Stepfamily Love Maintenance

25 02 2012

In the last week I’ve received 10 emails from women whose relationships with their partners are in trouble. Sadly, I can’t say that this is uncommon. Most of us know that the divorce rate in the U.S. hovers around 50%. For every re-marriage one has, the divorce rate goes up. So second marriages are in greater danger. Third marriages in even greater peril, etc. If one or more partners has children from a previous marriage the divorce rate spikes to 75%. There is very controversial research that says if a brand new stepmother enters a family with stepdaughters ages 12 to 17, the divorce rates shoots up to 99%. This research does not include families in which the stepmother entered the family when the children are young.

Scary numbers, right?

In a stepfamily, the couple is the weakest link. I’ve written about that before and the research remains the same. The couple has had the least amount of time together and if push comes to shove, the blood relationships are the strongest.

So here’s my question: What kind of preventative maintenance do you and your spouse do to keep your marriage strong? A stepmother I talked with recently said she and her husband picked up the book 365 Nights, which is about a couple who decided to make love every night for a year. They made it to seven months (she got pregnant and had terrible morning sickness).

Some couples plan vacations together. Some go on date nights every week.

What do you do?

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17 responses

25 02 2012
Lindsey P

We have my husband’s daughter every other week. While we can always make time for ourselves the weeks we don’t have her, we make it a priority for her to see us nuture our relationship by having a date night. It is important for her to see him make me a priority and for her to see what a healthy relationship should involve. Also, he makes sure to take her on a date night to give her priority and one on one attention.

25 02 2012
Jim Aitkins

I aprreciate this post!

Just the other day I was complaining about the way fake divorce statistics (such as the fictional notion that the divorce rate in the U.S. is, or ever was, anywhere near 50%) are used by people who have a decidedly anti-marriage bent. Those “stats” are then parroted by good-hearted folks, such as yourself, who want to help others overcome the “odds”.

So, let me first say that the bleak 75% figure and bleaker yet 99% figure you cited are both calculated using the blatantly false 50% divorce rate.
[Ironically, you accurately noted that the universe of people who’ve been married more than once is what (the anti-marriage crowd uses to) create the misleading 50% figure… but you aren’t making the complete connection by concluding how inacurate the 50% figure truly is!]

The 50% divorce rate was concocted by simply counting the total number of divorces in the U.S. against the total number of marriages. The logic of then proclaiming that these two smashed-together figures represent a 50% divorce rate is akin to saying that if half of the approximately one-billion worldwide viewers of the most recent Superbowl were rooting for the Giants and the other half were cheering for the Patriots, that each of those teams have approximately 500 million devoted fans. Devoid of any other mitigating facts and factors, it could be so, but we know better. It’s not so. And we ought to know better when it comes to silly figures like a 50% divorce rate in America. The real divorce rate in the U.S., taking into consideration those who’ve been married multiple times, is closer to the high 20’s to low 30% range. Still, the false (50%) figure affects the other figures you cited, making them bigger than they really are.

Not meaning to beat up on anybody here! I’m only writing to say that the outlook is not nearly as bad as you’ve concluded. That, we can deduce from an honest read of the divorce stats. But then the numbers vastly improve even more when church attendance is added to the equation. Other things that don’t even get factored in, improving the “odds” even more, such as what steps the couple made – individually – to heal from past hurts and to put things into proper perspective before moving forward in a new relationship, tend to make statistics and percentages totally irrelevant, bringing the success rate closer to the largest group of married people: the folks who’ve never been divorced and who never will.

Here’s where I’m going with my remarks: when, as a previously twice-married man, with a wonderful teenage daughter of my own, look forward to marrying the woman I am 100% committed to (who has teenagers of her own), I can get pretty discouraged when I see that there’s a figure like 99% staring back at me, telling me and my beloved that we’ll most certainly fail. However, I am not a statistic and neither is she. I am a man who loves God, who has made some mistakes, who has learned from those mistakes, and who is leaning on God’s grace to accept what the Creator says about me and mine: “all things are new.” And if that’s true, and I believe it is, my marriage with this woman will reflect that Truth until death do we part and will render any statistics that suggest otherwise of no consequence at all.

To answer your question about increasing the odds of a successful 2nd or 3rd marriage with step-kids: yes, vacations together; yes, date nights weekly; and please, folks – PLEASE – ignore anyone who says kids must be more important than the marriage! Oh, and avoid wild, unrealistic extremes created to make up for something – extremes like sex every day for a year(!) Seek balance and teach honor by modeling it.

