The Outsider: Challenges for Couples in Blended Families

The Outsider: Challenges for Couples in Blended Families

Blended families are common in American culture – a recent study found the number to be over 40%. Common or not, this type of dynamic can come with plenty of growing pains; pains which are not encountered by those in more traditional families. Although it takes time to evolve through these growing pains, research differs on the typical time frame, with estimates ranging from three years to up to seven years. Regardless of the specific time duration, this can seem much longer to the person feeling like an outsider in their own home. 

To make the process as smooth as possible, it’s crucial to understand the many ways blended families differ from traditional families. Blended families are typically formed through or after stressful situations such as divorce or ended relationships. It can even result from the death of a loved one, creating a foundation of loss from the get-go. These factors can make it even difficult for the adults in the relationship to form and maintain the couple bond in the same way couples do before having children, and complicated feelings of loyalty can create further cracks in the foundation of the blended family. This can lead to step-parents feeling rejected by their stepchildren or even by their partners who feel the need to protect their biological child over their current partner. 

Co-parenting and differing viewpoints on parenting present further challenges and can test the bonds of loyalty in the couple relationship. Relational distress can occur in any relationship, however, attachment injuries causing relational distress in blended families can be the direct result of such instances of rejection and isolation. 

It becomes very important to keep this in mind while assessing and recognizing distress within the blended family since these dynamics present specific challenges and needs for the parents as well as the children involved.

To address this, it’s beneficial to focus foremost on the security of the couple relationship in order to heighten the ability to create safety for both partners, given that it can be more difficult to navigate romance in these situations due to having children in the mix. 

Be intentional about setting aside time for nurturing the relationship and be protective of this time. 

Be aware of the dynamics that are present within blended families both as a parent and a stepparent. It takes patience, maturity, and humility to maneuver seeing that there are “outsiders” and “insiders” inherent in these situations. 

Recognize and allow time to make and build relationships to decrease unintentional pressure on your partner. Set aside time to talk about parenting and be willing to learn and understand your partner’s parenting methods. Most importantly, be aware of misunderstandings that can more easily occur in blended families that result in perceptions of abandonment and isolation. By keeping these crucial considerations in mind, the process of adjusting to life in a blended family can go smoother while ensuring everyone’s needs can be met.

About the Author

Paige Keppler, LMFT sees adults and couples in Cedar Rapids and via telehealth for daytime and evening appointments.







Misunderstanding: The Worst Type of Distance

Misunderstanding: The Worst Type of Distance

This may sound familiar: despite being in the same situation with your partner, frequently, the two of you perceive the situation in vastly different ways. Patience and taking the time to hear and understand your partner is key in working through misunderstandings that occur within relationships. It isn’t necessary to attempt to completely avoid misunderstanding as this becomes inevitable in life. It’s more about learning and getting better at managing and learning from these misfires when they occur. 

Relationship expert John Gottman reminds us that practice makes good enough, so don’t make perfection the goal here. Your partner is not going to know and should not be expected to know what you are thinking and feeling. Mind-reading is not real within the realm of relationships; be prepared to ask what is bothering your partner or bring up what is bothering you without making any assumptions.

Memory can be a faulty thing therefore holding onto the notion that your perception of events is 100% accurate within contentious relationship situations is a fallacy. The need to be right really only results in your partner never being heard which is indicative of a preoccupation with yourself and an inability to meet your partner’s needs.

Changing one word can make the biggest difference within arguments with someone we love. Our initial reaction is often to toss the blame on that person through statements of “always” and “never.” The only thing this accomplishes is to kick up the other person’s anger as now they must defend against these critical accusations which turns into a harmful back and forth dance.

How to Stop the Cycle

Change the “you” statements to “I” statements to create space for talking about the way you are feeling instead. This can change the interaction from “You never help around the house” to “I feel underappreciated, can we talk about it?” Not only does this communicate your experience more clearly, it allows your loved one the opportunity to hear and validate your feelings rather than become defensive.

When arguments arise in a relationship it’s important to keep in mind that it’s not you against your partner. It’s the both of you against the problem at hand.

About the Author

Paige Keppler, LMFT works with couples and individual adults. She is available for day and weeknight appointments.







Helpful Tips for Stress

Helpful Tips for Stress

Stress can originate from both external sources as well as internally in the manner in which we process and make sense of our lives.

Examples of things that cause stress in our lives are career difficulties and career unhappiness, difficult schedules as well as ties to perfectionism and low self-esteem.
Despite being a normal part of our lives, stress can become problematic when it begins to adversely impact our emotional and physical well-being and we are unable to manage it on our own.

Stress doesn’t simply impact us on an emotional level. If left unaddressed it can also manifest in physical health ailments such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, not to mention impact our jobs and families.

Stress impacts our entire system in an alarming manner and when it becomes chronic it doesn’t allow us to turn off our fight or flight response.

There are a few telltale signs that can tip you off to whether you are experiencing too much stress including, lack of patience and motivation, increased annoyance or aggravation, being easily moved to tears, and panic or anxiety attacks.

A good place to start to decrease emotional stress is by doing the things you enjoy such as devoting time to maintaining important social connections, getting some exercise, and being mindful of not taking on too much. Do something you enjoy or maybe try journaling or meditating.

So many of us are stressed due to being caught in the “what if” mindset. Pondering on the many things that can go wrong in the various situations we all face on a daily basis. A tiny bit of this can be helpful in fueling the planning and implementing the process of any task; however, it can quickly become an unhealthy rabbit hole into which we become stuck.
Try changing “what if” to “what is” which helps to ground you in reality and the safety of the moment. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional support in techniques to aid in the management of your stress.

Is Love All You Need For A Happy Marriage?

