The Outsider: Challenges for Couples in Blended Families

by | Mar 8, 2024

Maintain connection and security as your family's dynamics evolve

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.







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