Cheers!

26 02 2012
Lucinda

My partner and I have a ‘fun board’ where we pin up tickets to fun events such as seeing a band, show, or movie. It gives us something to look forward to and it ensures that we fit ‘couple time’ into our schedule.

26 02 2012
Solace

My husband and I have the kids every afternoon and every other weekend. We make sure to go out just the two of us at least once a month to a nice dinner, concert, or play, and we never talk about the kids when we’re on a “date.” We also don’t talk about the kids at night. These aren’t rules we’ve established, but things we’ve discovered have worked well over the last six years. We also talk quite frequently about our plans for the future: where we’d like to move when the kids finally go off to college, etc. I’m happy in the present moment, but I’m not gonna lie: in stressful moments, it helps to envision a life where it’s just us together without the stepkids. I also try not to get too involved in their problems if there’s nothing I can do directly about them. I cook for them and drive them around and help them with homework, but if I know my husband and his ex are meeting with teachers about a discipline problem, I don’t ask too many questions; I know it’ll only stress me out, and I won’t be able to contribute meaningfully any more than the parents already are.

26 02 2012
Francine

From the beginning, we planned a get-away weekend every month. Fortunately our children were older teens and college aged. We would check into a hotel, have a nice dinner, see a show, etc. Or opt for some outdoor recreation,like hiking, cross-country skiing, etc. then enjoy a nice soak in the hot tub before dinner. It was wonderful to get away from it all. Now the kids are gone, and we are free to enjoy ourselves all the time!

29 02 2012
Jeannie

Any suggestions? I have read the comments and just need others advice. I am a step-mom of 2 boys ages 5 & 11 (almost 12) and have been married less than 2 years (no children of my own yet). We have the boys every other week and then at least 1 or 2 nights during their mom’s week. My husband coaches baseball and so we hang out when we don’t have them sometimes although not very often and then not much at all when we have them. To comment on someone’s earlier post…we have rarely had a date night while we have the boys. I believe that my husband thinks the opposite of the following comment made in another post: PLEASE – ignore anyone who says kids must be more important than the marriage

My husband has a difficult time listening to my perspective regarding his children although expects me to “love” them and want to be a family yet I have little say in what takes place in my own house. I haven’t necessarily made the best of choices along the way and at times have cussed to and/or in front of my husband’s children. On the other hand, there have been multiple instances where fighting and rude words towards me have taken place in front of his children, disrespect, and/or alienation. We have gone to counseling, even before we were married and it was suggested that I leave the disciplining to him and that he work on following through and being consistent with his kids. He tends to remind me of what I need to do although not remember the things that were suggested for him to work on. I feel that it’s just so frustrating watching things happen in my house. So often it’s “don’t do that” and then within 5 minutes it’s perfectly fine that they are doing what it is that they were told not to do.

I apologize, I am rambling…I am just in need of some suggestions…we are on the edge of possibly separating.

29 02 2012
Jeannie

I should also note that we attend church and have brought the boys to church and they enjoy the youth pastor. We did premarital counseling however haven’t gone to the pastor since we’ve been married. We have gone to a marriage and family therapist who focuses on step-families before and during our marriage although haven’t gone recently. I also have spoken with a life coach for a period of time within the last few months however my husband didn’t like me speaking to someone over the phone as he felt that I was just complaining about him to the coach. Please…suggestions!!!

29 02 2012
Paula

I find that what really helps keep our marriage bond strong is that regardless of whether we have my stepson or not, we always find ways to send little “love reminders” throughout our often stressful days.
These usually consist of simple actions such as a quick kiss in the kitchen while frantically cooking breakfast, holding hands while waiting in a long line, a sympathetic squeeze to the knee while navigating through crazy traffic, a quick brushing away of hair from the face when we are bent over assembling IKEA furniture, and most often during meals, his foot will find mine under the table and gently rest on top of it.

