Ask Dr. David: Throw Cold Water on Marital Conflict
- Friday, December 01, 2006
I have heard stories like your many times, with the growing numbers of divorced people and blended families. With divorce hovering near the fifty percent rate, and most people likely to remarry, there are more and more blended families. I strongly counsel couples to get counseling before entering into such a relationship so they will be prepared for some of the trials you discuss. I have a few things for you to consider.
First, both you and your wife need counseling for your situation. Blended families, or what we used to call stepfamilies, have unique challenges not faced by other families. There are issues of loyalty, which you are facing. It is not uncommon for one spouse to feel left out when there are established relationships between the other parent and his or her children. It is also not uncommon for children to get caught in the fray of divided loyalties. They, too, are inclined to feel a stronger attachment to their biological parent, rather than their stepparent, further aggravating the situation.
Second, listen to your wife’s needs. While there are ideal ways to handle blended family struggles, you must deal with your immediate crisis. Your boat is sinking, and you must find ways to bail water. Consider meeting your wife’s immediate need for more attention, even if for the moment that means compromising on what you think is ideal for your children. If she needs extra time with you now, give it to her, with the understanding that you will need to find solutions that work for all of you in the future. Show her that even though you spend time with your children, she has a secure place in your heart.
Third, you must find ways to create a new family. Blended families are not inferior to bio-families—just different. You must sit down with your wife, and your children, and create new traditions. What will be your new identity? What is unique about you, as a family? This is your challenge. Help your wife to feel included in new plans and activities so there is not so much talk about the past.
Fourth, be intentional about creating quality time to avoid marital crises in the future. Assuming your wife feels jealous, this suggests she is missing something from you. Are you making time for just the two of you, carved out from undoubtedly busy schedules? Are you making sure that she does not feel displaced? Agree together to keep special time for the two of you in the midst of busy family life.
Finally, maintain a healthy relationship with your children. You are wise to recognize that your children need a strong relationship with you. They have already experienced a broken home and may be especially vulnerable. Just as you create special time with your wife, be intentional about creating special time with your children. Encourage your wife to participate in this time, while on occasion spending time alone with them. It is a balancing act that you can do.
Remember, you and your wife can learn how to face the inevitable challenges of blended families. As my high school coach used to say, "Adapt and overcome."
Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com
David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, Saying It So He'll Listen, and When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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