One of the realities of couples, relationships and marriage these days is the increased likelihood that one or both of the parties has a minor child or children. Although many of these scenarios involve one or both of the parties not being previously married, most often, this occurs when the party with children is on their second or third marriage.
The problem with blended families
Blended families in second or beyond marriages is one of the top reasons couples divorce. Most often, this end result happens in the first five years of the new marriage. Thus, unfortunately, if this is you…the statistics aren’t on your side. That said, it isn’t an absolute…there are blended families that survive, although requiring a strong commitment and high level of patience to survive the turbulence often associated with this dynamic.
If you are reading this, then you are either facing this situation or already in it…and not sure what to do. So, let’s look at what are some of the common challenges and some potential opportunities for success.
One of the biggest challenges that blended families face is that one party’s interests come before the others. In other words, one of the spouses puts their children’s needs before those of their spouse and/or children. Maybe it is their way of justifying the trauma their children suffered during the divorce…thus noble in thought, but with certain consequences to the marriage. So what do you do to avoid or mitigate this scenario?
One path is preparing a joint agreement with your spouse, starting with placing your spouse’s interests first. This doesn’t mean that you are kicking your children to the side, loving them less, or not looking out for their best interests. The intent of this type of agreement is to develop strategies for dealing with various situations that may arise and potentially be a point of disagreement between you and your spouse. For instance, when it comes to discipline, the agreement may involve no actions taken by either spouse until both parties agree. Yes, this approach will likely be challenging in the beginning, but if both parties are truly invested in making it work, with time and consistency, the chances of finding ways to address issues and avoid arguments are greatly increased.
A challenge associated with developing a joint agreement is that if you are at this point, there is a good chance that there is already disagreement about the topic. Thus, it is easy for both parties to enter with sensitivity, anxiety, and defensiveness. This is where the art of negotiation takes center stage (an important skill for marriage, even beyond blended families).
Tips to consider when creating a joint agreement
1. Establish ground rules for this process. Overall, it is meant to be successful, positive and safe. This doesn’t mean that you won’t disagree, just that both parties should agree to avoid threats, causing emotional pain, yelling and other negative and counter-productive behaviors.
2. If things get emotionally heated or you find yourself stuck on a topic, agree that it is okay for both parties to stop, take some time to clear your heads, and then come back to the issue later.
3. Identify the different areas that are (or may end up) in disagreement with consequences. In other words, those issues where there is not a unified front.
4. Brainstorm various solutions and approaches to solving the issues collectively. Each party should have the ability to provide their solutions and thoughts without being interrupted or argued with. Thus, when one party is providing their insight, listen and don’t talk. You will both have opportunities to address these matters later.
5. Agree on the solution that best appeals to both of you. Keep in mind that this may involve what you envisioned as the one and absolute solution. This is negotiation. Consider the pros and cons of each one. Life isn’t perfect…neither are blended families – there will be problems unique to your own situation.
Regardless of the path you take, when you are married, it is important to act in the best interest of each other. If you are early in the marriage, arguing is often a simple factor of a degree of incompatibility that is often experienced early. Marriages that survive the tough scenarios recognize this, as well as the importance of finding mutually agreeable solutions to have a long term happy marriage.