Blended families can be wonderful and beautiful and fulfilling. But because they are so complex, and there are so many different relationships to foster–the couple, the kids, the stepchildren, etc., blended families can also feel challenging, frustrating and disappointing. In this article, I will discuss challenges, as well as how to manage the different blended family relationships. Additionally, I will address when to call it quits in a blended family.
Key challenges of a blended family:
Kids might have a hard time at first:
It’s common to want to form a quick and close bond with stepchildren. But it’s best to take it slow and try NOT to immediately step into a parent role. It’s important to first establish a trusting bond by showing them you’re not replacing their other parent in any way. Be a friend to them first. It may take time for the child to adjust to the new family dynamics especially if it was a high conflict divorce.
Your new spouse might have a different parenting style than you do:
The adults in a blended family will most likely have different ideas about how to raise children, discipline them, and/or deal with behavioral issues. This can lead to disagreements and conflicts if the new spouses are unable to find common ground. It’s a good idea to discuss this before blending your family. It’s important to be really clear on what the expectations are to avoid having to deal with these issues in the moment. If you are in need of coaching, this is an area in which I specialize. I help blended families adjust easier, so that they experience a more fulfilling, happier household.
Dealing with ex-partners:
If you and your partner have both been married before, ex partners can be a source of conflict. You or your new spouse will have to continue to interact with your ex’s if you have children together. This can be emotionally challenging, particularly if it was a contentious divorce, and may require a great deal of communication and compromise.
Blended families may have to navigate complex financial arrangements, such as child support or alimony payments, and may face additional expenses related to blending two households. I would suggest discussing all of the financials before moving in together. For example, who is paying which expenses, what you will split, your will and estate plans, and more. Working with a financial planner can help you sort these things out and plan for the future.
The children could be coping with loss and grief:
Children in a blended family may feel a sense of loss or grief related to their previous family structure, particularly if their parents’ divorce was recent or acrimonious. They may also struggle with the loss of time spent with their biological parent or siblings.That is why it’s important to keep the lines of communication with your kids, and foster a healthy relationship between them and your ex, even if that is difficult for you to do. Remember, your children will be healthiest if they have a good relationship with BOTH of their biological parents.
Building trust and communication:
Blended families may need to work harder to build trust and open lines of communication, particularly if there are existing tensions or conflicts among family members. This can require patience, empathy, and a willingness to listen and compromise.
Overall, blending two families into one can be a challenging process that requires effort, patience, and a willingness to work through difficult issues. With time, commitment, and support, however, blended families can overcome these challenges and form strong, loving relationships with each other.
Strategies for blended families:
Prioritize open communication:
Communication is key in any relationship, but it is particularly important in blended families. Make an effort to talk openly and honestly with your family members about your feelings, concerns, and expectations. Encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings, and try to listen without judgment.
Establish clear roles and expectations:
Blended families may benefit from clear rules and expectations around household responsibilities, discipline, and communication. This can help to minimize conflicts and ensure that everyone feels valued and included.
Make time for one-on-one connections:
While it is important to foster a sense of togetherness in blended families, it is also important to nurture individual relationships. Make an effort to spend one-on-one time with each family member, whether it’s taking a walk with a stepchild or having a date night with your partner.
Respect each other’s differences:
Blended families may bring together individuals with different backgrounds, personalities, and parenting styles. It is important to recognize and respect these differences, and to work together to find common ground.
Seek outside support:
Blended families may benefit from the support of a therapist, counselor, coach, or support group. These resources can provide a safe space to discuss challenges and work through conflicts.
Celebrate milestones and traditions:
Creating new traditions and celebrating milestones together can help to foster a sense of belonging and unity in blended families. Consider creating a family motto or symbol, or establishing a special tradition that everyone can participate in.
Deciding when to call it quits in a blended family:
Deciding when to call it quits in a blended family can be a difficult and personal decision that requires careful consideration. Some situations where calling it quits may be appropriate include:
If conflicts within the blended family are constant and unresolvable, it may be difficult to maintain a healthy and happy family dynamic.
Unhealthy family dynamics:
If there are unhealthy or abusive behaviors present in the blended family, it may be necessary to end the relationship to protect the safety and well-being of family members.
If the blended family is negatively impacting the children’s emotional or physical well-being, it may be time to consider ending the relationship.
Lack of effort or commitment:
If one or both partners are not fully committed to making the blended family work, or are not willing to put in the effort required to overcome challenges, it may be difficult to sustain the relationship.
It is important to note that ending a blended family relationship should be a last resort, and should only be considered after all other options have been explored. Seeking support from a therapist or counselor may be helpful in working through challenges and identifying potential solutions, and you might be surprised at how much a professional can help turn things around.
In closing, blended families are not easy. And, no family is perfect. But in my practice, I’ve seen blended families overcome the challenges and end up happy and healthy. It just takes patience, an open-mind, and the courage to get help if you need it. I see couples who are in a blended family, but I also meet with individuals who have a spouse unwilling to try a marriage coach. I am here to help if you need me. Feel free to reach out for a complimentary consultation.
Denise Fitzpatrick, LMHC, M.A. is a marriage and relationship coach for couples and individuals. With more than 20 years experience as a therapist–10 years specializing in marriage and relationship coaching, Denise is the founder and of My Marriage Works, which is dedicated to helping couples save their marriages and/or have better marriages.
Whether it’s couples and individual coaching, working with Denise will teach you how to get to the real issues, empower yourself, manage your reaction and understand your partner’s perspective. Her goal is to transform your marriage into a thriving and healthy partnership.