7400.602 Family in Lifespan
17 - Remarriage and Step Families
Tasks for Surviving Divorce
During this process,
divorced persons may encounter:
- Grief-work: Coping with Loss and stopping
the "train of negative emotions. Grief = psychological
distress due to a personal loss.
- Intensity of feeling: comes and goes and is
proportional to the degree of identity devoted to
spouse role. Those who really want out of a marriage
will suffer less than those
who want the marriage to continue.
- Duration: some say it takes about as long
to get over a lost love as it does to endure one in
the first place. Depends on a person's frame of mind -
three months to couple of years.
- Avoiding Self Pity: The difference between
Understanding what's happened and Wallowing in remorse
Reunion fantasies and
These are culturally
based - we are supposed to be sad during all this.
Facilitation of grief-work with the help of others such
as self-help groups in church or community. Don't forget
Dealing with Depression, Anger and Guilt
- Depression = sadness, self-blame, hopelessness. This
is not Clinical Depression, but is Event Precipitated
and gradually lessens over time
- Anger must be resolved in order to be dispatched.
Directed toward the person one is angry with - this
means further communication with the Ex.
- Guilt - over having hurt someone - reasonable
amounts of guilt are signs of a healthy conscience.
Unreasonable amounts of guilt only prolong the
- Rational measures are appropriate: - write down the
pros and cons of the marriage - try to understand what
- Such Questions As: Anxiety about the future? Will I
ever find love again? Did I find it the first time and
lose it? Why do people hate me so much. I will never
have sex again.
In order for a successful
remarriage to begin, the divorced person must come to
grips with the issues surrounding the divorce. Write it
all down. Keep a journal!
the Past Marriage: Realistically taking stock of one's
abilities and deficiencies. Here's a little counseling
trick that illuminates personality development in
general (it'll help with adjusting to divorce too!).
- Combating Loneliness = a feeling of unconnectedness
- The Situationally Lonely = being lonely was
precipitated by an event - a death, a divorce, or
- The Chronically Lonely = lack social or
interpersonal skills necessary to make others feel
- Loners = those who are at home with themselves,
comfortable with their own company.
- Loneliness Traps: -viewing loneliness as a weakness
-clinging and hanging on -meaningless sexual episodes
-love and marriage on the rebound
- Coping with reality demands - life goes on - walk it
off! The nice thing about life is it continues with
you or without you.
Establishing a New Identity - People suggest that events
sometimes change them - "The War Changed Him" or "My
divorce embittered me." Perhaps people are simply
unaware of some of their capabilities or deficiencies in
the skills area prior to these "life changing events"
Remarriage - Factors in
selecting a new mate
A "New Identity" may really mean completing the old
one that was never finished in high school.
B. Repairing damaged self-esteem. One thing marriage
can to, especially to women, but to both genders is
gradually - insidiously - wear away at their
self-esteem. If divorce devastates one's self-esteem:
C. Get Out into the mainstream and Meet People. =
Aerobics class, college courses, community centers,
singles meetings, environmental protection groups.
D. Overcome any Fear of Dating (when the time is
E. Come to grips with Sexual Feelings - Look! You know
what you know and what you want. Figure out a way to
deal with your sexuality until ->
F. You learn how to Love Again - > By resolving old
problems, one comes closer to being able to love -
maybe for the first time. What were the consequence s
of the breakup? Write it all down - Keep a Journal!
Those who remarry
must go through the processes of dating and mate
selection again. Dating when one is older may be
difficult. Most divorced people intend to remarry
eventually, and dating is instrumental toward that
end. While there is no set amount of time that is
ideal in every situation, in general, a period of three
to five years before remarriage seems optimal.
Most people do not wait three to five years. An
important way of preparing for any
marriage, including a second one, is for the couple to
discuss significant issues and potential problems.
People remarry for many of the same reasons they married
initially; in particular, people wish to establish an
intimate relationship. The most frequently given
reason that “it was time” probably reflects the felt
need for intimacy.
Many people enter
a second marriage holding on to certain mythical beliefs
that can be detrimental. As in the case of first
marriages, those who remarry may act on the basis of
- Emotions and Commitment
- Parental Responsibilities
- Psychic (feeling) Remarried
- Community Ties
- Economic Responsibilities
1.People who are
remarrying insist that things must work
remarriage, an individual may believe that success this
time demands that he or she put personal needs secondary
to those of spouse or children.
People often feel that they should be an individual
first and a couple second, based on their experiences in
a first marriage.
Some people who remarry focus on the positive and forget
Some people believe that they need to remember mistakes
made in the first marriage and avoid
For some who remarry, happiness becomes even more of an
imperative in the second than in the first marriage.
There are certain
challenges of remarriage.
