Got kids? Read this before you get married

With the prevalence of divorce being around 40%, it is no surprise that nearly 1 in 5 children are currently living in a blended family. Unfortunately for many of those children living in a blended family, the reality is that second marriages fail at a higher rate than first marriages with 60-70% of second marriages ending in divorce. Given that, it seems especially important to enter into a second marriage very carefully and thoughtfully for many reasons, but particularly to be a permanently stabilizing force for the children being raised in these blended families. So before you even think about marrying your significant other, and bringing your families together here are a few things to honestly look at before you say, “I DO”:

  1. Is your significant other a generally  happy person? Being a stepparent is not easy. It is often thankless at best, and at worst can result in a whole host of life turned upside down issues. If they are someone who complains a lot, who fault finds, who is melancholy or prone to depression and not actively treating it, proceed with caution. Things are not going to get easier just because you get married and you will be caretaker not only to your children but also your new spouse. Your spouse-to-be should be a “stand alone” person-meaning they don’t need you to make them whole, complete them, make them happy or any of the other things that are cute in movies, but not in real life. It is OK if you make them happier, but it is not OK if you are the only thing that makes them happy. It is great if you add value to their life, but it is not OK if they feel worthless without you.
  2. Do they have obvious good, healthy relationships? Look around them. How are their friendships? Do they have any? How are relationships with their family, their coworkers? Do they typically exhibit the ability to maintain and keep good friendships/relationships with others? This is so important. Past behavior is a great indicator of future behavior and while people certainly can change over time, someone with a strong history of close and steady friendships show they are willing and able to do their part to keep a good relationship.
  3. How do they treat other people? This is similar to the point above, but speaks more about how they relate to people not in their immediate circle. Outside the context of close relationships, how are they towards others? Are they warm and kind? Are they more critical and judgmental? Someone who will make the best partner for you and stepparent to your child(ren) is someone who is able to give others the benefit of the doubt; someone who can easily overlook offenses, or at least is willing to try. It does not mean they are immune to hurt feelings or sadness or anger, but it does mean they are able to recognize these feelings and deal with them with a spirit of reconciliation. If you find they are harsh or overly suspicious of other people’s motives, or if they feel they are frequently the “victim” in circumstances, this should not be ignored.
  4. How are their finances? It doesn’t matter if they have a little money or a lot; the point is to know their attitude about money and if it lines up with yours. Financial issues are the number one cause for divorce and when you are entering into a space where the odds are already stacked against you, you would be wise to make sure this is not going to be another area for conflict. What are their attitudes about money? Are they entitled, or generally pretty content? Are they concerned about keeping up appearances and opinions of others, or pretty confident in their own situation? Are they open and transparent about their circumstances with you, or defensive? The way someone communicates (or does not) with you about money illuminates a lot about how they will communicate with you about other difficult topics that come up. It shows where their heart is, and if they are largely focused on others, or on self.
  5. Can they communicate? Not just talk. But can they and WILL they, communicate with you. Communicate means “to share information, news and ideas.” SHARE. Not just disseminate information, news and ideas to you. And not just to sit and listen to you passively. But to give back and forth. Communication for all marriages is critical. Even more so in blended families when you are merging families and histories and complex emotions of kids and navigating custody and child support issues, dealing with loyalty conflicts, ex-spouses and in-laws and new kids. Do they talk with you until you have both reached an understanding and good place when issues arise? Do they genuinely care about your feelings, or just do their best to avoid conflict or frustration altogether? Do they get mad and angry and then act like everything is fine the next day without really every addressing the heart of the issue? These are important, and hard, questions to ask and answer honestly, but so very critical to a successful first marriage, let alone a successful union that joins and permanently bonds a blended family.

People who live in blended families have a wonderful opportunity to create something whole in its own right and new out of parts of something that usually came from a loss like from divorce or a death. It is certainly possible to have a thriving blended family, and picking the right partner is the first and one of the most important things to get right. Pick the one you know will hang in there with you through all the challenges, who is someone who puts others first, someone who knows themselves and someone who WANTS to be with you, not someone who NEEDS to be with you-pick that person. And also, become that person yourself. I am here to help with relationship issues, couples counseling and premarital counseling. I am in good company of many excellent counselors in the area, so if you need or want help to ensure you are setting your new marriage up for success, please contact me ([email protected]) or another counselor in your area.

Posted by Sarah Pendleton at 2:38 PM