7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 17 - Remarriage and Step Families

Basic Tasks for Surviving Divorce
  • 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 or sadness.
During this process, divorced persons may encounter:
Reunion fantasies and Anniversary reactions.
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 friends.

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 rebuilding process.
  • Rational measures are appropriate: - write down the pros and cons of the marriage - try to understand what has happened.
  • 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.
Re-Evaluating One's Past Marriage:

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!

  1. Combating Loneliness = a feeling of unconnectedness with others.
  2. The Situationally Lonely = being lonely was precipitated by an event - a death, a divorce, or other.
  3. The Chronically Lonely = lack social or interpersonal skills necessary to make others feel comfortable.
  4. Loners = those who are at home with themselves, comfortable with their own company.
  5. Loneliness Traps: -viewing loneliness as a weakness -clinging and hanging on -meaningless sexual episodes -love and marriage on the rebound
  6. Coping with reality demands - life goes on - walk it off! The nice thing about life is it continues with you or without you.
Re-evaluating Oneself in 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!).

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"

    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 right).
    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!

Remarriage - Factors in selecting a new mate
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.
    • Realistic self analysis - know yourself better Know your good points and the stuff you need to work on.
    • Go through the whole selection process again - Remember? Stimulus - Value - Role Fit ????
    • Evaluate Potential relationships on your new information.
    • Make Sure You are Ready and Jump Right IN - No reservations.
    • Know that remarriage is at least as unstable as 1st Marriages - maybe more - Remarriages account for about 40%.But, as Butch Hancock says, "Statistics don't make much difference as long as one person changes their mind!"

    Remarriage Factors in need of attention:

    1. Emotions and Commitment
    2. Parental Responsibilities
    3. Psychic (feeling) Remarried
    4. Community Ties
    5. Economic Responsibilities
    6. Legalities
 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 myths.
1.People who are remarrying insist that things must work out.   
2.    In remarriage, an individual may believe that success this time demands that he or she put personal needs secondary to those of spouse or children.   
3.    People often feel that they should be an individual first and a couple second, based on their experiences in a first marriage.   
4.    Some people who remarry focus on the positive and forget criticism.   
5.    Some people believe that they need to remember mistakes made in the first     marriage and avoid repeating them.   
6.    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.
1.    Remarried people face complex kin relationships and ambiguous roles.
2.    In 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 relationships.
3.    Children pose perhaps the biggest problem to a remarriage.
4.    Financial issues are likely to loom almost as large as children as a source of stress in remarriages.
5.    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 first-married.
    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 experience
    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
    1. Complexity of relationships
    2. Ambiguous Family Boundaries
    3. Normative Ambiguity Guidelines for a happy remarriage and stepfamily
      • 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 develop
      • make effective use of what you have learned from your previous marriage and divorce
Successful Blended Family Living
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. 

Stepfamilies function 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 stepfamily. 
  • There are different ways of defining family: in terms of retention, substitution, reduction, and augmentation.   
  • Fewer cultural norms exist to deal with life in the stepfamily than in the intact family, so there is more normative ambiguity.
  • 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 forests. 
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 least.

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.

  1. -Stepfamily members have experienced important losses.
  2. -They have no shared family histories or shared ways of doing things.
  3. -They may have very different beliefs.
  4. -Children may have "loyalty conflicts" between the parents he or she lives with, and the "divorced" parent who lives somewhere else.
  5. -Newly remarried couples may not have enough time alone to adjust to their new relationship.
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.

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 Discipline?

  • 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 them.
  • 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 before;
  • 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 didn't, yesterday."
  • 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' homes;
  • 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 children.   

  • 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 area.   
  • 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 experience.   
  • 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 relationship.   
  • 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 failed.