Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Pre-Remarriage Danger Signs

    Is there a way that dating stepfamily adults like our guides (and you) can quickly guesstimate whether they may be making some unhealthy remarriage choices? We think so.
    Here are some time-tested symptoms that should alert you and your partner: “probable major re-marital danger ahead!”
     Persistent inner voices. “Don’t remarry these people now!” If you repeatedly have thoughts like these, and/or persistent relationship doubts or worries when you let your mind get quiet, something is wrong. If you brush such thoughts aside, or avoid mental quiet times, you are at high risk of future re-marital stress. Your option is to meditate and invite your inner voice to tell you specifically why it is warning you. Try journalizing about their warnings, without editing for logic or making sense. Pay attention to your inner voice(s)!
    Feeling high urgency or desperation to remarry and/or cohabit. A related symptom is feeling intensely like “I can’t live without you!” Such intense feelings in you or your partner are surely a brilliant red light.
    Another related symptom is seriously discussing remarriage within less than 18 months since you met, or less than 18 months since any marital separation. Stop and explore, perhaps with qualified professional help, what the inner pressure is about (usually ancient longing and fear).
    If either you or your partner are a biological parent of minor kid(s) now, and say (or think) “my kids always come first with me,” STOP all remarriage discussions! This is a clear, unmistakable indicator of almost certain future re-divorce. The biggest single conscious reason for the re-divorce epidemic in our country are bitter, disillusioned stepparents saying, “I got too tired of coming in second (or fifth) with my mate.” If you doubt that remarried biological parents must choose, often, and that these loyalty conflicts are real, very frequent, and very divisive in normal multi-home stepfamilies, reality check these ideas with veteran remarried stepfamily adults, i.e., couples with minor step-kids who have been remarried at least five or six years.
    Reluctance to read, discuss, and use this book. If you find yourself, and/or your partner, repeatedly doing almost anything other than reading and discussing this book (or other stepfamily readings), consider what that symbolizes. Listen closely to your inner voice(s). Something is not right.
    Ongoing ex-mate hostility, and/or “end-less” hassles with them over divorce settlements, parenting agreements, and/or child visitations, custody, and/or support. If your and/or your partner’s ex-spouse is ceaselessly angry, combative, uncooperative, dishonest, or secretive, they are not really (emotionally) divorced. Such behavior almost surely signals that the hostile one is an adult in full denial of major, unhealed childhood wounds. Do not expect that person’s hostility to stop in the near future. Verbal and legal threats, attempts to confront and reason, and/or financial or child-related punishments, almost always make such behavior worse.
    Often, such unwarranted venom masks a deep, unfinished relationship struggle with one or both of their original caregivers. Where this is true, the implacable truth is that you can do nothing about motivating them to acknowledge and heal their wounds, and grieve their divorce losses. That must come from inside themselves, at their own time. What you can do is:
Work patiently toward seeing them compassionately as enormously wounded, rather than “evil,” “twisted,” or “a son of a bitch.”
Proactively avoid one-up contests, power or control battles, and adding new wounds to their old ones via emotional, verbal, or physical abuse.
Stop reacting to them as you have been (it is probably exactly what they want). Develop a genuine attitude of equality toward them, and use positive verbal skills to defuse most arguments and conflicts with them.
And, consciously keep your own life balanced so as not to become preoccupied with their “awfulness” and your related frustrations and anger.
    In other words, you cannot change them, and so must: (1) accept who they are, and (2) steadily make an environment that promotes them healing themselves—when they are ready to. Steadily blaming, shaming, punishing, and frustrating them are the polar opposites of this and only reap more of the same, over time.
    Fantasizing that your partner (and/or their kids and/or ex-mate) will change seriously unpleasant traits “somehow” after you remarry. They probably will not, no matter how loving, patient, pious, and reasonable you are. If they are not going to change, do you still want yourself and any dependent kids to commit “’til death us do part”?
    Many recent major life changes or traumas in a short time for you and/or your partner, and/or one or more of your minor biological kids. Some examples are: Firings and/or new jobs, new homes, schools, or churches; divorce(s); sudden great financial losses or gains; deaths or major health losses; pregnancies and births; graduations or flunk-outs; legal suits or judgments; natural disasters, home break-ins or muggings; rape or murder; sudden family or home membership shifts.
    Such major life events all cause disorienting emotional losses which require time to grieve. When many such events come back-to-back, the combined emotions and adaptations can really unbalance adults’ and kids’ judgment and needs. Not a good time to make major long-range life decisions like stepfamily remarriage! Take many months to sort everything out, do some healthy grieving, and rebalance your lives!
    Active addiction(s) to substances, activities, and/or relationships. If you or your partner believe anyone in your stepfamily-to-be, including you two, any ex-mate, key relatives, and/or any minor or grown child are now addicted, caution is needed. Addictions like Susan’s are almost certainly clear signs of major unhealed childhood wounds, which foretell ongoing stepfamily stress and conflict. Sally would do well to squarely face the probability that Mike now has a serious activity addiction (workaholism). Sally and he are both at high risk of denying, minimizing, or rationalizing this, to avoid the great pain and fear that would result.
    Chronically ill or acting-out biological kid(s). Do you or does your beloved partner have even one minor child that has recurring (e.g., repeating for six months or more)…
Serious school academic or social problems (including few or no friends, or “toxic” friends)?
