This article is part of a 3-part series to help and support couples in stepfamilies from the pain and hurt that many families face.
I literally thought I was living the American dream when I married my husband, Lamar.
We had a whirlwind romance, which involved getting engaged after 11 months of dating, jumping the broom less than a year after that, buying a new house and moving my two kids and me to the Washington, D.C. area to live with Lamar in our new home.
Everything was fine, until one day, it wasn’t…..at least that is how it felt.
We were literally blindsided by issues—issues that stemmed from coming together as a blended family.
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And to top it off, this was the first marriage for both of us. So, we were also having the same challenges that many newlywed couples have as it pertains to communication, roles, responsibilities and unmet expectations.
Ron Deal, a licensed marriage and family therapist and bestselling author wrote:
Blinded with a well-intentioned ignorance couples march down the aisle a second or third time, only to discover that the building process is much more difficult than they anticipated- and the rewards are few and far between, especially in the beginning. – Ron Deal
Headed for Divorce
The projected divorce rate for stepfamily couples is roughly 50 to 60 percent (Deal, 2014). With odds like that, it seems as if the deck was stacked against us right from the beginning.
Were we headed for divorce?
Well, if I’m being totally honest with you, then I would have to admit that: yes, we probably were headed for divorce.
My husband was frustrated. As a stepparent, Lamar felt like he was being left on the outside.
I felt helpless. As the biological parent, I felt like it was a tug of war, and I was in the middle. (I’m sure that many of you reading this can relate.)
My son was struggling. He was around 13 at the time, and he wanted nothing to do with “blending” and began to act out because of it.
All of this led to more issues in our marriage. And that’s when the arguments started.
I mean, we were supposed to still be blissfully happy newlyweds, but instead, we were acting like we had been unhappily married for years.
But one day, that all changed.
In an Instant
You’re probably thinking, there’s no way your stepfamily went from struggling to striving in an instant.
And you’re right.
But, there was one defining moment that turned everything around for us.
One day, we were having another argument over the kids.
You see, we could not see eye-to-eye when it came to discipline. Our styles were very different. I thought Lamar was very strict and focused on too many things. And I’m sure he thought I was not focused on enough.
We were sitting at the dinner table arguing. (And yes, we were arguing in front of the kids. Like I said…we were in a really bad place.) We argued until I couldn’t take it anymore, and I ran upstairs and slammed our bedroom door, crying.
But everything turned around when Lamar came upstairs and reassured me that although we didn’t see eye-to-eye that he loved me and was willing to make sure everything worked out.
And on that night in our bedroom, we made a commitment to each other that we would both do what’s best for the family.
Commitment means remaining dedicated to the vows we expressed on our wedding day. Couples then make a decision every day of their life whether or not they will live up to those words. If they choose not to, their stepfamily will not survive the journey. -Ron Deal
And from that moment on, we made a conscious decision to turn things around.
Yes, something so small like just making a decision to work it out—no matter what—literally changed the course of our marriage.
We were on the road to divorce…but we decided to take a detour. Instead, we veered off that track to pursue a better course, where we would work on lifelong happiness TOGETHER.
So after we made the commitment, which changed the direction we were heading, there were three main things we did that actually got us moving in the right direction—toward coming together as a family.
1. We admitted we had a problem
You’ve probably heard this a million times before. The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have one.
If you’re anything like Lamar and me, then you went into your marriage with rose-colored glasses on and you were optimistic….oh so optimistic.
We were in love, and we finally had the family that we’ve always wanted. And when things started going wrong, we didn’t want to admit to ourselves that we had a problem—much less admit it to someone else outside of the marriage (i.e – family and friends.)
Tip: When you admit that you have a problem, then it frees you up to take the next step..and that’s to get help.
2. We formed a united front
That’s right. We formed a united front, which meant no more fighting at the dinner table in front of the kids (thank goodness.) We came together on everything, at least everybody else thought we did.
Did we always agree on everything? NOPE. We had to learn to compromise. But at the end of the day, we were a team, and we presented ourselves as a team to our family and friends.
And an amazing thing happened when we did that. People stopped trying to test us, including our kids.
Yes…even your own kids will test you if they see an opportunity to.
The first step in fixing a problem, is admitting that you have one.
So all of that bad advice that people tried to give us about our relationship, and those slick comments people try to make about your spouse, and those undermining efforts from the kids who tried to use the weakness in your marriage to pit you against each other STOPPED.
Oh yes. People know…Ronnie and Lamar are ONE—and they are not to be screwed with.
3. We got help
We had to get educated and get the tools we needed.
We didn’t come into this marriage knowing how to be married or even having the skills necessary to blend a family. So we decided to get educated through classes, books, conferences, retreats—anything we could get our hands on. And that’s really what it took to turn things around. That’s really what it took to take our marriage from broken to blessed.
Did you know premarital preparation can reduce the risk of divorce by 30 percent (Stanley, Amato, Johnson & Markman, 2006)?
We didn’t at first, and I wonder how much trouble we could have avoided if this was our very first action after the engagement. But even if you’re already married, seeking help for your family will decrease your chances of divorce. After all, that’s what helped saved our marriage.
I have to admit, writing this article was a little hard for me. Looking back at the place we were at and the turmoil we were in was such a dark period in our marriage. And it’s crazy to even think back to that time because we’re somewhere totally different today.
There were times before when we couldn’t stand each other. But now I can say that we are truly blessed to have each other. My husband Lamar is a loving husband and we are—I am truly lucky to have him as a father and role model to our children. We’re not perfect…but we’re truly blessed.
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