by GAYLA GRACE
“It’s harder than I thought it would be,” my friend commented of her new marriage. “I don’t understand his kids and we’re not on the same page when it comes to parenting. I hope it gets easier with time, or I don’t know if we’ll make it.”
Remarriage, when children are part of the package, creates unique challenges. Surviving the first few years of remarriage proves to be the hardest. Stepfamily authority Ron Deal reports that 25 percent of step couples divorce within the first two years; 50 percent divorce within the first three.
Stepfamilies don’t have to fail. But step couples must understand the difficulties facing them. Parents and their biological children come to the remarriage with emotional “blood bonds,” stronger than those of the new step couple. Children join a stepfamily while often grieving the loss of a parent to death or divorce and experience major adjustments with crippling emotions. But with intentional effort, a willingness to grow as relationships evolve, and plenty of time and patience, remarriage with children can result in harmonious relationships.
“New Faces in the Frame,” a workbook created by Dick Dunn to guide remarried couples with children, outlines six stages that stepfamilies often experience. If a family gets stuck in one stage for an extended period, it easily results in failure for the marriage. Navigating the stages requires healthy communication by the step couple, the ability to adapt to change, and the resolve to solve conflict as it occurs.
The first stage of infatuation occurs when two people fall in love and decide to marry. Many couples at this stage are blind to the difficulties they will encounter as a stepfamily. They negate their children’s feelings about their relationship and refuse to listen to others’ opinions. It doesn’t take long, however, for infatuation to give way to reality.
The questioning stage follows next as the step couple begins to recognize the difficulties of blending their new family. One, or both partners, begins to seriously question if remarriage was a good choice. I remember clearly the questioning stage of my remarriage and reflecting on how it seemed easier to be a single parent than cope with the daily challenges in our new family. I considered going back to my single parenting days. However, I had committed to my marriage, “for better or for worse,” and chose to continue the journey. For many remarriages, the questioning stage sends a step couple toward divorce court.
I remember clearly the questioning stage of my remarriage and reflecting on how it seemed easier to be a single parent than cope with the daily challenges in our new family.
The most critical stage—the crisis stage—comes next. Levels of crisis vary from minor bumps to major explosions, but this stage represents a turning point in which family members seek change. Challenges build until someone reaches for help. It’s a productive stage if families confront the problems and begin to find solutions. Unfortunately, too many couples give up and call it quits during this period. Those who persevere, however, will turn the corner and look toward easier days ahead.
The last three stages usually occur somewhere between the second and fifth year of remarriage. Complicated stepfamilies with children from both partners will likely take longer. It’s also not unusual for stages to be revisited. But as families reach the latter stages, hope begins to surface and tensions begin to ease.
The possibility stage offers positive thinking toward improved relationships. Following the crisis stage, the step couple emerges with renewed energy to seek family harmony. After struggling for years, the family begins to unite. Broken relationships begin to heal and day-to-day life seems easier.
The growth stage follows on the heels of possibility. Although there has been some growth from the beginning, families in this stage recognize a steady pace of growth, with more steps forward than backward. Family members feel accepted by one another and problems are resolved quickly when they arise. Step-parents feel comfortable in their roles and tension with ex-spouses has eased.
The last stage—the reward stage—is reached only after years of intentional effort. For many stepfamilies, it is never reached because they give up. But for those who persevere, the reward of harmonious relationships and sense of accomplishment from a united family outweighs the burden of what it cost to get there. Once reached, the rewards continue for years as family members treat each other with unconditional love and respect, erasing the memories of difficult years and replacing them with hope and anticipation for the future.
Stepfamilies offer children a chance to heal from broken relationships while learning how healthy relationships relate to one another. Researcher James Bray published results from a 10-year study with stepfamilies that indicated a healthy, stable stepfamily can help overcome the negative psychological effects of divorce.
Step couples can break through the stages of remarriage with success. Remarriage with children creates unique challenges; but with intentional effort, perseverance, and commitment, a stepfamily will find satisfaction and reward in the long run.
GAYLA GRACE is a freelance writer from Louisiana who has been remarried 18 years. She and her husband, Randy, have successfully navigated the stages of remarriage with their five children, ages 13-28.
“The Remarriage Checkup: Tools to Help Your Marriage Last a Lifetime” by Dr. David Olson and Ron L. Deal
“Living in a Stepfamily Without Getting Stepped On” by Dr. Kevin Leman
“The Smart Stepfamily” by Ron L. Deal
“Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do” by Dr. Wednesday Martin
“The Courage to be a Stepmom” by Sue Patton Thoele
“The Smart Stepmom: Practical Steps to Help You Thrive” by Laura Petherbridge and Ron L. Deal
“The Smart Stepdad: Steps to Help You Succeed” by Ron L. Deal
The Stepmom Magazine, published online monthly