Trouble with truancy, gangs, cults, or the law?
Non-experimental drug use or clear dependence?
Threatened or actual running away from home?
Excessive stealing, defiance, lying, or secrecy?
Repeated excessively emotional outbursts?
Suspected or clinically diagnosed attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder?
Chronic depression, or sleep, digestive, or eating problems (anorexia, bulimia, obesity)?
    Individually and in groups, these are all high-alert symptoms of prior and/or current major family (versus personal) dysfunction. Any ongoing (or escalating) symptoms like these are re-marital RED lights. They should cause you serious pause about planning to form a stepfamily, until you find the real cause(s) for these symptoms and progress toward healing them.  Remarriage or cohabiting is probably not the appropriate medicine.
    Ongoing or sporadic legal action between divorced ex-mates. If either of you is (or has been) involved in a string of court-suits over finances or stepfamily co-parenting with an ex-spouse (or a relative), this is also a red light! To oversimplify, this probably means one or both partners: (1) have not really grieved and accepted their divorce, (2) have not forgiven themselves or their ex for “what happened” (or didn’t happen) between them, and/or (3) may be acting out old birth-family rage that has nothing to do with the divorce.
    It also means any minor or grown biological kids are traumatically caught “in the middle,” and are probably emotionally split and highly stressed, and may be acting out.
    Get qualified post-divorce professional help on this one! If you do not, your future remarriage days and nights will probably be at least partly based on the ongoing anxiety or terror that “The Ex” will call in the cops and/or lawyers again “sometime” (or cause you to). Everyone will be walking on well-worn egg-shells for months and years, rather than on clouds. To repeat a painful stepfamily truth: your living (and sometimes dead) stepfamily co-parenting ex-mates are co-equal partners in your multi-home stepfamily—and will remain so after your youngest “leaves home.”
    A series of prior adult break-ups (including divorce(s) or approach-avoid relationships) or no prior intimate adult relationships. If you and/or your prospective partner have a historic string of “failed” intimate relationship (marital or not), another red light! This is a strong symptom of some serious core wounding, which stepfamily remarriage will definitely not cure. Self-motivated recovery can heal this serious personal problem, over time.
    Keeping major secrets. If you, your partner, or any of your prospective stepfamily co-parenting partners are clearly in the habit of distorting or intentionally withholding key truths (“lying by omission”), rethink any re-wedding plans! Such behavior is a sure symptom of an adult with emotional wounds, usually excess shame, fear(s) (often of abandonment), distrust(s), and reality distortion(s). Get qualified professional help toward childhood-trauma assessment and personal recovery, without guilt or shame.
    Repeated avoidance. If either you or your partner consistently avoids serious, intimate discussion (including conflicts) of any of the issues in this book, this is a bright-red re-marital light! Someone like this, or someone who “always wants to have fun,” fears or distrusts something. They are unconsciously putting their distrust and fear (rather than self and mutual love) in charge of the growth of the relationship. Some classic avoidances, or denials, to watch for are:
“We are not—or won’t be—a stepfamily.”
“Stepparenting is basically no different than biological parenting.”
“We can and should handle or own problems (rather than using qualified outside help).”
“A family’s just a family. Stepfamilies aren’t all that different. I/we do not need to study what’s normal and real in a stepfamily now.”
“We’ve all lived together for ___ months without big problems, so—eventual re-divorce? Not us! No sweat!
    These are the sounds of deep, perhaps unconscious, fear. Such fear probably will not alter from donning each other’s rings and uttering heart-felt pledges and vows. Real commitment involves courageously learning and confronting such fear(s) together, quelling them, and putting love back in charge, over time. Try re-reading Chapter Two on communication. Learn an effective structure for safe talking and listening together and then work toward discovering together “what would make it safer to talk and “problem-solve” together, now?”
    Ideally, you are reading this before you become emotionally attached to a prospective stepfamily co-parenting partner. The odds are, though, that you would not have begun reading this book unless you were already attached, and may have begun having relationship “problems.”
    Shelves of books, tapes, and legions of retreats, workshops, courses, and counseling sessions have been designed to inform adults on how to co-create a healthy, lasting marriage. Despite this huge effort of providers and consumers, half of our marriages currently fail. Even more of our remarriages do. This inexorably implies that most adults cannot proactively think, read, or listen their way into a healthy primary relationship.
    There is little illusion here. Nothing that anyone writes will give you the sure-fire way to re-marital success. The fundamental reason divorce is rampant in our culture is that most marrying adults are not emotionally and spiritually whole enough to sustain a long-range committed relationship.
    This is largely because their parents were fragmented and wounded by their parents. No one has blown the cultural dysfunctional-family whistle loud enough, yet.
    Working with hundreds of fragmented, struggling adults and couples, we have yet to see anyone become significantly more whole just by reading (or hearing) information. What usually motivates us to change seems to be pain—real, imagined, and/or foreseen.
    Increasing personal wholeness hinges on a persistent, conscious valuing of one’s self and steadily envisioning and seeking inner harmony.
    In our fast-paced instant-gratification American world, most adults (like you?) are not about to make evolving personal wholeness their highest priority. This is especially true when they are really lonely, horny, grieving, and/or in love—as many divorced or widowed parents of minor kids are. Still, there are practical steps you can take together to significantly raise your odds of re-marital and stepfamily success.

