by Lisa Ruman, LISW, CHt, The Child & Family Counseling Center of Westlake
1. Good Communication is Key
It is critical that couples learn how to communicate effectively and not be afraid to discuss sensitive and difficult topics. Conflict is inevitable and a part of relationships. Without the fundamentals of effective listening and understanding, couples can become stuck on major issues. Research by the Gottman Institute found that 69% of conflict is unsolvable. However, management of the conflict through empathy, compassion and understanding leads to good communication and healthy relationships.
2. Stay Connected to Your Partner
Continual support of one another’s future hopes and dreams and your shared goals as a couple are important for staying unified. Daily check-in conversations with one another, engaging in shared interests and hobbies, and regular date nights away from kids helps to keep the relationship strong and deeply connected. The strength of a couple’s relationship ultimately determines the family’s success.
3. Parent Together, Not Separately
Loyalty to one’s own child is real and valid, and feels very strong. These feelings can make stepparent discipline a very delicate issue. Remember that trust develops over time between stepparents and stepchildren. Communicating about these issues and establishing roles for parenting and discipline early on is key.
4. Time is Critical
According to James Bray, author of Stepfamilies: Love, Marriage, and Parenting in the First Decade, blended families often do not feel like a unit until several years after formation. Give it time to come together and develop as your own unique family. Couples can help the process along by developing special traditions. Weekly game or movie night, regular family outings, and shared experiences often help in the process. It is a marathon not a sprint.
As you and your partner journey through the challenges of blended family life, always remember that you are on the same team. Keeping the commitment you made to one another as an intentional part of your lives can ease the struggle. Strong marital relationships act as the foundation of the blended family’s happiness and success.