According to Statistics New Zealand, one in every three marriages is a second or subsequent marriage. When a new partnership includes children from a person’s prior relationship, they become a stepfamily (also known as a blended family). When a couple are in love, it’s natural for them to desire that their partner and children share a meaningful relationship too. Blending is therefore about having those who are in a step relationship form such a bond by learning to accept, respect and care for each other.
Along the path to happily ever after in a stepfamily, there are a number of obstacles couples must first overcome. These include navigating different parenting styles, helping the stepparent feel satisfied in their new role, dealing with ex-partners and reducing a parent’s feeling of being torn between trying to keep both their children and partner happy. During conflict, these pressures can cause a stepfamily to divide along biological lines. Rather than choosing to escape the conflict by breaking up, the challenge is for couples to explore their way through it.
All couples in a stepfamily have a tremendous opportunity to experience lifelong satisfying and fulfilling relationships when they choose to remain committed to each other. Couples can create a loving and stable environment for their children while modelling the skills that make a relationship successful. Children are able to witness how their parent and stepparent work together and learn valuable life skills in the process.
If you find yourself in a stepfamily environment, or are planning to blend, the following keys will assist you towards making certain that this time is forever.
Five keys to success
1. Set aside quality time with your partner
Be emotionally and mentally available for them. If possible, arrange access so that you can enjoy some child-free time. Have fun together and appreciate each other’s company. It’s not just how you resolve conflict that determines your success, but the level of happiness you experience together that also matters.
2. Work on resolving conflict in a healthy manner
Conflict is inevitable, combat is optional. Conflict should not be treated as a bad thing. It can lead to deeper intimacy in your relationship as you learn to successfully negotiate issues. You’re giving each other the freedom to be honest and when you resolve the small issues, it will give you confidence to address the bigger ones that arise.
3. Remain committed to your partner by focusing on what brought you together
Many issues you currently experience will revolve around children and are temporary so aim to nurture and sustain relationships. Love your partner for who they are rather than making your love conditional on how they choose to parent, if their style is different to yours.
4. Praise and encourage each other’s children
It will do wonders for your couple relationship. If your partner only hears negative comments about their biological children, it may build a wall of resentment in your relationship. Affirming your stepchildren regularly will help your partner to be more open to constructive suggestions you want to offer regarding their children.
5. Equip yourself with realistic expectations
These will help you focus on things you have the power to change and accept what you can’t change. Blending is a journey which requires plenty of patience. Often couples become unstuck if they expect love to develop quickly between those in a step relationship. Relationships are a work in progress and your family dynamics will change over time.