Valentines Day is once again upon us and it's a great time for couples who are in remarriage/repartnership with children to focus on the love that brought them together in the first place. As so many stepcouples know, the complications of stepfamily life make it easy to forget the ease of the time they had together before they decided to combine their families. Many were childless women who quickly learned that their perspective might not be valued because they weren't parents, and the feeling of being an "outsider" is dousing the flames of love that had been so predominant when they were dating their future husbands.
There was the bride and the groom. And her kids and his kids. And his ex and her ex. And her pets and his pets. And her family and his family. Remarried couples quickly learned that when one remarries, they not only gain a spouse, they gain an entire village.
I specialize in working with couples in remarriage with children and have often witnessed the new marriage become suffocated by the needs of the children, the exchanges with the exes and the often irrational expectation that the family become "blended" immediately.
As anyone who brings a pre-made family to the marital table knows, the challenges of remarriage are not for the faint of heart. There isn't a remarried couple I've worked with who has not experienced the balloon-breaking disillusionment of the "blended" family myth. They come into my office weary and overwhelmed. "We never thought it would be this hard" is a common lament.
What I have found in my work with these couples is that way too much time is spent focusing on conflict about the children and the relationships with the ex-spouses. The guilt that individuals have over their previous divorce infiltrates the new marriage like a slow growing cancer. The guilt then metastasizes into full-blown angst over how the divorce and subsequent remarriage is affecting the children, who quickly become the center of the newlyweds' focus. The couple forgets the importance of making sure their relationship is strong.
Talk about a libido killer.
As these couples are legitimately tussling over the realities of stepfamily life, the bloom quickly falls off the rose of love that brought the two together in the first place. Survival mode kicks in and couples find themselves in a marital rut not long after the honeymoon ends and the realities of the complicated lives of stepfamilies begin.
It's been said that, "three's a crowd". The truth of stepfamilies is that not only is there a crowd, but often a messy group of individuals who are all struggling to figure out their place and role within the new "blended" family.
If these couples want to make sure they are not yet another dismal divorce statistic, (it is estimated that between 60-70% of second marriages with children end in divorce), it is critical that they take the time to find love in the midst of a crowd.
Without fail, when a couple comes to my office or works with me through Skype to try to make their remarriage work, I ask them if they have a consistent "date night" and the answer is almost always a resignated, "No."
No date night is a potential deathblow to any marriage.
"Date night" is one of the most common recommendations any marriage and family therapist makes. It may sound like a cliché, but it's not.
Given the high divorce rate in second marriages, it is more than critical that couples give their marriage top billing. As an astute client of mine said, "We need to make our children our top responsibility, but we need to make our marriage our top priority." Wise husband.
The National Stepfamily Resource Center agrees and encourages couples to "establish marriage as the center of the family". John Rosemond, author of "Parent Power" says, "The primary stepfamily faces a set of problems that are different from those faced by the traditional family. The biggest hurdle involves the need to establish the marriage as the center of the family. The marriage must be the most important relationship in the family." I agree. Couples in remarriage don't have the luxury of hoping and waiting for the day they can truly focus on one another. They have to implant the priority of their relationship into the core of their stepfamily lives from the moment they say "I do."
I often hear from parents that, because they don't get to be full-time parents, they don't like to leave their children for a date night when they only get to spend 50% of their time or less with them. They don't want their children to feel unimportant or to feel jealous about their new relationship.
This type of thinking will eventually backfire. The high divorce rate does not give second (or third) family couples the luxury to put their relationship on the back burner. Part of each partner's responsibility is to model what it takes to have a good and healthy marriage. This means showing the children that it's important to take the time to spend couple time alone. Children feel much more secure when they know that they are living in a home where there is a strong marital unit. They've witnessed the divorce of their parents and it's in their best interest to not have to go through that again.
As gimmicky as it may sound, couples in remarriage must build into their routines one-on-one time to reconnect after a busy day. They need to make date night a once-a-week priority. I'm not kidding here. Date night is scheduled once a week, calendared and seen as sacred. (An essential rule for date night: No talk of children, ex-spouses, finances or any other realities that could take away that loving feeling).
Couples need to use their date nights to fall in love once again, dream about the future, make plans and focus on one another and remember what attracted them in the first place.
After all, it's the reason they got married in the first place.