Improving Your Odds BEFORE You Remarry

    Relax. Breathe well and become curious about what is about to safely happen. Let your minds become still as we paint a picture for you.
    Imagine you and your partner moments before your long-awaited commitment ceremony. See yourself walking together into a special place filled with well-wishers, and music, and light, and flowers, and your kids.
    Imagine the words you say and hear, and the moment of pledging. Feel the joy, and hopes, and excitement, and the love. See the faces of all who wish for your health and happiness. Let this rich, warm image fill you and enjoy it fully now....
    Now imagine the years that follow beginning to roll past your eyes like a film on fast forward. Experience a safe kaleidoscope of scenes of you as a couple, and with combinations of your kids ... waking up in the morning ... meals together ... evolving a home together ... birthdays ... vacations ... maybe pets ... times alone. Imagine many tasks between you two in the light and in the night, about the concerns of your evolving lives: balancing work and family, time with friends and relatives, leisure, intimate times, illnesses, money, special gifts and glances; adventuring together, dreaming and planning, some arguments, parenting the kids, walking together in different places, maybe holding hands the way you do....
    Imagine a series of special occasions like each child graduating, coming back from camp, opening presents in holiday gatherings.... Allow a sense of your growing years together flowing by to develop.... And imagine many conversations with your ex-mates about stepfamily co-parenting things—dental appointments, school conferences, health insurance, wills, parties, ... times with your bio-relatives and step-relatives ... picnics and dinners.... Imagine romance gradually dimming, and being replaced by a different feeling....
    Let yourself relax even more, to a comfortable level. Breathe in just the right way. If you’re a stepparent, begin to imagine times when you feel angry or disappointed ... or disinterested ... in your step-kids. Imagine them ignoring and defying you, and preferring your mate, despite all you do for them.
    As your life tape rolls by, imagine an increasing sense of frustration, and hurt and anger with certain people in your stepfamily. Picture reaching out to your partner for empathy and support, to discover that they don’t seem to understand. They even seem to often support their kids rather than you. Experience the feelings of unfairness, and disbelief, and disillusionment. It wasn’t supposed to be like this!
    Imagine reaching out to others for help and understanding, only to find they don’t feel the aloneness....  See a gradual chasm begin to form between you and your step-kids ... a creeping coldness, and the sharp guilt that goes with it. Imagine forcing yourself to split, and try to act interested and caring, when underneath is resentment, and hurt, and longing. Imagine your partner’s reactions ... puzzlement, reasoning, irritation, growing resentment, pleading, arguing ... finally, the chasm begins to grow between you two and your home splits into “us versus them” camps.
    Your stepfamily-life tape rolls on and reaches a certain scene. Slow the tape down, now. Experience this imaginary scene with startling, memorable clarity, with every sense you have.  Years together have come and gone. Dreams have flowered, and mellowed, and changed into realities. You, your partner, your exes, and each child are older.
    You’re having an exchange with your mate. It may be quiet, or sad, or angry, or loud. The essence of it is that one of you finally reveals that living together as a stepfamily is more pain than pleasure—and has been, for too long. One or both of you feels deep despair. You see no reasonable hope of relations getting better. You’ve tried what you could; nothing seems to work.
    If you have prior kids, you’re weary unto death of feeling endlessly trapped between them and your partner—and no one understanding how awful that feels. If you have step-kids, you’ve felt “second best” to them—or their other biological parent—for the last time. One of you says, “I called a lawyer this morning....”
    Remember the feelings that billow as you experience the growing reality that your union is ending, your home is splitting, and your dreams are vanishing. You’re middle aged and confronting life alone again. You’re confronting yourself.
    Imagine finding a way to tell the kids. Clearly see and hear their reactions and yours. Imagine the other stepfamily adults, and certain relatives, and key friends, learning of this. See the looks on their faces. Hear their words. Know the feeling of having to decide, “who leaves our home—me or them?” Picture in great, clear detail the time that inevitably comes when one of you takes a last look around the home you’ve shared for years ... and walks out the door for the last time.
    Image your partner gone, your love gone, your marriage and stepfamily over, your re-divorce starting. Meetings with lawyers. Arguments over dividing up your property. Times alone, thinking all this over. How could this have happened to you? Why did it?
    Take a few minutes of quiet now to finish any reflections and clarify any key awareness. Remind yourself that you can retain your version of this experience for future reference, should you need to. Understand deeply that this has not happened to you at all—but it could…. Know with total certainty that you and your partner can prevent this stepfamily scenario from happening. About 30 percent of the couples just like you do just that.
    Take a special breath and regain a full, comfortable sense of yourself in this present moment. What are you aware of, now? Although it was not fun, take your memory of this along as a magic lamp to rub, in case your resolve falters, or you lose your vision and mission together. This guided imagery was not a forecast of your futures. It was a factual description of what might happen, if you do not build a strong stepfamily foundation now and patiently plan the rest of your construction project.
    Building a healthy remarriage and stepfamily is one of the most complex and challenging projects you will ever experience. If you co-commit to it, the rewards are enormous—for you and each of your kids. The project also inevitably depends on evolving some degree of teamwork and cooperation with your kids’ other stepfamily adults, over time. You cannot control or coerce them, or their willingness to join you two. You can appeal to them, as partners, and try to appreciate their needs and priorities as a co-equal human.
    Samuel Johnson said, “Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience.” This is curiously both true and untrue in average stepfamily unions. True because the human needs that a marital relationship seems uniquely designed to fill are the same with any primary partner. Untrue, in that in a stepfamily union, the emotional environment around the adult relationship is vastly more complex and alien, invalidating much of any prior spousal experience.
    The aim of this chapter was to provide you with a structured way of lowering your odds of making harmful choices. Any marital commitment involves an unquantifiable element of chance and risk. The more time you take to absorb stepfamily education and to learn about who really lives inside your skins before remarriage, the more your odds of long-term re-marital and stepfamily success rise. Fortunately, there’s a lot of effective help available on both projects.
    As you continue to read this book along the way, and as your stepfamily experience and wisdom grows, you’ll find new things in them each time you do.
    If you do each decide that these are the right people to remarry, that this is the right time to commit to them, and that your reasons are clearly the right ones—may this Coahuilla Indian blessing richly apply: “May the four winds of heaven blow gently upon you and upon those with whom you share your heart and home.”

THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS by Gloria Lintermans is available in paperback and e-book at:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Traits of a Healthy Family or Relationship: The Keys to Success

Keeping in mind that holistic health means balanced physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being, which of these traits describes your family or relationships:
  •  The adults are clearly and consistently in charge of the family. The minor kids are not called on to do significant care-giving for younger children or disabled adults, or to make major household decisions. 

  •  The family leader(s) (each) have specific, realistic, harmonious goals for what they are trying to do as people, partners, and stepfamily adults. They have viable plans to reach their main goals. 

  •  Each member consistently feels unconditionally loved, wanted, and prized for who they are, rather than for what they can do or contribute. 

  •  Each member consistently feels physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe enough, short- and long-range. 

  •  Each member is basically honest with himself or herself, and with all others; there are few or no taboo subjects or family secrets. 

  •  Members often exchange respectful assertion, genuine listening, and cooperative, effective interpersonal problem-solving. 

  •  Each member gets enough appropriate nurturing (such as hugs) as opposed to painful, intrusive, or shaming physical contact. 

  •  Members exchange steady encouragement to fully develop their unique natural talents, and to be their real self, rather than an ideal, false self or someone’s clone. 

  •  Members exchange prompt, honest, constructive feedback instead of manipulative or shaming feedback. 

  •  Members are encouraged and rewarded for taking non-shaming personal responsibility for their choices, rather than blaming others, deflecting, manipulating, or hiding.
  •  All members feel open to freely experience and evaluate others’ ideas, customs, and beliefs, as opposed to being bound by a rigid, bigoted “our way is the only true way” of thinking. 

  •  Minor children are steadily encouraged to be themselves, i.e., kids, without guilt or shame, instead of little adults, clones, or super-achievers. 

  •  Each member is genuinely supported in developing his or her own spiritual curiosity, reverence, and a deep, nurturing faith in a benign, reliable, personal Higher Power based on unconditional love and hope, not on fear, guilt, shame, and/or duty. 

  •  Family and household rules are consistent, clear, appropriate enough, and flexible. 

    Consequences are clear to all, respectful, prompt, and appropriate enough, and aim at teaching and guiding, not at punishing and forcing compliance based on fear or shaming.
  •  Personal adult-child and family-outer world boundaries are clear, appropriate, and consistent enough. 

  •  Leaders confidently, rather than fearfully, delegate increasing responsibility and autonomy as individual abilities grow. 

  •  Members openly enjoy reasonable pride, pleasure, and satisfaction in personal and group achievements. 

  •  Leaders provide children enough effective training in living, social, and learning skills—especially in effective verbal and written communications and problem- solving. 

  •  Members are encouraged to feel and safely express all their current emotions, especially anger, sadness and despair, and fear. Members support each other in grieving their major life losses promptly and well enough, over time. 