Remarried people face complex kin relationships and
addition to problematic relationships, there may be
unresolved emotional issues from the first marriage and
the divorce that continue to nag people and affect their
Children pose perhaps the biggest problem to a
Financial issues are likely to loom almost as large as
children as a source of stress in remarriages.
There are no laws specific to stepparent-stepchild
relationships. The legal issues involved with
remarriages reflect the intricacies involved
Problems: The same factors
that lead to satisfaction in a first marriage are also
important in any subsequent
marriage. Failure in a first marriage has no
necessary bearing on the quality of a second
marriage. The quality of remarried life
differs. Remarried couples may
not deal with conflict as effectively as the
first-married. If there are special challenges,
there may also be unique strengths in second
marriages. In sum, the marital relationship of the
remarried can be as satisfying as that of the
Money - sometimes stem from the left over
responsibilities of the 1st Marriage.
Sex - be good to yourself and good to your sweetie pie
Emotions - 2nd guessing a spouse based on your 1st
Step-parenting = automatic families are not easy.
Complex Kin Relations and Ambiguous Roles Step parent -
child relationships can make or break a remarriage.
Relating to the ex-spouse
- Complexity of relationships
- Ambiguous Family Boundaries
- Normative Ambiguity Guidelines for a happy
remarriage and stepfamily
Successful Blended Family
- clear up as much unfinished business and
emotional garbage as possible from your previous
marriage and divorce
- don't make comparisons between your present
partner and your ex-spouse
- avoid guerrilla warfare with your ex-spouse
- don't try to forget to allow time for things to
- make effective use of what you have learned from
your previous marriage and divorce
There are many ways to
classify remarried couples. At the time of
remarriage, the man and woman
each were in one of five different conditions: single,
divorced or widowed with no children, divorced or
widowed with custody of children, divorced or widowed
without custody of children, or divorced or widowed with
custody of some children but not
others.. Of the more than two million
Americans who divorce each year, the majority will
eventually remarry. Half of those who remarry
after a divorce do so within about three years.
The probability of remarriage varies by a number of
different factors. In general, the rate of divorce
for remarrieds is slightly higher than that for first
marriages. Children are an important factor in the
stability of a remarriage. One other type of
remarriage that is unstable is the serial marriage
pattern, in which three or more marriages that occur as
a result of repeated divorces or widowhood. The Divorce
rate for 1st marriages is about 50% in the U.S., and
about 60% for 2nd marriages. Further, remarriages have
an average duration of about 10 years. One of the main
reasons for this is that couples underestimate the
complexities of living in a "blended" family situation.
A stepfamily is built upon
loss–the loss of the earlier family with its unique
identity, history, and shared expectations. There
are many challenges posed by the stepfamily life cycle,
by the structure of the stepfamily, and by the
troublesome stepparent-stepchild relationship. The first
phase of the stepfamily life cycle involves the
“turbulent first two years.” An important source of
trouble in this phase is the unrealistic expectations
that people bring to the
stepfamily. In the second phase, from the third to
the fifth year, stepfamilies are in
the “golden period,” or a kind of tranquil phase.
From about the sixth year on, the
stepfamily enters the phase of “singing in the rain.”
Some things get better, while others get worse.
somewhat differently than other families because of
certain structural differences.
- Stepfamilies are more complex because of the
increased number of relationships.
- Family boundaries - rules about who is a member of
the family and how much each member participates in
family life - are likely to be ambiguous in the
- There are different ways of defining family: in
terms of retention, substitution, reduction, and
- Fewer cultural norms exist to deal with life in the
stepfamily than in the intact family, so there is more
- About 20% of U.S. kids live in stepfamilies. Another
20% (roughly) shuttle between divorced biological
parents, many of whom will re/marry.
- Around 2 of 3 stepfamily re/marriages eventually
split up now, vs. about half of first unions. Most of
these re/marriages followed a prior divorce for at
least one partner.
Where 1st marriages have
family trees, blended families have family
For example, typical 3-generational stepfamilies have:
from 3 to 6+ co-parents managing 2 to 3+ linked homes,
co-raising 3 to 6+ minor children with 40 to 100+
extended kin. Full stepfamilies have up to 30 roles
(like "step-grandmothers" and "step-cousins"),
compared to 15 roles in normal 3-generational
biological families. There are now few informed
social norms to guide all these adults and kids in
figuring out to conduct normal, daily life. They have to
invent viable new family rules to go with the roles.
While their goals are similar, the personal, family, and
social environments for average stepparents often lead
to transitional confusion, stress, mistrust, and strife
in and between linked co-parenting homes, at the very
Typical minor stepchildren
have special developmental tasks to master that their
peers in intact, 1st families don't have. There is
typically little informed community help available to
guide co-parents and others in helping stepchildren with
these vital emotional tasks. Uninformed co-parents often
expect their multi-home stepfamily to act, feel, and be
like a 1-home biological family. This expectation often
comes from one or all co-parents wanting to avoid
identifying themselves as a stepfamily, because of the
negative associations ("evil stepmothers", etc.).
