Dr. David:

I am happily married to a man who has three children from a previous marriage who live with us. They were neglected while living with their mother and developed habits of disrespect and lack of discipline. They still spend every other weekend with their mother, and there seems to be little we can do to change their behavior patterns at this time. We have two children of our own and I have many concerns about the impact his children will have on ours. Honestly, I am also ashamed to say that I don’t really care for them, and I think they can sense it. Our children are much better behaved and it is far easier to love them than to love his. This, of course, has caused tension between me and the children and also between my husband and myself. Do you have any advice?

~ Karen

Dear Karen:

You voice many of the concerns common to those living in blended families — of which there are growing numbers due to the high divorce rate. Many times people think a new family will be much easier than it turns out to be because of some of the issues you mention.

So, let’s solve some problems.

First, you don’t mention whether you and your husband have created a unified approach to raising your five children. You and he need to establish clear boundaries and family rules that apply to all of the children. Even though you are getting a late start on his children, they will benefit from the love and structure you provide for them. While they are apparently not used to this kind of family structure, they will benefit from it.

Second, you need not feel guilty about having different levels of affection for the children. What you feel is natural and only to be expected. It is unfair to think you would feel the same bond for his children that you do for yours. Sometimes that bond happens, sometimes it happens over time, and sometimes it doesn’t happen. Both you and he need to make sure you understand this and accept it.

Third, natural families have the benefit of starting out together and getting used to one another as they grow. Blended families are often thrown together and forced to sink or swim. Spend time as a family talking about the adjustments required of everyone. Discussing and implementing these adjustments can make everyone in the family stronger over time. Sit down and talk about new traditions and rituals this "new" family wants to develop. What will be the aspects of this family that can make it unique? A challenging situation can be a wonderful opportunity for growth.

Fourth, remember to spend time away with your husband so you don’t lose the precious connection you have with one another. Don’t let blended family issues cloud your affection for one another. Find time for fun with each other, as well as with the family.

Finally, keep an eye on the larger picture. You are in a blended family. That is the way it is. You have an opportunity to make it the best blended family on the block. You can read all you can about blended families, start a support group in your church, and perhaps even teach others about some of the unique struggles that come with the territory.

God bless you as you and your husband as you enter this new phase of family life.

Dear Dr. David:

My wife has complained consistently over the past few years about my temper. In fact, she said recently that if I don’t get some help for it, she may leave. This seems incredibly unfair to me. While I agree that I have had some outbursts, I have never been physical or thrown anything. I know a lot of people who have anger a lot worse than mine, and their wives are not threatening to leave. I don’t think she is acting much like a Christian to hold this over my head. What are your thoughts on the matter?