Is Love All You Need For A Happy Marriage?

John Lennon said all you need is love, and love is all you need. He was wrong.

Within intimate relationships, it is also essential to focus on boundaries and borders that will only foster and heighten your relationship when in use. Marriage is a vulnerable commitment, which means there is potential for incredible pain that often happens when boundaries are crossed or not valued.

Things will get tricky at times within any relationship.

There is no threatening to leave when times get tough and no false notions within these difficult times regarding the belief of someone better for you being “out there.” This can be indicative of having one foot out the door and can easily lead to turning to someone outside of the relationship to complain about a partner rather than simply voicing your concerns to your partner.

It’s okay to ask your partner to change things that hurt you. It only becomes problematic when insisting they violate their values for you. There will sometimes be that difference regarding individual values and worldviews. Conflicts that arise from these differences can be maneuvered more efficiently by increasing knowledge and respect for these differences.

Consider engaging with your partner in ways you haven’t before.

Simply because you’ve been with your partner for many years is no indication that you know that person on a deep level. For instance, implement dates and new interactions to explore how well you do know your person.

Do you have daily, weekly, even monthly rituals for connection?

Focusing on these small moments can quickly increase security within your relationship.

Notice and respond to your partner’s bids for connection; foster it by focusing first on how you tend to react to your partner in these moments.

Perhaps you are turning away when you could just as quickly turn towards your spouse.

What Happens If Your Spouse Doesn’t Turn Towards You?

If your partner refuses to validate your feelings, maybe consider the amount of criticism or blame leveled at your partner within your feelings. Eliminating criticism both alleviates opposing defensiveness while at the same time boosting your partner’s ability to empathize with your feelings.

Most importantly, ignore the slogans within pop culture. Genuine relationships require work and intentionality not to harm your partner regarding his or her attachment needs.

The Inevitability of Criticism

The Inevitability of Criticism

It is part of the human experience to interact with criticism, either from those we come into contact with or internal criticism. TS Elliott once stated that criticism is as inevitable as breathing. Many of us have a strong inner critic; in fact, we typically have more than one.

If you have been criticized a lot in life, your inner critic might very well be echoing the comments you received in the past.

This criticism can quickly begin to rule your inner world and cause you to get swept up in a whirlwind of harsh messages and consequent hatred for that part of yourself as you become enmeshed with the bad feelings.

What might be different if you could see yourself through the lens of a compassionate friend? This person understands your history and has endless love for you. This type of lens, the lens of compassion, can decrease the inner critics’ voice.

We have all heard that old biblical expression of loving thy neighbor as thyself, and we forget the “thyself” part as if self-compassion is in opposition to loving thy neighbor.

The introduction of self-compassion can seem so woo-woo, trivial, and even selfish upon implementation. Recognizing that this response is part of the cycle that fuels your inner critic becomes very important. The journey towards self-compassion is a long and windy road for this express reason.

It isn’t simply achieved through a pat on the back or offering yourself a “good job, buddy” because we believe we need the inner critic’s messages to continue to achieve, strive, belong, which actually are an attempt to ensure we don’t activate pain.

The inner critic is attempting to maintain safety and security, which can be very difficult to see.

Understand that the introduction of compassion does not erase criticism; criticism isn’t the ticket; it’s the way we interact with it, use it, and allow it to reinforce beliefs about ourselves.

This is the pattern that we want to begin to address through the use of self-compassion; to create space and realize our agency in deciding how we structure our lives based upon these critiques. Remember, the critic part is not bad; it is not evil. It is simply utilizing distorted means of preventing you from experiencing internal pain.

The Vicious Cycle Of Spying On Your Spouse & How To Stop

The Vicious Cycle Of Spying On Your Spouse & How To Stop

Perhaps it only happened that one time. You promised yourself it would never happen again. It’s not a big deal. But just like Jim Morrison’s spy, you suddenly know everything your partner is doing, everywhere they go, everyone they know.

This knowledge can help to quiet that part of you wishing to dig through your partner’s emails, texts, or social media accounts . . . for a time.

However, you’ll most likely find this habit is tricky to let go of, made even more difficult if something suspicious is uncovered.

How does one relinquish a habit that allows for peace to wash over you for at least a brief moment? A moment you feel vindicated in your relationship unease, validated amidst the distress that has snuck into your home, into your marriage.

This lucidity vanishes quickly as the need to spy, the need to know, is constantly at war with the part of you that wants to move towards something better with your partner.

It can become difficult to see that this digging only increases the vicious cycle of secretive habits. And become even worse if you decide to keep the spying from your partner, ignoring the power-packed by the lie of omission.

Numerous things boost this need to find knowledge.

Many times, it is spurred by the infidelity of a past partner.

The part of you that remembers the effects of this betrayal attempting to help you, to ensure you aren’t subjected to such pain a second time or that, at the very least, you’re prepared.
It might be stemming from a lack of trust, only creating more issues in the long run as this behavior is utilized to feed the mistrust.

The need to check your partner’s phone may have grown out of a lack of communication resulting from a distance in the relationship. This distance can increase suspicion. Who are they connecting with, if not you? Suddenly, you’ve become the spy in the relationship, which only increases the chasm between you and your partner.

It can be tough to turn that focus back on oneself.

If you find that you can’t stop checking, it can help to question what might fuel this behavior.

Ask yourself what is prohibiting you from merely having a conversation with your partner in an open manner.

This conversation can heighten vulnerability, but it will inevitably increase trust rather than create a cycle of dishonesty, which will inevitably keep you and your partner stuck.
If you need support in this venture, I recommend reaching out to a mental health professional who can provide you additional insight and advocate for your relationship’s health and success.