16 03 2012
wonderfulwickedstepmother

Wow, I’m a new stepmom with a 12 year old stepdaughter and 10 year old stepson – that puts me in the 99% failure rate! While it’s unfornate that a very high-conflict divorce and custody battle between my husband and his ex has severly limited my time with my stepkids at present, it has given me and my husband the time we needed to work on us. We’ve been able to build and come to a mutual understanding and agreement that our relationship is what will make or break our family and that means it takes prioirty and work. I think the best thing we’ve done for ourselves is to build successful means of communication, especially when it comes to things we disagree about (which I’m sure will be compounded when his kids enter picture full-time). Part of this that we’ve promised to continue when we’re all together is to take time together every day and just talk, whether it be over our coffee in the morning, or a lunch date, but we set everything aside and have a time for just us. It’s a time to reconnect and has been amazingly beneficial in our journey to figure out a life together. Even without kids around, the stress and chaos of work can take over, and it’s been a great way for us to avoid that!

26 03 2012
Michelle W

Could you please provide the source of your 99% statistic? We’re dying to see that study.

TIA.

28 03 2012
Maggie Moore

I have been married for a year, but have been with my now husband for 7 1/2 years and his daughter will be turning 12 soon. She stays with us 2 nights a week and every other weekend. This is my second relationship that involved a child. I still communicate with the child from my first realtionship, she is now 16, I met her when she was 3. I have my good days and I have my bad days, but what I have learned through both relationships, is that it is all about Control! As a step mom, I have no control over what happens at her mom’s house, what they say, what they do, how they punish or reward her. I have no control over what happens at school, with grades, with teachers and sometimes I am just there in my house watching the rest of my day play out based on some bad behavior or some nasty comment that has been sent through the 11 year old.

I have learned to have control over my part of the pie and if that means, that all I have control to do is take a walk, go read a book, take a bath or simply breath, then that is my slice of the pie for the moment! My biggest piece of advice is, give up what you think you should have control over and take control of you do have—-YOU.

Our spouses mostly likely will not change, just like I, most likely won’t change. I either accept things and take control of my slice of pie or find a new pie. The truth is, we are married/involved, with a person who was has an ex and a child/children…if they got along so wonderfully, they wouldn’t be exes. We can not change this, we have to accept this as their past and it is now our present. I look at it like Exes (Both Mom & Dad) and the children have on a pair of glasses that are so dirty with the dust of a divorce, they will never see the world the way we do, so for now, I eat my piece of pie whether it is just taking a bath or on a good day getting a say in something and feeling like my spouse is on my team!

Okay, sorry for my rambling, hope my thoughts help someone!

2 04 2012
calamity4e

First of all, I think 99% of parents to teenagers are ready to jump off a bridge (or throw their teen off a bridge). What a great first post this is for me!!! Please add much humor to this statement. Teens are a PITA– I know I was!

I am a somewhat seasoned stepmonster– having been married for nearly eight years. SD was ~8 and SS ~6 when we married. DH’s Ex was on the rampage about us getting married and me in general, which really put-up walls with regard to me forming any kind of ‘real’ relationship with the stepkids. At that time, DH had shared physical custody of the kids (we had them for 7 nights out of 14) If I had more energy, I’d write a book.

DH and I now have two daughters ages 4 and 5 and he has sole custody of both stepkids. We don’t really do much together. It is draining. SD is nearly 16 and has become quite the ‘pill.’ SS (14) is prettty self absorbed as well with his Xbox. Regardless, we make the most of time we can spend together. We don’t really go out because I don’t think SD and SS can handle watching the little ones– I don’t really trust them plus the girls can be a handful.

I think the biggest key is communicating– both saying how you are feeling and listening to the other person without being defensive, which is much easier to write than to do. There are times when I simply do not want to be around the stepkids or I want to do something with just my girls. DH has learned to accept that. I also give him time for just him and his kids– we also try to do things together, but that is proving to be the most difficult part and DH is having trouble accepting this difficulty.

All-in-all, our marriage survived the first 5-years. Oh, they were rough! We argue sometimes. Take ‘alone’ time– but we also allow each other to do this without being defensive. I feel that our marriage is strong.

3 05 2012
confused

hi
I am the stepmother of a 4 and 6 year old, and have a daughter – my own, who is two with my boyfriend (father of the 4 and 6 year old). We are having some naming issues – my two year old who is copying everything around her is sometimes calling me by my first name because thats what her half siblings do. We had a very rocky beginning putting our family together – pregnant by accident, we moved in together 2 weeks before the baby was due, lived in a tiny place for a year and a half, hostile ex, and I am the sole financial provider for my daughter which is a struggle for me – I work full time and often have weeks where I cant buy groceries because I am paying for childcare. Boyfriend has paid and continues to pay for his first two kids. I am getting a little depressed/fried. Dont want my daughter to be calling me by my first name, if I am going to be the financial support of the family I need to be at least able to be ‘Mom’ to my daughter – hostile ex-wife doesnt want the other two to call me Mom and is stressing the kids.
I am becoming stressed and depressed and have started avoiding home during visitation.
Jaques book saved me and my relationship when my daughter was one and I was thinking of leaving the situation – her chapter about what to expect financially was helpful, and my boyfriend is trying hard. I do love him. It is just really so hard.

