PREPARE/ENRICH Australia Blog

"After two years, I still feel like an outsider.” - a stepparent.

Whilst marriages are lasting longer - those that do end in divorce are lasting 12 years, which is two years longer than they did 20 years ago - however the probability that a marriage will end in divorce has been increasing over the decades. Based on the nuptiality tables, around 28% of marriages entered into in 1985–1987 could be expected to end in divorce. This proportion increased to 33% for all marriages entered into in 2000–2002.

For Stepfamilies: Choosing Realistic Expectations

Read through these common myths, noticing if any of them resonate with you or your partner:

Myth: Because we love each other, the other family members will also love each other.

Reality: Love and/or good relationships may or may not happen between stepfamily members. It will likely take time for emotional bonds to develop; some will bond quickly, others slowly, and it is possible that some individuals may never bond.

Myth: We’ll do marriage better this time around.

Reality: Those who have experienced a breakup or divorce have often learned tough lessons from the past. While a new marriage involves different people and different dynamics, it is not uncommon for individuals to slip into old patterns and routines (e.g., being avoidant during conflict). Be mindful not to repeat mistakes of the past.

Myth: Our children will feel as happy about this new family as we do.

Reality: The truth is children will at best be confused about the new marriage and at worst, they’ll resent it. Remarriage is a gain for adults and a challenge for children. Only after much time, when family stability is obtained, the remarriage also may become a gain for children. Be patient with them.

Myth: The stepparent(s) will quickly bond with the children and act like another parent.

Reality: Sometimes stepparents want so badly to be accepted they try to manage the children as a parent would. They may also try to show affection like a biological parent would. Children often need some space initially to build a relationship with the stepparent. It is often a good idea to let the child set the pace and follow their lead.

Myth: We will be able to easily form a new family.

Reality: In most cases, children didn’t ask for this new family, they need time to develop a history and sense of family. Don’t push to create relationships. It is often better to have minimal expectations of how relationships will develop rather than grand expectations which may fail to materialise.

Adapted from The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family by Ron L. Deal, Bethany House Publishers (2014).

Couple Discussion:

  • Which of these myths have you been tempted to believe?
  • How could having these unrealistic expectations set you up for frustration and disappointment?
  • How are you going to balance the challenges of a stepfamily and nourishing your couple relationship?

    References:

    • Deal, R.L.,2014: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family, Bethany House Publishers
    • Jain, S., 2007: Lifetime Marriage and Trends, Australian National University, Australian Social Trends

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