Getting remarried is a happy and exciting time for many couples, filled with renewed hope and possibilities. However, what many couples don’t realize is that starting a new step family can also be very difficult, complete with an enormous set of challenges and transitions that none of them saw coming. In fact, about 60% of remarriages eventually end in divorce, because step families have no idea how to navigate through these unexpected challenges. So, how can your step family fall into the other 40%? The following suggestions can help you get started in the right direction:
1. Nurture and enrich the couple relationship
The couple relationship is the most important and vulnerable piece of the stepfamily puzzle. It lays the foundation for how the stepfamily will function. In order to nurture this relationship, couples are encouraged to:
• Affirm each other frequently and demonstrate affection
• Spend time together-alone!
• Be honest, open, and practice positive communication
2. Reveal and understand emotions
It is important to deal with and resolve the loss and pain from your previous relationship so that it does not continue to interfere with the present one. If bitterness exists from a divorce (which is often the case), find ways to manage and ultimately get rid of it.
Also, children must be encouraged to express and process through their feelings. Because emotions are often more intense in a stepfamily and there are more complicating factors, it is important that emotions be expressed in productive ways. Take extra care to make sure the feelings being expressed by children are being validated and understood, otherwise the pain will be increased, and resentments will build.
3. Have realistic expectations
All members of the step family need to get to know each other well before a remarriage takes place. The myths of “instant love” and its opposite extreme of never-ending, unsolvable problems need to be dismissed.
4. Develop new roles
Understanding that because a new family is being created, everyone in that family will experience some change in roles essential to making a stepfamily work. Here are a few key points to remember when forming these new roles:
• Former spouses must learn to co-parent, and avoid using children as messengers between households or putting them in the middle of power struggles.
• Stepparents have to develop a new role with the children. Depending upon custodial arrangements, different roles are possible. Generally, it is recommended to begin the relationship as a friend. Custodial stepparents need to develop a type of parenting role.
• Democratic discipline works better than any other type of discipline in a stepfamily.
• Many benefits come from having shared roles and responsibilities in a stepfamily.
• Grandparents also assume new roles and can play an instrumental role in step family success. Educating grandparents, as well as other stepfamily members, is highly recommended.
• Clear, open, honest communication is vital.
• The couple relationship needs to remain strong. Struggles in which the biological parent feels “in the middle” or the stepparent feels alone can be very harmful.
Whichever roles are finally assumed, the goal is family integration. It is important that step families begin to develop a sense of unity, while keeping in mind that this is not a biological family.
5. Seek support and see the positive
Turning to resources can offer much needed support when creating a stepfamily. Family, friends, and other community members can often be a positive support system. Also, there are many stepfamily books and support groups that can offer helpful information in creating a stepfamily. Along with that, seeking counseling as a couple or family can play a vital role in the creation of a stepfamily, because the focus can be on the unique qualities of an individual stepfamily. Lastly, look at the positive! Step families have many strengths and benefits to offer if they’re sought out and maximized.
These five ways to make a stepfamily work can make an enormous difference in helping your step family get started on the road to success. It isn’t easy. Stepfamilies come with a unique set of struggles and difficulties. However, as you continue to seek help and knowledge about how to better your step family’s situation, it is possible for you to have the peaceful, cohesive family you desire.
Need help blending your family? Join our new Step Family Class for parents and children.
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