Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Relationships in Step Families

Wednesday Martin, Ph.D, author of the book, Stepmonster, has some truths to share with us about the possibilities that may occur in step families when relationships begin to deteriorate over time and those involved are not in recovery. Here is her perspective.

One of the ugliest truths of stepfamily reality, I learned as I researched my book Stepmonster, is competition. Namely, competition between the woman with stepkids and her husband's kids for the husband/father's time, attention, and assets. In spite of our culture's insistence that divorced and remarried men with kids can jerry rig a life where "both his kids and his wife come first," and regardless of our notion that women should just "put his kids first because it's right," we live in the real world. And in that real world, the longitudinal studies by Bray, Ahrons, and Hetherington tell us, kids of all ages often find themselves in loyalty binds, leading them to treat their stepmothers in unkind ways. Other kids who have been parented permissively post- divorce (a common phenomenon) may act out well into adulthood, blaming their stepmothers for their parent's divorce even when it isn't the case, and failing to treat their father, his marriage and his wife with respect. Divorced fathers, for their part, too often refuse to require civil behavior from their kids toward stepmom, out of guilt that the kids went through a divorce, and fear that if they draw the line, the kids will walk away forever. And finally, more than a few stepmothers who want very badly to get stepmothering right will find themselves depleted from years of rebuffs; they may retreat in disappointment or frustration, in an effort to protect themselves and preserve their dignity. Steprelations, the experts cited above tell us, are virtually never effortless, and they are frequently difficult.

With that sobering thought in mind let us look carefully at our recovery process making sure that we are practicing self care and using our tools in our daily lives. This graphic illustration of what can happen when people attempt to brush issues aside, or pretend that problems don't exist brings home the tragic reality that when the truth is ignored both adults and children suffer needlessly. If those in these relationships were practicing self care and moving forward in their recovery journey their outcomes would all be more positive in the long run. This is not to say that real issues do not surface regardless, but dealing with them as they arise in an effective manner reduces their long term impact and promotes more positive interactions.

We are all responsible for the quality of our relationships and the effort we put forth to make those special ties work as well as possible. As we move forward in our recovery we add value to all our partnerships and those we care most about in our lives.

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