  •  Each member values and strives for healthy interdependence, rather than excessive dependence or premature independence. 

  •  All members have a healthy balance between work, play, and rest; and between group, couple, and personal times. 

  •  Members value chances to make safe mistakes and to learn from them without excess anxiety, shame, or guilt. 

  •  Members all respect, prize, and care for their bodies and are comfortable enough with (not excessively guilty about or ashamed of) their physical endowments or lack thereof, and with their gender and gender-preferences. 

  •  Members share an appreciative interest in, and respectful concern for, the Earth and all things on it. 

  •  All members feel an appreciation and serene acceptance of the natural differences and sameness among each other and among all other people, cultures, and nations. 
  •  All members are appropriately encouraged in the responsible, shame-free enjoyment of personal sensuality and safe sexuality, within the moral norms of the group and society.
  •  Members are steadily encouraged to adopt attitudes of realistic hope and optimism, versus unrealistic pessimism, doubt, and fear.
          All members often feel free to be spontaneous, play, and relax enough. Exchanged humor is           spontaneous and affirming, not shaming, belittling, or hurtful.
  •  Each member steadily feels an unshakable, deep, balanced respect and love for himself or herself, and for all others. 

  •  Each family leader can spontaneously quote many or most of these traits and values.
    The more of these factors you, as the leader(s) of a relationship and family consistently and spontaneously provide, the more functional it is. How do you feel about the list you have just read? Do you agree with most or all of it? No? Then, what do you believe? Scan the list again. Reflect. Could you honestly omit one or several of these traits without reducing the probable harmony and emotional health and growth of your family, or of any human relationship or group? 

    What happens to children who are deprived of too many of these traits as they are growing up? The truth is sad. Kids who are deprived of too many of these factors, for too long, predictably develop specific emotional and spiritual wounds, i.e., inner pain or gnawing emptiness. 

    Take a moment to take in the full scope and depth of these many healthy-family factors and you will begin to appreciate just how very complex the challenge of really effective family management is! Make no mistake—these factors are equally important to biological, foster, adoptive, gay, absent-parent, and multi-home stepfamilies. If you, as the family leader(s) cannot clearly describe your specific ideas of what a healthy or functional family is, and what you are trying to achieve with your family, the odds of your family being unable to meet the needs of its members rise steeply. 

    Excerpt from The Secrets to Stepfamily Success by Gloria Lintermans. For complete information:

Saturday, February 21, 2015

What's Normal in a Typical Stepfamily

Once again, a stepfamily is one where one or more adults are doing part-time or full-time parenting for their romantic partner’s biological child(ren). Thus, parental cohabitation with a new adult partner after divorce or a mate’s death forms a psychological stepfamily. Post-divorce stepfamilies have legal documents that further define them: property settlement decrees, and child custody, support, visitation, and sometimes stepfamily co-parenting agreements.

Older remarrying couples whose kids are all grown still form a stepfamily. They do bypass many, but not all, of the stress of stepfamilies with dependent kids, e.g., child visitation, support, and custody conflicts. They still encounter some of the most serious common causes of stress, particularly stepfamily ignorance, unhealed childhood trauma, incomplete grief, and divisive loyalty conflicts around grandkids, wills and bequests, holidays, and key traditions.

An intact nuclear (parents and kids) biological family normally lives in one home. Typical nuclear stepfamilies live in two or three stepfamily co-parenting homes woven tightly together by child visitations, legal agreements and responsibilities, genes, history, finances, and deep emotions. The only stepfamily that lives in one home is one where all biological kids or non-custodial biological parents are dead. Even then, there are usually emotional and other ties with living former in-laws and with step-kin living in other homes.

Because stepfamilies are adults and children living and growing together, sharing concerns with work and school, pets, health, bills, chores, religion, friends, etc., they do share some average biological family traits. Yet, certain “common sense” biological family operating rules and values cannot only be ineffective, but even harmful.

Some key differences:

Unlike biological families, normal/typical stepfamilies…

Live in two or three homes linked for a decade or more by genes, child visitation, support, and custody agreements; divorce decrees and obligations, history and mementos, and strong emotions.
Always include one or more living or dead ex-spouses and their relatives, who are usually emotionally part of the family.

Are always founded on two sets of major losses: divorce or death, and remarriage and cohabiting. All three generations on both sides need to grieve these abstract and physical losses well.
Have up to thirty family roles (e.g., stepdaughter), compared to the fifteen roles in typical biological families. There are no schools or accepted social conventions for these extra fifteen roles, so they typically cause confusion and frustration in and between linked homes until a stepfamily-wide consensus evolves on them.

Include many more people. Typical multi-home, three-generation stepfamilies have over sixty members.

May have complex confusion over priorities, values, names, rules, holidays, inclusions, traditions, money, and loyalties.

Have common social isolation, misunderstandings, and biases to deal with.
Stepfamily adults usually have to master numerous major developmental tasks, many of which have no equivalent in biological families—with little preparation or social support.

Because stepfamilies are so different from biological families, all remarrying adults and emotionally important kin, including their prior parenting partners, should study stepfamily basics, regardless of prior biological family experience. Note that growing up as a stepchild is probably not adequate preparation for being an effective stepfamily adult.

Over time, all parenting households evolve hundreds of rules about child discipline, finances, holidays, names, privacy, money, pets, home chores, grooming, health, worship, etc. Some of these rules are unspoken while others are vocalized and clear. Because stepfamilies are so different, some “normal” biological family rules about co-living—and especially about parenting—can cause conflict rather than order. Other “normal” biological family rules about who’s in charge of the home, hygiene, privacy, interpersonal respect, clear communications, honesty, nutrition, and the like, are still relevant and applicable.

Sometimes step-people are stressed by trying to force “normal” biological family priorities on their new household. For example, pushing step-kids to accept, respect, and like (or love) their new step-relatives quickly because “kids should respect (i.e., obey) their elders” can cause major resentment, guilt, and frustration.

Brady Brunch notwithstanding, new love is usually not enough!

Relatives and friends of remarried people often mistakenly expect the new household and kin to feel and act like a biological family. They also may not approve of either the prior divorce(s) or the remarriage. Therefore, friends and relatives may be startlingly un-empathic and critical, or offer unrealistic or inappropriate (i.e., biological family) suggestions if your new stepfamily runs into unexpected problems.

