10 Ways To Make Your Blended Family Thrive

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Relationships are dynamic, ever changing, and rarely if ever, static. That’s good! As people we are simply complex. What we say we will do and what we actually do, does not always end up being the same thing. Good intentions don’t always mean good follow through. What we think will work, doesn’t always play out that way. How we interact with others can change with different situations, thus demanding flexibility in our thinking.

People, as an individual or in the context of a family, create a groove, their own and unique way of doing things, an ebb and flow to their life that can feel seamless, despite the ups and downs of life. People have expectations of others, both said and unsaid, a history – all the good and bad, and often many family traditions that want to be preserved in the midst of change.

When two families with children, often with varying ages and developmental needs, decide to merge and begin to form a new, blended family, taking a cue from Facebook, “its complicated” takes on a whole new meaning.

Although there are no hard and fast rules, there are a few things that families can do to help their new families “blend” more successfully…

1.) Remain open and flexible in your thinking as this will help create closeness and build healthy relationships. Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will work the same way in the present. Sometimes it takes a few “fits and starts” before it feels “right.”

2.) Remember that building new relationships takes time. Lots of time. Family members, especially children, are getting to know you just as much as you are getting to know them. Do not rush into creating a relationship; let it have a natural affinity on its own that can be developed. Developing a new relationship by taking a step back will make it feel more organic, less forced.

3.) Be kind and loving to yourself. Sometimes this is challenging because we start to feel bad if things are not going in the direction we assumed we would.

4.) Create new traditions. Consider everyone’s input in order to make each person feel included. Give everyone time to adjust to these new traditions. Including you! Change takes time…

5.) Nurture the relationship with your spouse or partner. Although everyone to adjust is important, remember to remain focused on nurturing your relationship. Having a strong foundation in your relationship will help you work through the challenges that can often arise.

Old and new life.6). It takes time for families to bond and figure out how the new family will work and function together. The roles will change and possibly change again, which will create another dynamic. Know this is possible.

7.) Connecting with one another doesn’t have to be a daunting task, over the top, or something to the “nth” degree. Go for a walk, read a book together, or talk to them while dropping them off to be with a friend. These are the kinds of things that provide time to nurture the relationship without overkill.

8.) Look at the blended family as a family within a bigger family context and that you and your kids need your own time together. Work hard to honor this. This is will help with the transition. Respecting and cherishing the original family may help everyone become more accepting of the new family.

9.) Don’t fall for some of the myths: That it’s easy and that kids “will adjust.” You don’t have to put the time in to it. If it doesn’t blend well, there is no hope. Love occurs naturally between stepchild/parent. Children of divorce are damaged forever. Kids will be happy about the remarriage. You will not make the same blunders as before. Blended families function just like traditional families. False, false, and false.

10. What might appear unclear and feel really daunting at times, can be managed and dealt with more effectively when the new couple actively works together with a mutual commitment to making their new family work – whatever that new family might look like.

Despite or in spite of the challenges that blended families encounter, there is often incredible love, happiness, and hope.

Hope for the present. Hope for the new family. Hope for a different future.

Every family has their own personal journey..

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The Emotional Sequence of Divorce

Divorce is far from being easy whether you are the one disconnecting, the one being disconnected from, or the disconnection is a mutual decision made by both parties. The combination of fear, grief, sadness, hurt, and sometimes joy creates quite the emotional roller coaster.

In their Friendly Divorce Guidebook, Steven Abel, JD, S.W. Whicher, JD, and M. Arden Hauer, JD offer their invaluable insight, direction, and most importantly “go to” information that encompasses divorce (A must book to have if you are contemplating or going through a divorce!)

A segment of their book discusses the emotional sequence of divorce, which for most people, follows a fairly typical pattern. Although the timing of each phase may vary, everyone goes through these stages.

The Emotional Sequence of Divorce

Crisis. This is the critical point in time when the relationship is coming apart at the seams, when one person has decided to leave the marriage or announces that it’s over well before the other person. The one in this position may begin to “uncouple.” However, at this stage both people could also be at the same place and feel the same way about the marriage and want to divorce.

Reactionary. By and large, this phase feels “crazy.” This phase can and often does extend over several months with its own identifiable stages.

In his book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends, (another great book to have!) Dr. Bruce Fisher writes about the five stages of an emotional divorce that parallel the five stages of grief, originated by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Grief is not only about sadness but about loneliness, at times anger and agitation, a sense of feeling weak, vulnerable, and feeling helpless. It can show up as feeling unmotivated to do things – things that were previously very easy to accomplish.

Stage 1. Emotional Shock. Things feel surreal. Denial. Think: “This isn’t happening to me.” During this stage, we tend to suppress the anger and hurt and deny its depth as though nothing is happening. We put on a front, our best manners. We harbor our sadness and put up walls to keep people out because the hurt is too overpowering.

The next four stages are about learning how to accept the end and letting go.

Stage 2. Anger is the predominant feeling during this next stage. Anger gets turned outward towards others. People will outwardly express how bad their husband/wife treated them and how difficult it was to be married to them. However the Catch-22 during this stage is that despite the emotional door still being open to some degree, the outward expressed anger often closes this door with little chance of reconciliation. A strong ambivalence about wanting the spouse back also presides during this stage.

