Friday, October 29, 2010

My Family to Our Family, Blending Families When Getting Remarried

This fall at Ada Bible Church, we have started a new class called Marriage Prep - Remarriage. It is led by Brian and Marcie Johnson and they are doing a terrific job leading a handful of couples who are considering a second marriage. Recently, Brian wrote a piece on the challenge of blending families when a couple remarries. Brian gave me permission to share this with you -- it is very insightful and offers a lot of wisdom on this topic.

Failed family dynamics are the primary reasons second marriages do not make it past the second year. In fact, marriages with children are 50% more likely to end in divorce then second marriages with no children. The issue can be summed up with the vast differences in expectations and the seemingly never ending battle to find common ground. Rather then balancing you and your fiancĂ©e’s expectations, you now have to consider the expectations of each child as well as your former spouse. The only factor that remains constant is that all of you will be on different pages much of the time. Some expectations you will be able to work with, but several others you will not. Navigating this ever changing dynamic is one of your greatest challenges as a newly wed. Your family can be the source of your greatest pain as well as your greatest joy. The key is nothing short of being patient, graceful and merciful over and over again.

Unfortunately, the true family dynamics don’t really start to unveil until after the wedding ceremony. While things are likely to be going strong up until the wedding day, life seems radically different after saying “I do”. Before marriage, children are ‘excited’ about the potential changes and appear to be on board. You’ll hear awesome things like, “He’s such a fun guy to hang out with, I can’t wait until he’s here all the time!” But, after the vows, the realities of the experience set in and conflict can occur.

Many children lack the emotional maturity to be able to proactively verbalize their expectations in a healthy non-confrontational manner. They are much more apt to respond to circumstances as they occur in what appears to be anger or resentment toward any one of the family members. If you confronted them on “why” they are acting out, I’m pretty sure you would hear something like, “I don’t know..I’m just mad!” In the absence of being able to openly discuss issues, parents are often left with connecting actions and reactions to get a clue as to what the root cause is. If you are not the primary custodial parent, finding the root cause of the emotional upheaval is even more difficult. Depending on the child, some causes may be school, friends, your home environment or the other parent’s home environment. It takes a lot of grace and patience to sift through the negative responses to establish a root cause, but it is fundamentally necessary.

Believe it or not, your former spouse will also have a profound influence on your family whether you like it or not. He or she may be threatened by your new marriage and persuade the children to think and act in ways that preserve their role as the biological parent. The level of his/her influence over your children’s attitudes may depend on the amount of time he/she spends with them and how deep that relationship is. If your former spouse is the primary custodial parent, how he/she responds to your new marriage can be a powerful influential factor that may leave you feeling helpless to alter things. If the spouse is not involved at all, at some point in your child’s life, they will want to experience the love of the missing parent. Both of these factors are beyond your control and are likely to cause friction in the new family. A child that feels secure in having a loving relationship with both biological parents will be more likely to adapt to the upcoming changes then if one parent is missing or not involved.

Failed expectations equates to failed hope. When the family doesn’t function in the way you envisioned prior to marriage, disappointment sets in for many of the family members. A step parent may have unrealistic expectations coming into a marriage (whether they were verbalized or not) and when the actual dynamic unfolds into something different, they can’t help but feel disappointed. Your child's expectations are not much different in this regard, their idealistic view of the new marriage is far from reality and usually remains unspoken. Long term disappointment leads to despair, which leads to resentment for several of the family members. I believe the hardest hit are the children and the step parent. As tension rises, the obvious (and unfortunate) solution is to force the biological parent to decide between the kids and their spouse. In a sense, it’s a divorce of sorts, but this time, it’s between the kids and the parent. Unresolved conflict between any of the family members is something that absolutely needs to be addressed. The hard part is dealing with the external factors that are beyond your control.

If you find yourself reading this a few times to try and digest it… good! The point is to illustrate the vast array of expectations that need to be blended on common ground in order to find peace in the home. Using pre-marriage indicators are not really a good barometer for success, because things change radically after the vows. So, all this leads to the question, “How on earth do we do it?” The common ground resides in Christ. If the Lord is pulling you into this marriage, then His plan is better then anything you can imagine or hope to have. Let Him have control and you should stay in prayer, fervently! Due to the complexities involved, if you wish to be married at Ada Bible Church, a requirement is for any couple who is considering a second marriage, it requires them to attend family counseling to develop a game plan prior to marriage as well as modify the plan after the wedding day. You will develop a strategy on how to integrate your family under specific circumstances as well as develop a keen sense of warning signs that things are starting to go off track. This then can establish a solid foundation in which not only your marriage can be built, but your new family can as well.

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