Ex-Mate(s) Challenges

Divorce and/or spouse death do end the physical and legal ties of a marriage, but they usually don’t end the emotional ties of a marriage. They also usually do not end the emotional ties between the partners, especially if they have raised kids together. Re-weddings, cohabiting, births of new children, stepchild adoptions, graduations, and other family events can trigger unexpected strong feelings, including sexual, in and between divorced biological parents, well after their parting.
“Endless” ex-mate hostility and personal and legal battles over child custody, support, and visitation, or constant demands for personal attention or assistance can signal a marriage that is still emotionally alive. Other symptoms are a biological parent that is:

Ceaselessly rehashing the good (or bad) old biological family or marital times.
Forbidding their minor kid(s) to mention their stepparent, to obey them, or to call them “Stepmother” or, “Stepfather.”
Steadily avoiding appropriate social or dating contacts.
Refusing to accept their identity as a stepfamily member.
Refusing to talk about (or with) their ex-mate, or to join them in normal stepfamily co-parenting responsibilities.
Staying too close (a subjective judgment call) with their ex in-laws.
Vehemently denying they are doing these things, or pooh-poohing them.

 Note also that grandparents and other in-laws can deny the reality of their child’s or kin’s divorce and show similar symptoms. So can biological kids. The two core issues here are: (1.) whether an ex-mate needs recovery from old childhood wounds, and (2.) whether all affected by a death or divorce—and remarriage—have grieved their losses well.

For more tips:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Reasons for Widespread Stepfamily Stress and Re-divorce

 In any stepfamily at least three people are struggling to form new family relationships while still coping with reminders of the past. Each family member brings expectations and attitudes that are as diverse as the personalities involved. Creating a successful stepfamily, as with any family, is easier for all when each member tries to understand the feelings and motivations of the others as well as their own. Ideally, discuss the realities of living in a stepfamily before the marriage.

 What can you do? Plan ahead. Look carefully at your motives, and those of your future spouse, for wanting to get married. Get to know him or her as well as possible under all sorts of circumstances. Consider the possible impact of contrasting lifestyles. If your lifestyles clash, the children are the ones caught in the middle. Discuss how your lives will change by bringing two families together. What do you agree and disagree on when it comes to your concept of child-rearing.

Talk honestly with your children about the changes this marriage will bring: new living arrangements, new family relationships, and how this will affect their relationship with their non-custodial parent. Give your children ample opportunity to get to know your future spouse well. Consider your children’s feelings, but don’t allow them to make your decision about remarriage.
Discuss the disposition of family finances with your future spouse. An open and honest review of financial assets and responsibilities may reduce unrealistic expectations and misunderstandings. Understand that there are bound to be periods of doubt, frustration, and resentment.

 Any marriage is complex and challenging, but the problems of stepfamilies are more complicated because more people, relationships, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs are involved than in a first marriage. Because its members have not shared past experiences, the new family may have to redefine rights and responsibilities to fit your individual and combined needs. Time and understanding are key allies in negotiating the transition from single-parent to stepfamily status.

In a good stepfamily every member is treated with dignity, care, and respect (initially love may not be in the equation). A healthy step or biological family is one in which each person feels the support to grow to his or her full potential.

If you have already jumped into the role of stepmother or father, the following three points can ease the transition process for everyone and give you breathing space as you continue to explore and use the ideas presented in this book.

Help stepchildren to get over their loss (the divorce or death of a parent) if they have not yet (it takes about two years). Or, perhaps, regardless of the time lapsed, they have not been able to because there was no environment of emotional support and trust in which they could have their feelings and come to terms with the “I wish I had(s)” or feelings that they somehow caused the divorce (as children commonly feel). They need a climate of emotional safety to not only express, but acknowledge their feelings rather than just blindly acting out with rage. They need to heal their loss before they can move on emotionally to creating and being part of a new stepfamily. You see your new marriage as completing your life, but a child may see it as something which will take away from theirs. You see it as a plus; they see it as a minus.

    It is more important to develop a relationship of caring, communication, and respect with a stepchild than to hope for or expect instant love. Love takes time; it must grow. Be real with your emotions. What you resist persists, what you accept lightens. Encourage your children and stepchildren to be real about their feelings. Set limits on behavior, not feelings; for example, you cannot allow them to act out their anger by burning down the house, but you can let them express their feelings that they wish this new “family” didn’t exist.

Let your relationship with stepchildren develop gradually. Don’t expect too much too soon—from the children or yourself. Children need time to adjust, accept, and belong. So do parents. Don’t try to replace a lost parent; be an additional parent. Children need time to mourn the parent lost through divorce or death. Expect to deal with confusing feelings—your own, your spouse’s, and the children’s. Anxiety about new roles and relationships may heighten the competition among family members for love and attention as loyalties are questioned. Children may need to understand that their relationship with you is valued but different from your relationship with your new spouse and that one cannot replace the other. You love and need them both, but in different ways.

Help the child that goes back and forth between parents. Their lives are full of good-byes. Help children accept painful feelings so that these feelings can become smaller and more manageable. Let yourself and your children feel, so that everyone can heal. An idealized expectation becomes a prison while accepting the truth will set you free. If you are marrying into an existing family, TV and movies may have helped create unrealistic expectations of what a family is and how it functions. What it is not is a fairy tale of politeness and caring.

Why Many Stepfamilies Fail
    One in three typical stepfamilies do succeed, long term. In order to find out how to accomplish this, you must be willing to first explore why most stepfamilies break apart. There seem to be five interlinked reasons why most average stepfamilies crash, often within 10 years.
The adults in many stepfamilies seem to come from families which were, to some degree, less than functional. Without awareness and personal growth, these adults unconsciously pass similar emotional traits on to their kids, repeating and spreading a cycle of unreasonable need and an inability to get these needs met.

Most stepparents resist fully accepting that they are forming a multi-home stepfamily, which will differ in over 60 ways from the one-home biological family they are used to. To make matters worse, many people overtly or unconsciously associate “step-” with failure, wicked, unnatural, second-best, and inferior. They do not want to learn about stepfamilies, let alone be one. This ignorance can be fatal, both as a partner and parent. Typical multi-home stepfamilies are amazingly complex and often take five to eight years, or more, to stabilize. Many unaware, love-dazed couples expect it will all come together in five to eight months.

One or more new-stepfamily kids or adults are often blocked in mourning their agonizing prior losses. Every remarriage follows traumatic endings from previous divorce or death. Remarriage and/or cohabiting cause more major losses (and gains). Parents who did not see their parents grieve well, regardless of why they were grieving, can’t grieve themselves. How could they have taught you how to grieve. They repressed and avoided intense sadness and/or rage, and so were stressed and ruled by these emotions for years. Incomplete grief promotes crippling addictions and illnesses, nourishes post-divorce hostilities, splits biological kids emotionally between warring ex-mates, and prevents even adult step-kids from accepting the kindest of stepparents. Blocked mourning has clear symptoms. Once recognized, frozen grief can be thawed, over time.

