If they stay together for more than 10 years, the divorce rate cuts in half again.

When things don’t go as planned, or you’re having a difficult time integrating as a family, think back to the beginning and remember why you came together in the first place. No relationship is without its own set of challenges. Couples who commit to overcoming the obstacles together build a strong foundation to get through tough issues in the future.

Couples who place their marriage first and commit to leaning “all in” together when blending their families, reap the benefits of building a strong marital relationship that acts as a solid foundation for their blended family’s success and happiness. Leaning “all in” to your marriage and blended family, including the challenges, will be a wonderful adventure for you, your partner, and your new family.

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