10 Strategies to Protect Your Marriage in a Step Family

by Sally R. Connolly, LMFT and John E. Turner, LMFT

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We have some suggestions for couples who want to make sure to protect their marriage while living in a step-family.  Often, when there are children, it is extremely difficult to give a marriage the priority that it deserves ... and needs ...  to nurture and support partners.  Consider these ideas as a way to protect your marriage, particularly until the children have grown and no longer live at home.
1.  Set a positive tone in your step family. Look for what is good and acknowledge it both with your spouse as well as with your stepchildren. Let go of the negative whenever you can. You will gain far more “points” with your spouse when you talk about the good than the bad.

2.  Recognize that success is measured one experience at a time. Giant steps are celebrated but small steps must be noticed and appreciated as well. Look for and acknowledge each small step that any member of your step family makes, including yourself!

3.  Protect time for the marriage.
Find ways to spend time together as a couple, each day or night to just keep each other updated on your love map … what is going on in your lives individually as well as a couple. Protect this time. Don’t let it go away.

4. Keep affection and intimacy alive and well, even if you don’t particularly feel like it. There are physiological responses to touch, kissing and sex that aid in bonding and overall good will. Your marriage needs it … and you do as well.
5.  Give each other the benefit of the doubt. Believe that neither of you is an opponent and that you both want the same for your step family, you may just think about it or go about it in different ways. (Actually this is good for stepchildren as well. Understand their behavior in a bigger context than the one that seems to be on the surface.)
6.  Take a break during conflict
to calm down and sort through the issues and your own feelings about the issues. Try to gain a perspective that allows for empathy for your spouse.

7.  Talk a lot about parenting. Learn about each others' philosophy about parenting and desires for their children and stepchildren. Respect differences. While your partner may value discipline and structure over nurturing and you value nurturing and communication, neither is inherently better and neither of you has the best answer for all of the children.
A sense of humor can help!

8.  Be careful with any complaints about your stepchildren or your partner’s parentin
g. Rather, empathize with your spouse’s struggle and provide a “sounding board“ as each of you tries to find solutions to many of the different problems involved in rearing children and stepchildren.

9.  Respect the importance of protected alone time for natural parents and their children.
In the long-run, this will actually help your marriage and your relationship with your stepchildren.

10.  Take good care of your own personal health
. You will need to be able to go the distance with children, stepchildren, other parents, in-laws. You will need good physical and mental health.

Remember, you will not be rearing children forever. Both of you got into the marriage with a plan to go the distance. Keep your love alive and your marriage protected from the stress and challenges inherent with living in a step family.