For most, the decision to remarry is made in a shared, wonderfully distorted state-of-mind: romantic love. Combined with the illusion that stepfamilies are not all that different from biological families, these distortions often cloud an awareness of what the couple is really undertaking, and what practical preparations they should make. Sobering divorce statistics imply that almost three of four stepfamily adults marry the wrong people, for the wrong reasons, and at the wrong time. They commit to mutual illusions.

The final reason for such widespread re-divorce is that our media and most communities offer little or no informed, effective support for remarried people and their kids. There are few or no stepfamily co-parenting classes, support groups, newsletters, or aware counselors. Few clergy, teachers, therapists, mediation lawyers and judges, or medical professionals know how different, complex, and risky multi-home stepfamilies are. Stepfamily re-divorce seems to be a social-science black hole, though so many remarriages involving prior kids are highly stressful and ultimately fail.
Why Do Some Stepfamilies Survive

    However, since roughly one out of four stepfamilies do survive—even thrive—we know that stepfamilies can grow the safety, support, warm closeness, strength, and comfort that only healthy families provide. The following, explored in detail throughout this book, can insure your success:
Each adult must learn the symptoms, if any, of their own troubled childhood. You must identify your major destructive emotional traits and evolve a self-motivated, high-priority personal plan for healing. You must commit to it, and begin. Next, evaluate the odds that your prospective partner may have troubling emotional traits. If so, unless they are aware of their problems and are in solid recovery, settle for friendship.
You must assess, as a couple, how well you accept and resolve conflicts with each other and key others. Learn and steadily work to develop important verbal skills: talking about how you communicate, empathic listening, effective assertion, and problem solving. Learn to manage your inner and personal conflicts. The emotional highs of new love can disguise deep disagreement on parenting, money, family priorities, and home management, i.e., values that will surface after the wedding.

Together, accept your prospective identity as a normal, unique, multi-home stepfamily versus “We’re just a family” (with unreasonable expectations). Then, stepfamily adults and kids (minor and grown) can try to agree on who belongs in it. You need to admit and resolve strong disagreements, well enough for positive results.

Learn how your stepfamily differs from typical biological families, and the related typical stepfamily myths. Then, discuss realistic expectations for each of your many marriage and family roles. Be realistic, because without steady work on these, you and your kids will in all probability divorce within seven to 10 years.

You and your partner must learn the five stages of healthy grieving, and the specific symptoms of incomplete grief. Then run a check on yourself, your partner, and each child, for major prior losses. If anyone is seriously blocking mourning their unique losses, you and your partner (including ex-mates) must agree on a plan to deal with that. And you must act on your plan. Consider specifically what each child and adult will lose with your marriage and living together. Evolve a clear policy for good grief and use it to guide and support all of you through your inevitable life losses.

You and your partner should (separately) explore the following questions honestly: Why should I remarry? Why now? Why this person and their kids, ex (if not their first marraige)? If I have to, can I often put this adult ahead of my own kids without major resentment or guilt? (Stepfamily parents are inevitably forced to choose and often.) Can my partner do that?

After the wedding, merge and stabilize your two biological families’ assets, beliefs, habits, values, rituals, priorities, and lifestyles. Everyone in your new multi-home stepfamily must give up some cherished things and accept new things. Support each other in mourning key personal losses.

Consistently resolve the many values and loyalty conflicts that will result from your marriage. The most important and dramatic conflict of all needs to be mastered. Each parent must decide whose needs usually come first with them, their partner’s or their children’s. To protect your kids from another divorce trauma, you might need to put your marriage first. Also, clarify whose needs control each of your stepfamily’s homes. Learn how to problem-solve effectively together.

Evolve and use a stepfamily goal plan. Stabilize your stepfamily roles. Revise most of your old biological family roles. Evolve new intra- and inter-home rules for these roles that everyone can accept well enough. Help each other admit and grieve key personal losses along the way.
You must consistently balance and co-manage all of these tasks, plus a myriad of other responsibilities well enough on a daily basis to: build a solid, high-priority marriage; enjoy your kids; and, to keep growing emotionally and spiritually as individual people. And, don’t forget to laugh, play, and relax together along the way.

Yet, well-run by knowledgeable, confidant stepfamily adult teams (not simply couples), this modern version of an ancient family form can provide the warmth, comfort, inspiration, support, security—and often (not always) the love—that adults and kids long for.

Gloria Lintermans is the author of THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS. For more information:

Monday, September 15, 2014


Men who marry women with children come to their new responsibilities with a mixed bag of emotions. Your motivations may be far different from those that make a man assume responsibility for his biological children. 

As a new husband, you might react to your "instant" family with feelings that range from admiration to fright to contempt. You might even see yourself as less effective than a biological father. A new stepfather typically enters a household headed by a mother. When a mother and her children make up a single-parent family, she tends to learn autonomy and self-confidence, and her children do more work around the house and take more responsibility in family decisions than do children in two-parent households. These are good things, but to enter such a family, you must work your way into a closed group. For one thing, mom and kids share a common history, one that does not yet include you.

Moving into your wife's house can make you feel like the "odd man out." It might be months before you feel comfortable and at home. In truth, initially, stepfathers do have less power relative to stepchildren, particular adolescents, when they move into the mother-child home.

You might feel out of place because of a different background or because you have a different perspective on what family life is all about. After years of living as a single-parent family, for instance, both mom and kids are likely to have evolved a chore allocation system. As a newcomer, especially if you assume the traditional male role in a two-earner remarriage, you may draw complaints that you are not contributing enough. Or, while you think it helpful not to interfere, your behavior might be seen as an unwillingness to contribute.

The "hidden agenda" is one of the first difficulties a stepfather runs into: The mother, her children, or both, may have expectations about what you will do, but may not give you a clear picture of what those expectations are. You may have a hidden agenda of your own. You may see your new stepchildren as spoiled and unruly and decide they need discipline. Or, you may find that after years of privacy, a bustling house full of children disrupts your routine.

A part of the step-children's hidden agenda is the extent to which they will let you play the father. Children can be adamant in their distaste for, or jealousy of, their stepfather, or they may be ready and anxious to accept you as a "new daddy."

