10 Survival Tips for Stepfamily Life

Many couples travel to the “foreign country” of stepfamily living with little or no preparation.

By Ron L. Deal   |  26 July 2013
10 Survival Tips for Stepfamily Life (photo)
Photo by Ted Wilcox

When someone prepares for a trip to a remote, rugged part of the world, he would be wise to do some research so he can know what to expect. He’d look up the country on the internet or read some books, and he’d make a checklist of key survival tips.

Forming a stepfamily through marriage or remarriage is much the same. Yet it’s amazing how many couples travel to this foreign country of stepfamily living with little or no preparation. Consider the following your survival companion for the early years of stepfamily life.

1. Consult a travel agent. Before going to the foreign land of stepfamily living, find out as much as you can about the culture, social expectations, spirituality, relationship rules, and expectations of those who live there. Keep in mind that you will not be a visitor but a new citizen, so you will need to understand life as it is. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to navigate the terrain. (Find more resources on remarriage and stepfamilies

2. Keep perspective. Traveling to a foreign country will require emotional adjustment and many transitions on your part. And you will find yourself in unfamiliar territory many times.

3. Nurture your marriage. All stress in a stepfamily, even if it begins with ex-spouses or children from another home, eventually ends up in your marriage. The key antidotes for stress are:

4. Connect in. Focus on activities that build relationship between “insiders and outsiders” (steprelationships). Be sure to take advantage of the natural connecting points (interests and activities) that people in your stepfamily share.

5. Connect out. Don’t become isolated from outside support:

6. Remember the value of traditions. Keep some old ones (for the sake of the kids) and create a few new ones over time (to give the family a new sense of identity).

7. Help the kids.

8. Be a team. Parents and stepparents should find consensus in family rules and how they will work together. This will require many ongoing conversations.

9. Be considerate in how you deal with the “other home.” Ex-spouses are part of your expanded stepfamily system; when you attack them, you attack yourself. Learn more about co-parenting.

10. Buy a souvenir. Purchase something as a family that marks your new identity and begins building memories. It could be a new house, a new pet, or a new dining room table (where people will sit frequently while enjoying meals together). Find something you can call “ours.”

Copyright © 2013 by Ron Deal. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Ron is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is Founder and President of As For Me And My House Ministries, LLC and now serves as director of Blended Family Ministries for FamilyLife. Learn more.

For articles, ministry tools, and conference events visit FamilyLife.com/blended.