Blending Families Takes Work!
Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor
live in a day when divorce is much more common than it was twenty-five
years ago, and because of this, there are more and more blended families.
We call them by different names—stepfamilies, ready-made families,
and blended families—referring to families where one or both spouses
have been married before and often have children from previous relationships.
Imagine the following scenario:
A woman was previously married for seven years
and has two young children from that marriage. The marriage ended acrimoniously
because of her ex’s chronic unfaithfulness. There is still a great
deal of tension between them and any conversation concerning the children
results in an opportunity for ongoing conflict.
After being single for three years, she began dating. A year and a half
later she married her husband. He is several years older, and has been
married twice previously, with one grown son from his first marriage
and two teenage children from his second marriage. He gets along very
well with his two ex-spouses.
While this woman loves this man, they are already
experiencing some of the typical challenges facing blended families.
This is one of many different combinations of blended families; his
kids/her kids/ their kids; active ex-spouse, distant ex-spouse; cooperative
relationships/acrimonious relationships with the ex, to name a few.
Consider some of these common hurdles for blended
• Children having loyalty issues between
their natural parents and stepparents;
• Children feeling jealousy toward the other children;
• Entanglements, both positive and negative, with ex-spouses;
• Challenges with including the “new spouse” in decision-making
about the stepchildren;
• Jealousy of the stepparent toward the stepchildren;
• Blending estates and finances;
• Blending religious and spiritual values;
• Ensuring the new marriage has appropriate time and attention;
• Guarding against too high of expectations for the new marriage
• Establishing the identity of the “new” family.
With these challenges in mind, you won’t be surprised to hear
that counseling those in blended families has been some of my most difficult
work. While these families have many positive things to share with one
another, they also have struggles not encountered by families without
Here’s a recent Message
Board request, suggesting concerns with blending families:
Dear Dr. Hawkins,
I am new at this and I consider myself to be a very spiritual individual,
meaning that I do believe that my relationship with God is true. I recently
married and now I am separated. To make a long story short, we started
encountering problems when my 15 year old step daughter came to live
with us. I have a 17 year old daughter who I admire, but I thought if
I treated them with the same affection that every thing would be ok.
Now he lives with his daughter and I live with mine. I pray daily for
us to come together as a family, but it has been 3 weeks now. I want
to grow old with my husband, but I don't know what to say without causing
conflicts. I know that every thing happens for a reason, I just wish
I knew this reasoning, I pray that it is from God and not from my husband’s
reasoning. Pray for me because I love him and I want our marriage to
work, I'm just at a stand still with being positive right now.
Clearly this woman is experiencing some of the “typical”
problems encountered by stepfamilies. While the exact nature of their
problems is unclear, it is likely that they, like most stepfamilies,
failed to fully anticipate and prepare for blending families. Her note
suggests there was conflict between her 15 year old stepdaughter and
17 year old daughter.
It is also quite obvious that she and her husband aren’t problem-solving
effectively. They have failed to manage the conflict that is common
to blending families and he has chosen to separate rather than continue
to struggle with the issues.
What can this woman do now? While I’ll offer a few ideas, I’d
love for you to weigh in on this issue. Assuming that the heart of the
matter involves tensions between the two girls, and divided loyalties,
what can she do now?
One, invite your husband to talk with a third party about the problems.
Perhaps your pastor or professional counselor can help you untangle
the conflicts and speak to each other in such a way so as to solve problems.
Whomever you choose to counsel with, make sure they have some familiarity
with stepfamilies and problems associated with them.
Two, use this time to examine your heart and reflect on the issues.
While your heart is clearly breaking, the space between the four of
you can be used to explore what isn’t working and how to come
back together more effectively.
Three, consider family counseling, with a therapist familiar with
blended family issues. It is quite likely that in addition to marriage
counseling, the teenage girls need to have a voice in the matter as
well. Children in blended families have a huge influence on how effectively
the blending process occurs. You need to listen to their voice.
Fourth, read everything you can on blended families. I have written
a very readable book on the topic: When You’re Living in a Stepfamily.
There are many other good books that will help you understand what you’ve
done well, and what needs improvement.
Finally, you are right about the separation occurring for a reason—though
that doesn’t mean you should passively wait for it to end. Look
and listen carefully to your husband to learn about what led him to
separate. Listen with an open mind and a willingness to learn. Take
what you learn and make healthy changes.
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