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Challenges of Adult Stepchildren Stress Marriage

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • Published Jul 10, 2009
Challenges of Adult Stepchildren Stress Marriage

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

Dear Dr. David,

I found your column as I was reading on Crosswalk. I was reading Paper Fences: The Boundaries We Fail to Set in Marriage. I am always looking for ways for God to show me how to be a better wife, mother and child of God. I especially liked you column and writing!  I am in a second marriage.  My husband and I are most grateful for God's mercy and forgiveness and pray daily for his guidance in our lives. 

We are having some problems dealing with our children.  We have been to counseling, but I am not feeling good about the advice we are getting regarding issues with his children.  The counselor’s advice is for me to stay out of any issues concerning my husband’s children.  He admits I more than likely can see things in a different perspective from him, but I am to not offer any "advice".  

I find it hard to act like nothing is wrong when I see his daughter acts like being "broke" and out of work is something of which she can boast.  Although she now has work, I fear it will be short term (this seems to be her pattern).  There are issues with all children from time to time, but it is so hard when couples have adult children who have so many issues.  There is a plethora of material of younger stepchildren living in the home but I have been unsuccessful in my search for literature on adult children and second marriages. ~ Challenged

Dear Challenged,

Thank you for your courage and honesty in sharing your struggles with blending families. I applaud you for seeking God’s wisdom in these matters. You are also right about the lack of material available concerning adult children and second marriages. However, I suspect much of what applies to younger children also applies to adult children. Let’s consider some of the issues.

First, there are unique challenges to step-parenting. You and your husband have already acknowledged a need for counseling, which speaks highly of you. You recognize that there are unique challenges, and are seeking counsel and insight. Solomon, in the book of Proverbs, tells us that if we seek wisdom, as for gold and silver, we will surely find it. (Proverbs 2: 4)

Second, while there are similarities to bio-families, there are also differences. A primary difference is your role as a parent. You don’t have the history with his children, and thus don’t have the benefit of years of adjusting to them, and they to you, as well as to each other’s style of parenting. You may also not have the relationship with them, and therefore while you may feel ready to parent them, they may not be ready to receive your parenting. This is undoubtedly even truer with adult children—they are not likely to receive instruction/ advice from you.  

Third, it is very challenging to stand back and watch situations unfold that make you uneasy. The step-parent has a unique point of observation, and it is often tempting to want to jump in and offer counsel that is not asked for, or well-received. There are many times when the step-parent must practice detachment. If you allow yourself to become entangled in a situation where you have little power, or influence, you will set yourself up to have emotional difficulties. Learn to let go, and trust your husband to make wise, even if imperfect decisions.

Fourth, cultivate a relationship with your husband, and his children, where you can offer some feedback at times. These observations and insights must be offered carefully, tactfully, and with permission. You will need to gradually move into a more active advice-giving role, but only after the relationship with your husband, and his children, has been firmly established. If you jump into a situation prematurely, things can backfire in a hurry.

Finally, continue to work with your husband to receive your perceptions on delicate situations. Understand that there are situations that call for your participation, and some that don’t. You and your husband will discover areas where your input is welcome, and other circumstances where the decisions needing to be made are his alone.

Dear Dr. David,

You have spoken about men, pornography and the Internet, but I haven’t seen anything about women and the dangers of the Internet. I am a Christian woman, and I can’t seem to stay away from chat rooms and looking at sexy pictures of men on the Internet. While I’ve managed to keep most of this a secret from my husband, he’s caught me several times and it’s nearly ruined our marriage. Can you talk about the dangers to women and Internet use? ~ Lured by the Net

Dear Lured,

I so appreciate your candor in bringing this issue to our attention. Many would like to believe that Internet addiction is only an issue for men, but you correctly remind us that women are lured by temptations on the Net as well.

The Internet has changed how we all live. We instantly have at our disposal all kinds of information—but we also have many temptations. From the privacy of our homes, or office, we can “sneak” into the lives of other people, creating any kind of relationship we feel we need at that moment. We can find images of any kind to titillate our senses. These temptations keep us seeking more and more, leading to addiction.

One of the primary temptations, for both men and women, is the secret affair of the heart. In chat rooms, emails, instant messaging, as well as blogs, we have the opportunity to find whatever kind of friendship we desire at that moment. There are many, like you, who have been seduced into these online relationships.

The danger, of course, is that your fantasy life can take over, and the line between reality and fantasy becomes blurred. You can fabricate on the Net the “love” you’re missing at home. These secretive dalliances become seductive and addictive.

One of our primary challenges as Christians is to be separate. While everyone may be surfing the Net, and many talk in chat rooms, we must recognize the inherent dangers and be ever so cautious. The Scriptures tell us that “friendship with the world is enmity with God.” (James 4: 4) “For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father, but from the world.” (I John 2: 16)

You have taken a positive step by writing to me. The next step is bigger, and perhaps even more difficult. You must talk to your husband about your addiction. You must come out of the dark, secret place, and into light. Once you openly discuss your temptations, with him and others who can be supportive, you will feel a new strength.

Second, you and your husband need to explore ways to strengthen your marriage. I wonder what might be missing in your marriage to cause you to turn to relationships on the Internet. Seek ways to enliven your marriage—there are more possibilities there than could ever exist in a fantasy relationship.

Third, develop precautions with your computer. Develop accountability so that “secret temptations” become less likely. Consider not going online except when your husband is home. Find ways for him to check your Internet activity. Develop an accountability partner, or group, with whom you can be totally honest. Remember that it is only when we allow ourselves to be tempted that we succumb to that temptation.

Finally, draw close to the Lord. Memorize this verse:

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But, when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” (I Corinthians 10: 13)

Originally posted March 10, 2007.

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.