5 suggestions for marriage within a blended family

Blending a family can be a monumental task, but it is possible for it to work out well. Here are a few ideas to help make that happen.

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  • Adjusting to marriage can have its challenges, especially when it comes with kids from previous marriages on both sides. During the time after a divorce, children often have free access to their parent. They get used to being the number one focus. After a second marriage, it's difficult for them to make room for the stepparent. Kids have been known to do all in their power to break up the new marriage. They want it like it used to be—mom and dad married. That's normal. Here are a few ideas that may help you ease into your new life with a little less friction and a lot more understanding.

  • 1. Acknowledge that it's going to be difficult

  • Realize that you are entering into new territory, and a lot of your idealizing will need to be brought down to ground level. It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your family will be the perfect Brady Bunch—with everyone blending and getting along without any problems. Instant love will abound. That's wishful thinking. Go ahead and engage in that blissful fantasy for a minute, but then move on to reality. Which means that you and your spouse need to have some realistic, down-to-earth discussions. You might start with these two questions.

  • Where do our children fit in our relationship? While kids are important, you need to reaffirm that you are each other's top priority. Next comes the kids. They are going to need a heaping measure of love from their bio parent, or they will feel displaced by your new spouse. Include them in every possible way that does not intrude on your marriage relationship.

  • What are we going to do to keep our marriage strong in spite of the difficulties? Make plans early on for the two of you to have date nights away from the kids. Let your kids know in advance that this will be happening and that you will have other times with them when they are the focus. Then be sure to have those "other times."

  • 2. Recognize that falling in love with stepchildren takes time

  • For your kids, falling in love with their stepparent may take even longer. Even if you have developed a loving relationship with your stepkids before the wedding, things can change when all the family is together day in and day out. Jealousies arise, character flaws become more obvious, and patience is tried. All of these can hinder the falling-in-love process, but they don't need to stop it. Couples just need to know that winning love on both sides takes some time. It has been said by some professionals that under ideal circumstances it takes seven years to blend a family.

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  • 3. Rules and boundaries need to be applied equally

  • What's good for the goose's kids is good for the gander's kids. That's difficult when some of the children live at your home only part time. The non-custodial parent is worried that the children will not want to come back, so they are more lenient with their own children. This doesn't work. Rules need to apply to all, whether they live with you full time or not. The key is to lovingly apply the rules. For this to work you and your new spouse need to have a conversation with the kids, explaining these rules and that you love them and will do what is best for each child. Be sure they understand that you want them to feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns, that you will listen and do your best to understand their needs. They need to know that they can come to their biological parent at times without always including the stepparent. They also need to know that they can come to the stepparent with concerns without fear of rejection. A non-condemning listening ear is vital for this to work.

  • 4. Effective communication with former spouses must be maintained

  • Even though you can't get along with each other, do all in your power to work out a mutual plan for rules and visits with the kids. Generally speaking, former spouses are out to prove that the divorce was not their fault. They may do everything in their power to torpedo the new marriage so they can prove their point. This sometimes involves telling the children things they should never hear, or that they don't need to obey the new stepparent or follow the rules. A former spouse will often increase demands to make life even more miserable for their ex. They too often become less and less cooperative. Do all in your power as soon as possible to discuss the need for congeniality for your children's sakes. Make a plan.

  • 5. Decide to be kind and respectful

  • This is vital for all the relationships in your new family dynamic. First, do this by showing respect to and for your new spouse. Listen to her or him and don't make demands. Do your best to be understanding of what each is experiencing. Keep your expectations of each other realistic. Allow for natural growth, not instant growth. It takes time. Second, show respect to your children. Speak to them kindly, even—maybe especially— when disciplining. Kind and firm can go hand in hand. Third, treat your former spouse with respect and courtesy. These three acts of showing kindness and respect will go a long way in helping your new family work out well.

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Gary Lundberg is a licensed marriage and family therapist. Joy is a writer. Together they author books on relationships.

Website: http://garyjoylundberg.com

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