Christina Roach, LMHC, NCC, DCC

Couples Evaluate Their Relationship After Summer Visits with the Stepchildren

With the coming of autumn many couples find themselves reassessing their home life and gauging how their relationship fared summer visitation with the stepchildren. In cases where things did not go as planned, partners should remember to place any blame on the ‘step’ situation rather than on each other and recognize that being a stepparent can be hard work. With statistics showing stepfamilies face the highest rate of break-up during the first 1 to 2 years and during this highly fragile time roughly 1/3 of these families will end in separation or divorce, it is important to understand the difficulties presented by the stepfamily unit.

Studies also show first family overall marital satisfaction starts high and then gradually decline. However, the opposite is true in stepfamilies where marital satisfaction starts low but then progressively rises. It appears that if a stepfamily can survive the initial volatile years as well as the stepchildren's adolescent years, (which are found to be the second most difficult time period for stepfamilies), a step couple's level of contentment increases over time. Harnessing this upward momentum is essential and having a continual emphasis on couple strength is critical to this endeavor.

The importance of establishing and maintaining couple strength, particularly in a stepfamily, cannot be overly stressed. It is this strengthening of the spousal bond which serves as the foundation onto which the new family may prosper. It is important for parents to understand that taking time away from their children in order to spend some exclusive time with their partner is essential to their marriage’s success. Such time is good for the stepfamily and not detrimental to the children. This attention to the spousal relationship itself will help the stepfamily weather the storm of potential pitfalls to be encountered in the new family structure.

So how does one get couple strength?
1. Set aside time just for the couple. This can as simple as arranging for a ‘date’ night a few times a month. During these times partners need to be focused on their relationship and on the aspects of each other that first brought the couple together.

2. Rekindling intimacy is important as well. Much more than physical interaction, intimacy spans across multiple areas of a couple’s relationship and helps create emotional and psychological closeness between partners; thus, strengthening the couple’s bond.

3. When schedules are hectic commit to setting aside at least one meal a week where it is planned that the couple will sit down and eat together. This does not necessarily mean a night out to a restaurant.
Rather, this may involve parking the kids in front of a movie with pizza while the couple sits at the table together to enjoy their meal and ‘talk to one another’.

At times the above suggestions may be difficult and in some cases a skillfully trained counselor well versed in stepfamily dynamics may be a useful resource. Communication is vital to the survival of the stepfamily unit and couple strength is the basis for this crucial component.

About Success for Steps
Success for Steps is the Bay area’s go-to stepfamily resource dedicated to helping individuals, couples and families make their transition into, and lives within, ‘step’ successful. Education, awareness and counseling are used throughout the process to nurture the bonds within step-relationships so they may flourish.