Stepfathers tend to be more distant and detached than stepmothers, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. Some detachment might be just what's needed in order to have a workable relationship with your stepchildren, especially during the early years of your marriage. Teenagers may be mature enough to think of you primarily as their mother's husband rather than as a stepfather. Teens, and younger children, may be unwilling to go back to being "children"-that is, dependent on and subject to adult direction. To you, they may seem spoiled and undisciplined rather than mature. Try to keep in mind that as part of a single-parent family, their responsibilities and participation in decisions were probably encouraged. The hidden agendas of mom, children, and you may be over simple matters of everyday living, things like food preferences, personal space, and the division of labor.

Discipline is likely to be particularly tricky for everyone. Two parents rather than one now establish house rules and influence the children's behavior, but you and your spouse may not agree. A second problem can be the influence of the biological father. To you, there may sometimes seem to be three parents instead of two-especially if the non-custodial father sees the children regularly-with the biological father wielding more influence than you, the stepfather. The key is for everyone to work together.

You might react to all of this in one of four ways. First, you might be driven away. Second, you might take control, establishing yourself as undisputed head of the household, and force the former single-parent family to accommodate your preferences. Third, you might assimilate into a family headed by a mother and have relatively little influence on the way things are done. And fourth, you, your new wife, your stepchildren, and their non-custodial biological father can all negotiate new ways of doing things by taking to heart and incorporating the information you are about to learn-the most positive alternative for everyone.

Okay. Now you have a pretty good feel for what everyone is going through. How do you start to make it better? How can you give yourself breathing space-time to catch your breath while your new family begins to come together emotionally and learns how to work together, a process that can take years? First you must be very clear about what you want and expect from this marriage and the individuals involved, including yourself. What are you willing to do? What do you need from your spouse in order to feel supported physically and emotionally? In a loving and positive way, now is the time to articulate, negotiate, and come to an agreement on your expectations and about how you and your partner will behave.

The best marriages are flexible marriages. But how can you be flexible if you do not know where you, your spouse, and the children stand and what everyone needs right now? Needs will change over time. There must be room for change. People change and promises will not prevent change. People who vow never to change often try to hide their personal growth from each other, and the result, of course, is lost intimacy. People who are not flexible, who cannot change, may be left with a permanent, but stale, relationship.

In flexible marriages, partners are freer to reveal their changing selves and the parts of themselves that no longer fit into their old established patterns. You and your partner must continue to be in touch at a deep emotional level even when the outer framework of your lives changes. The more you know, the more you grow. You couldn't possibly have known at the beginning of your new family what you know now and will learn later. Flexibility in your relationships will enable growth rather than tearing them apart.

Get in touch with your expectations and encourage every family member to do the same so you can compare and negotiate the differences. Your goal, and your partner's, are to actively begin to define and built a healthy, supportive relationship. Talk over specific problems. Just because you were unable to predict some of the problems, don't let that stand in the way of dealing with them now.
It is not uncommon for people who marry again to feel reluctant to fully commit themselves emotionally, even though they want the marriage to work. The struggles of your first marriage and divorce can leave scars. When not openly acknowledged and healed, past failure, rejection, loss, and guilt can undermine a new intimate relationship without either of you understanding what is happening. One way to release these feelings is to share them, and to make it safe for your partner to do the same. Each of you needs to feel secure, respected, positive about yourself, and as comfortable as possible in your new family unit.

You may feel the "conflict taboo" even more than in your first marriage. It is understandable that you want to make this marriage work. You might feel too "battle-scarred" to open "a can of worms." And so, you gloss over differences that need airing and resolution-differences over which you may not have hesitated to wage war in your first marriage. Avoiding airing your differences is a serious mistake. It is important for you to understand your own and your partner's needs because society hasn't a clue how step-families should work. Unless you talk about your expectations, they are likely to be unrealistic.

Gloria Lintermans is the author of The Secrets to Stepfamily Success: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014


THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect by Gloria Lintermans
Make 2014 the year your step or blended family becomes all you had hoped it would be, a family of warmth, support, and joy.
Award-Winning Finalist, "Parenting/Family: General" category, International Book Awards Finalist, USA Books News Featured: Award Winner, PTPA Media™ Seal Winner Non-fiction category, Sharp Writ Book Awards
23+ million step and blended families exist in the U.S. and 2,100 new ones form every day.
For most couples, trying to build a successful remarriage can mysteriously bring out their deepest personal fears, longings, and hopes. The key to not only survival, but living this journey well, begins with having the right tools; it is not about blame or badness. With the right preparation and resources, a multi-home step or blended family can be a stable and solid foundation for co-parents and children.
The Secrets to Stepfamily Success offers tools that can significantly lower the alarming rate of step and blended family divorce, helping families evolve into highly nurturing, reliable refuges of warmth, safety, encouragement, strength, caring, and joy. Step and blended families have a unique dynamic with which couples must cope, along with all the other normal challenges of life and marriage. See how these families differ in up to sixty structural and dynamic ways from typical intact biological families--including consisting of two co-parenting homes and ex-spouses―and learn how to successfully recognize and manage these challenges. “
The Secrets to Stepfamily Success will certainly lead to positive change in step and blended family members’ lives. Not only is it rich with valuable tools, learnable skills, and resources to enable a successful remarriage, but it is also inspirational as it calls everyone on the remarriage journey— whether you are considering remarriage or already experiencing step or blended family living—to action; i.e., to explore his or her own self-growth development.
For those who want a lasting and happy remarried life, this book is a must-read. “Congratulations and thank you for helping to improve the lives of millions of remarried people who are raising step and blended families!” Paula Bisacre, CEO, Remarriage LLC, Publisher,; Creator, “On Remarriage” column, The Washington Times
Enjoy our many helpful articles throughout this blog ...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Learn How to Do Win-Win Problem-solving and Teach Your Kids

     Unlike biological families, many step-people struggle with post-divorce hostilities, distrust, and ongoing disputes over child custody, visitation, discipline, and financial support.  Typical step and biological parents discover major clashes over parenting values, rituals, customs, and priorities, which cause normal loyalty conflicts in and between their several related homes—for years.

            There are also typically more minor children in related step-homes than individual biological homes, which means more sibling battles and more frequent needs for adult mediation and problem-solving. And finally, without significant, real recovery from unhealed childhood wounds in the adults, most people are ineffective verbal communicators, especially in conflicts. This is so because of a combination of excess distrust, shame, defensiveness, fear (or explosions) of strong emotions, a compulsive need to control, low self-awareness, and ineffective caregiver modeling.

            Simply put, you just don’t know how to problem-solve together. Until you have learned about and tried better options, you automatically use manipulative mind-reading, aggression, repression, double messages, withdrawing, threats, assumptions, and many other ineffective ways of trying to get your needs met via communication. They usually backfire and generate even more conflict.