Actually it was our children who began using the prefix
"step" in front of brother, sister, dad and mom.
If these challenges are
faced creatively, members of the "blended" family can
help build strong bonds among themselves through:
Redefining their losses as simply having new
arrangements; Developing new skills in making decisions
as a family; Fostering and strengthening new
relationships between stepparent-to-stepchild and
between stepsiblings; Supporting one another in
maintaining original parent-child relationships.
- -Stepfamily members have experienced important
- -They have no shared family histories or shared ways
of doing things.
- -They may have very different beliefs.
- -Children may have "loyalty conflicts" between the
parents he or she lives with, and the "divorced"
parent who lives somewhere else.
- -Newly remarried couples may not have enough time
alone to adjust to their new relationship.
While facing these issues
may be difficult, stepfamilies should attend to an array
of feelings of: Loneliness in dealing with the losses;
Loyalty conflicts between two parents or two households;
Exclusion and isolated by feelings of guilt and anger;
Confusion about right and wrong; Awkwardness with any
member of the original family or stepfamily.
Some very serious
indications of a need for intervention: A child vents
his or her anger upon a particular family member. A
stepparent or parent openly favors one of the children.
A child resents a stepparent or parent. Any member of
the family gets no enjoyment from normally pleasurable
activities such as learning, going to school, working,
playing, or being with friends or family.
Stepfamily and Child
- A fundamental difference is that discipline with
stepchildren involves "your child" or "my child" (or
grandchild), rather than "OUR child". This inevitably
breeds stressful loyalty conflicts;
- Normally, biological parents discipline their
children without fear of being lastingly rejected by
- Remarrying adults choose each other, primarily -
especially if the remarrying biological parents is
non-custodial. Normally, the children's' opinions
about bringing a new adult into their family aren't
given equal weight ("unfairly", from their point of
view). The reality is that a stepparent may not like
their stepchild - or vice versa.
- Remarriage often requires an "instant" merger of CD
rules from adults' prior families (including
single-parent families), vs. the gradual evolution of
rules in biological families. This can be particularly
stressful if one of the adults has never parented
- The act of remarriage often causes significant
changes in adults' and children's' expectations. For
example: "Yesterday, I was your Mom's boyfriend, but
today, I'm your stepfather. Now I have both the
responsibility and right to discipline you - but I
- If child visitations are involved, kids and adults
may experience 3 conflicting sets of disciplinary
rules: prior family, custodial family, and
non-custodial family or household. This gets even more
complex, considering the added CD rules in
grandparents', step-grandparents', and step/relatives'
- If relations between divorced parents remain
hostile, arguments or behaviors may become a vehicle
for them to continue their pre-divorce fighting.
Increasing numbers of
people experience stepparenting so attitudes may be
improving. But students generally tend to react
negatively to the very terms step-parent and
step-child. These negative perceptions may be
rooted in experience. Older children may pose more
problems for a stepparent than do younger
- Because of custody arrangements over the past few
decades, step-fathering with custody of the child has
been more common than step-mothering with
custody. Stepchildren themselves report less
support, control, and punishment
from stepfathers than do children from biological
fathers. The difficulties
notwithstanding, many stepfathers are satisfied with
their roles and experience a positive parenting
experience. Discipline of stepchildren
is a particularly problematic
- Mothers reported themselves responding as positively
to their stepchildren as to their biological
children. Despite the “wicked stepmother”
stereotype, step-mothering isn’t necessarily a painful
- Stepparents are more likely than biological parents
to perceive strains on their marriage from the
parenting experience. Wives are more likely to
see their marital relationship
affected by their husbands’ relationships with the
children than vice versa. There are a variety of
reasons stepchildren can adversely affect the marital
- In spite of the problems that can arise, the
majority of children in stepfamilies are satisfied
with their stepparents and are well-adjusted.
Children in stepfamilies do exhibit more behavior
problems of various kinds, but these children are not
lower in self-esteem, psychological functioning, or
academic achievement than those in intact families.
Stepfamilies tend to have
less closeness between members and less ability to
change when confronted with stress than do intact
families. This does not mean
that all stepfamilies are in trouble; they also have a
number of strengths. In stepfamilies, new people
with new ideas and skills are encountered, which are
sources of new opportunities for children. In sum,
stepfamily life has both advantages and disadvantages.
Second marriages, including those
involving stepfamilies, can work out well and be stable
and satisfying. The same factors that make a first
marriage work well also apply to a second
marriage. Stepfamilies work well to the extent
that they confront and adequately respond to a number of
challenges and tasks. In sum, remarriage and the
stepfamily represent another effort to create meaningful
intimate relationships after the first effort has