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Stage 3. During this stage, there is still an attempt to prolong the relationship. People tend to bargain and compromise and make deals with their spouse. They may find themselves over accommodating. The danger, however, in doing this is if the couple reunites, the accommodating that was previously done cannot be sustained.

People find themselves angrier than before. The accommodating may be the result of people who struggle with loneliness and unhappiness at the ending of the relationship tend to choose the lesser of two evils – the spouse.

Stage 4. This stage usually begins after a long separation. People feel “the blahs” – often exhibited through internal questioning and some depression. A person will often ask themselves, “Is this it?” “Is this all there is to life?” Despite the questions and feeling blah, there is conversely internal growth through the development of a stronger identity.

People begin to feel that life is more meaningful with a stronger purpose. But, beware of the flip side – some people recognize their hard work has resulted in the ending of the relationship and can become suicidal.

Stage 5. Acceptance. Acceptance of the loss of love yet feeling free of the pain of the grief. The end of the grief is the acceptance of the end of the relationship. Internal peace and moving on bring the transition of divorce and the feelings of grief full circle.

Although each person has their own journey and will go through the stages differently, there is benefit to going through all these stages. In most cases, though difficult and challenging, going through these stages can get you to the place you need and want to be in your life.

C. Recovery. The stage is all about healing, a sense of peace, empowerment, and moving on with your life in a healthy and productive manner.

Divorce, like marriage, is not for the faint at heart. Despite the similarities in the emotional sequence of divorce, each divorce is unique in its own right.

Everyone has their own  personal journey….

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Draw the Line in the Sand and Learn to Set healthy Boundaries

When I was about 11 years old, my mother gave me a button that read, “I just said no and I don’t feel guilty.” Geezzz. Setting healthy boundaries though needed and necessary is often a difficult task for most people.

Yet, let’s face it – without healthy boundaries, people find themselves in situations they wish they didn’t. They say yes when they really wanted to say no. All those “yes” responses means overextending ourselves. Healthy becomes unhealthy. Quickly.

How do we feel when we overextend ourselves? Exhausted, irritated, and angry. These feelings can lead us to not only engage in unhealthy behaviors and lifestyles but take our anger out on others in an attempt to quell that internal simmering anger and irritability at ourselves for not saying no when given the opportunity.

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Because I used to be one of those people, until I wasn’t (well, not perfectly but no longer have a need for that button!), I truly understand the challenges and the guilt that often accompanies saying no and standing up for yourself.

In addition to time, practice, patience, determination, and an investment in yourself, concrete action steps are necessary to setting necessary and healthy boundaries. Saying no and setting boundaries in small doses is a skill that can be developed.

1. Move yourself to the top of  list. That’s right. Honor your schedule, needs, and values. Know what they are. Equally important, know what they are not. I realize there are times times when we have to do something even if we don’t want to. We cannot escape all of those times. But even those times need limitations. Get in the habit of when asked to do something, ask yourself if this something that you want to do or feel you should do? Big difference.

2. Examine your motive. Have you thought about why you always say yes to things that you really want to say no to? Do you struggle with someone being upset with you if you set a boundary? Are you afraid they might not like you if you say no to them? Why do you continue to say yes to things?

We are all motivated and driven by different things. Find out what drives your behaviors and examine your feelings attached to those behaviors. The answer may just surprise you. Is this a fear, feeling or a fact? Most likely a fear or feeling. Think about it.

3. Hit the pause button and take five. Hit the pause button by not allowing yourself to do your usual “knee jerk” response of yes. Stop and think. Again, is this something that you want to do or feel you should do. Would it be so bad to take a few minutes and telling that person that you will get back to them once you check your schedule? Do you have to answer them at that moment? Probably not. Think about it. And then get back to them.

Giving yourself the necessary time and space to make a rational, not emotional decision is a game changer. A decision that in the end will make you feel empowered – even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. Eventually it will.

4. No backpedaling!. Honor your initial response of saying no and don’t change your mind based on feeling guilty because they will get used to that behavior and expect it again.

What to expect. Spoiler alert! It ain’t always pretty. 

1.) Some backlash from people who are surprised by your change in behavior. After all, you are changing the rules of the game in the middle of the game without giving them notice. Your “no” will come as a surprise. Their reaction, most likely in displayed agitation OR silence, will speak volumes about how they feel about your response. They want to keep doing the same dance with you. It serves a purpose – for them. Don’t give in.

2. Recognize that feeling bad or “guilty” for setting boundaries – especially in the beginning- is normal. Expect it, recognize it, and learn how to move past it. Initially, people feel they are doing something wrong, by not saying yes. But you are not. You are taking responsibility for your life, your decisions, your path, your time.

3. Expect the ol’ change takes time. Yes it does. Don’t expect that setting boundaries will occur naturally, quickly, or overnight. You will have many fits and starts. That’s ok. Patience is key. Staying true to your investment in this change is key.

4. Remember, when you start setting boundaries, people will be put off by this and will likely ask you again with the hope that you will change your mind. Based on your previous behaviors they probably counted you “in” before they got your official answer. Can you blame them? Don’t you do the same to others? That’s ok. Stay true to what you want to do.

Many people struggle with setting their own boundaries. When a person starts to set healthy boundaries its a reminder to those who don’t, that they don’t.

Eventually, you will get to a place where you can say, “No button needed!” and will feel more comfortable drawing the line in the sand.

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