            Make no mistake about it, normal multi-home stepfamilies are complex, high-conflict groups co-managed by adults who are likely, to some degree, to be emotionally and relationship- handicapped, plus untrained in effective talking, listening, asserting, and problem-solving. You and your partner can build your ability to communicate effectively, if you decide to.

            You may think this doesn’t apply to you and say, “We agree on just about everything. We never fight.” Like it or not, this is probably a red light. You have a major disadvantage in that you haven’t had a fair chance to try out your conflict-resolving skills. Make no mistake about it, these abilities will be called upon, often, once the politeness and tolerance of dating fades and mundane, stepfamily living situations surface.

            Never arguing or apologizing, often withdrawing, and quickly or never giving in are common symptoms of old, unhealed emotional wounds. From old habit and long practice, you will do anything to keep the peace. Never fighting also blocks your minor kids from learning how to handle interpersonal conflicts effectively. Whether you realize it or not, they are watching you.
I know you believe you understand what you think I said. But I’m not sure
you realize that what you heard was not what I meant.”

            Sound familiar? To fill our daily needs we often depend on the ability to verbally communicate with others, yet few of us have studied how to do this well. On a verbal effectiveness scale of one to 10, most of us average three to five with the people who matter the most to us.

            You are about to meet a cluster of related ideas that form a concept about effective verbal communication. While each idea adds to the whole, some are extra important. The * symbol flags these special points.

            For our purposes, the word “communication” means “the dynamic interplay of mutual reactions between two or more people in emotional, spiritual, or sensory contact.” In other words, anything you do—or do not do—that causes a physical, emotional, spiritual, and/or mental change in another is what we call “interpersonal communication.” In these exchanges, each partner simultaneously sends, receives, and decodes meanings from up to four kinds of messages at once. For most of us, this complex process is largely unconscious until we focus on it.

            Think about this: we can’t not communicate. Why? Well, silence, and the lack of a look, touch, or note, cause meanings just as speech, touch, and eye contact do. If someone says, “s/he didn’t say anything” or “I got no response,” you know that there probably were meanings assumed—like, “You don’t care much about me right now.” That may or may not be what the silence was intended to mean, but that is often how the absence of verbal, visual, and/or physical communication is decoded.

            Most of us do not know what we don’t know about our communications skills, values, and habits. We learned to listen and talk from our families, teachers, heroes, and friends. Few of them knew what you are about to learn here. So we are often unaware of our communication process or of the many choices we have. Just as our hands reach to automatically tie bows, typewrite, or play an instrument, we talk and listen from habit—even if the results do not please us. Taking a “speech” class may grow diction, public speaking skill, or debating abilities, but probably will not cover the effective communication skills we are going to cover here. Sadly, few schools seem to.

            These skills work between people and within you. We each experience self-talk much of the time: a group of inner voices (i.e., thoughts, hunches, intuitions, images, feelings, and visions.) These are inner-personal communications. They are so familiar to us that they often go unnoticed. The next time you feel conflicted about something, without judgment observe the dialog (or shouting match) between two or more voices inside you. For example:

            Voice 1:  I wonder how Bob is recovering; I’ll call him today.”
            Voice 2:  “But you know he’ll talk your ear off and then never asks about you. Talking to Bob gets boring and it hurts every time. Don’t call Bob.”
            Voice 3:  But friends should call! I’ll feel guilty if I don’t.”
            Voice 4:  “Listen, this is too hard and confusing. C’mon, let’s get a donut.”
            Voice 5:  Wait! You’re 20 pounds overweight as it is. Don’t eat that junk! Have an apple!”

            Sound familiar? The communication skills of process awareness, metatalk, empathic listening, assertion, and problem-solving will work between your inner voices just as well as with other people. Just think. What would your life be like with more inner harmony?

            In a little while, we are going to target five communications skills. Be aware that just reading about them will not build your ability to communicate effectively. Trying the five skills is the only way you will experience their power and usefulness. It has taken years to develop your present talking and listening patterns. It will take time for these new skills to become comfortable habits, as well. Let yourself feel alien, awkward, and even phony for a time—without guilt! You couldn’t play the piano the first time with concert ability. As with any skill, these take practice, feedback, and patience before they become familiar and fully effective.

            If possible, practice with a partner. Having someone to share these experiences and offer feedback will speed learning and make it more fun. If you are not ready to explore this with your stepfamily adult quite yet, you can always ask trusted others for clear feedback on your communication behaviors. And you always have your inner partners.

            Two of the most helpful learning attitudes are: “Progress, not perfection” and “The road to success is always under construction.” Take them to heart.

            As the skills start to work for you, avoid preaching about or selling them to insecure or uninterested partners. Doing so can seem to send a message that you are “one-up,” which usually breeds resentment, defensiveness, and resistance. However, modeling these skills often catches the interest of others, over time.

            Your first reaction to these new skills can be that they seem “phony” or “gimmicky,” and that people trying them are “pulling something” over on their partners. Sure, these skills can be used to manipulate rather than communicate. But doing so eventually erodes trust and respect. If your steady goals are “I want to hear you clearly and I want both of us to get more of what we need here,” these skills will enhance all of your relationships, starting with yourself.

            A tape or video recorder can not only help you to learn these new skills, but also to become aware of your present communication habits. They can also help you avoid the endless “you said ... no I didn’t” cycles that erupt when insecure people don’t get clear feedback. But be aware that recorders can also scare and distract uneasy partners from communicating freely. Be also warned, if these devices are used to trap, beat, or shame, then your relationships and self-esteem will suffer.

            * When your (sincere) attitude about your partner is “Your needs now are just as valid and important as mine,” then these five skills you are about to learn will work. You cannot fake it. Any other attitude will automatically be sent by your voice tone, body, and face, and will dilute or reverse the usefulness and impact of these skills.

            These skills are also interdependent. “Assertiveness” requires that you master “awareness,” “metatalk,” and “empathic listening.” “Problem-solving” works only if the other four abilities are well developed. Highly effective communicators know all five skills thoroughly and switch among them fluidly as circumstances change.

            You do not need these skills all the time. The goal is to grow automatic competence with them when important situations come up, and you or your partner(s) decide at any moment what qualifies as important.

            Teaching these five skills to any young people in your life by modeling and instruction is one of the most potent and priceless gifts you can bestow. The skills will benefit and serve a lifetime, and will empower generations to come.

Excerpt from THE SECRETS TO STEPFAMILY SUCCESS: Revolutionary Tools to Create a Blended Family of Support and Respect.

For more information: