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Marriage Done Right: Step-families and 'The Brady Bunch' myth

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 28, 2016 09:01 pm
First, the bad news: Nearly half (about 45 percent) of marriages are remarriages. Second marriages have a higher divorce rate than first marriages (about 60 percent). And, despite what you may think from "The Brady Bunch," if children are involved, the divorce rate in second marriages is 50 percent higher than for those without children.

Now, the good news: If you are in a step-family, there are some things you can do to greatly improve your chances of success. For the next few weeks we will be looking at the issue of step-families and some tips on how to help them work.

Ron Deal, in his book, "The Smart Step-Family," points out several realities that most couples who remarry overlook. Before we look at what couples can do to improve their chances in a step-family setting, it's important to understand four of the most common unrealistic expectations many couples cling to as they approach marriage for the second time.

* The myth of instant love between all family members.

Your kids seem to get along with his kids. And, his kids have said they really like your kids. But, that's before you get married.

After the families move in together, there will be a long list of problems to solve: Matters of privacy, who gets the bathroom first in the morning, where everyone sits around the dinner table, the kids having to share a room when they had their own rooms before the marriage, and differences in rules ("Her son can do it, why can't I?," or "Why can't I do that any more? I used to before they moved in!").

The typical starting point is not "instant love" between the new family members. Instead, it's hard feelings and the children wishing that "they would just leave."

* We'll do it better this time around.

How we deal with others is something we've spent a lifetime learning. They are habitual behaviors which are hard to break. Sadly, most people in second marriages use the same destructive habits the second time around as the first. The only way to make a change is to actually learn the skills needed to act in a different way.

* Our children will feel as happy about this as we do.

Keep in mind that divorce does not end family life. It just reorganizes it. It spreads it out over more households. This can create confusion and conflict for children.

Moreover, children now have to deal with a step-parent, who is often seen as an intruder. Worse yet, children typically feel they are expected to live up to the standards of this intruder/step-parent. This means there may be an entirely new set of "rules of engagement" as to how the child should behave. Children like stability and predictability. Anything that rocks the boat is not likely to make them feel happy.

* "Blending" is the goal.

"Blending" is good if you're after a banana-strawberry smoothie. "Blending" may even work if we're dealing with the new husband and wife. But it is not realistic if you're talking about entire families.

Ron Deal writes that it's better to think of the two families in a crock pot, rather than in a blender. It will take lots of patience and "slow cooking" — and an understanding that each of the families will retain a good deal of their own identities for a very long time.

Deal tells us that the "cooking" time to get the families "together," is often eight to 10 years. Give the kids lots of time and love before expecting them to adjust to the new family.

©2016, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan died in early November; we are continuing his column at the suggestion of his family. Sheridan used only printed materials as sources, unless otherwise noted. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.

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