Any input here would help. I feel like I have been struggling to figure this situation out so long I am out of ideas and just have escapist fantasies where I get on a plane with my daughter and leave for a far-off imaginary peaceful place, and dont have to deal with all this hostility and complication..

10 05 2012
Lucinda

Hello confused,
I empathise with you as it sounds like you are really struggling and need a good girl-hug and a good chin wag to vent your frustrations. Financial strain has been documented to be the number one reason for marriage break down. I don’t have any sage advise there except to keep plugging on…as for your other issues – don’t sweat the small stuff if you can. Your daughter calling you by your first name rather than Mom is ‘small stuff’. It is just a label and probably just a stage she is going through. Don’t forget if you are confused then your daughter is probably 3 times more confused than you. It will all get sorted out as she matures and develops. Your step-children must really be confused as well so my advise is to just let it go. Be their friend, let them call you whatever they are comfortable with so they don’t have to have that battle with their hostile biological mother. Don’t you feel sorry for them that they have to be around her toxic influence all the time? I do…I know because I am in a very similar situation with my 2 step-children living with a toxic mother.
I totally understand your ‘depressed/fried’ mental state. Go with your inclination to get away with your daughter but don’t leave the situation completely…just go for a walk to the local park or around the block with your daughter and get some quality alone time away from other influences.
You can’t control the ex-wife but you can control your reaction to her. You can’t control your boyfriend or how he reacts…but you can help him recover at the end of a ‘hostile’ encounter.
Try not to retreat from your step-children. You may be their only hope for a positive female role model. Show them how much you love their husband by hugging him and smiling at him when he enters the room while they are watching. If they know that you love their dad they will find comfort in that.
Hope that helps a little bit. I am not really qualified to give professional advise but I really identified with your story and thought some of my lessons learnt might help you.

Kind regards and heres to sharing a virtual glass of wine and chat together….
Lucinda

10 05 2012
confused

thanks – that helps so much. I had another rough week and read your post – it really helped me put things in perspective.
I’ll give this a try when I pull myself together a little bit..

4 05 2012
Optimus Primate

Excellent statistics. Very powerful.

What kind of PM do I do on my marriage? Well, we try to incorporate date night, and we strive to “fight” fairly.

First and foremost though, I live by the following idea: If you don’t like something in your life, you have three options.
1. Change it.
2. Get away from it.
3. Accept it.

My husband has poor boundaries with the mother of his child. He allows her to verbally abuse him, control his relationship with his daughter, and take every penny he makes. I tried for a long time to change it. I don’t believe in divorce, so I can’t get away from it. So I’ve accepted it.

I have accepted that my husband has a first family, and they will always come first. Every decision he makes is for their benefit, rather than for my benefit and for our son’s benefit. He tries to minimize the detriment to us, but does that rather poorly.

As preventative maintenance, I keep my finances totally separate from husband’s. I run my household and plan according to what I make alone. I make sure that our son has everything he needs. I also provide certain things for my step-daughter, but I make it very clear that everything I do is voluntary. It is not to be viewed as an obligation or an expectation.

And I maintain very strict boundaries of my own with regard to the ex. She is not welcome in our home. She is not welcome around our son. If he wants to allow her to berate him at the top of her lungs in front of their child, that is totally cool with me. But I won’t be subjected to it, and neither will our son.

And that’s about all you can do in the worst of situations. Aside from never marry a man with children in the first place ;)

26 06 2012
Runaway Stepmom

I still dont know how to cope with my verbally abusive 15 year old stepdaughter. I avoid going home when she is at home by herself. She lives with us. She has very strong personality, I find myself wanting to run away and keeping my distance from her and my husband when she is around. Our life is centered around her. All her needs are met, and we stopped having date night becasue she complains about us leaving her at home. I don’t know how this marriage is going to work, she is so consuming. And I often think about packing up and moving back to my own house where I lived for many years with my dog peacefully. Help me.

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