The Doctor Is In: Susan Wisdom

21 01 2009

stepcoupling Susan Wisdom is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with stepcouples and their families.She lives in Portland, Oregon. She and her husband David have raised five children in a successful stepfamily. Her experiences in her stepfamily prompted her to earn her master’s degree in counseling from Lewis and Clark College.Since 1989, Wisdom has worked with stepcouples and stepfamilies in her private counseling practice. Her book Stepcoupling expresses her belief that the stepcouple is the heart of a healthy stepfamily.

Native American Legend: Lesson for Stepcouples
By Susan Wisdom, LPC


A grandfather and his grandson were talking one afternoon at their favorite spot by the stream. The boy was worried about something that had been bothering him. He turned to his grandfather, and asked “Grandfather, how come I’m happy and sweet sometimes and at other times I can be evil and mean? How can that be when I’m only one person?”

His wise grandfather thought about it and replied, “I believe we have two wolves fighting inside of us. One is sweet, compassionate, generous, and loving. The other one is mean, angry, and selfish.”

The grandson asked “How do you know which one will win?”

The grandfather said, “It’s simple: the one you feed.”

Indeed, stepcoupling can bring out the best and the worst in us. For some stepcouples, mistakes were made in choosing partners prematurely and for the wrong reasons. For others who struggle, it could be the result of sadness and losses carried over from our childhood experiences and disappointments from subsequent relationships. If unaddressed, these issues can have an unhealthy effect on all our important relationships. This can produce fuel for feeding that mean angry wolf inside.

A typical example:

I remember seeing a woman in my office who was six months into her new stepfamily. She had no children; he had one young daughter, whom she described as a good kid, sweet, eager to please. Nonetheless, when the stepdaughter visited every other weekend, my client would go into a tirade of anger and resentment.

In counseling she told me she was raised by an alcoholic mother. She felt she was NOT parented as a child. She remembers little about her childhood. However, when she fell in love and married a man who had a daughter, her anger and sadness from her past dramatically prevented her from having a caring relationship with her stepdaughter. She wanted nothing to do with her stepdaughter!

She was able to quickly recognize the problem and understand how her past drove her to act and feel the way she did. Fortunately, over time, she was able to develop a nice relationship with her stepdaughter based on nothing she experienced in her past. Her marriage was strong from the beginning. Her husband was patient and supportive. Together, as a stepcouple, they learned to NOT feed the bad wolf, but only the GOOD ONE.

Which wolf are you feeding inside?