Trying to have a healthy and satisfying marriage is often difficult when you have a blended family with teenagers because you're building new relationships, dealing with loyalty issues concerning your biological family members, as well as setting boundaries for everyone all at the same time. According to the HelpGuide.org website, teenagers generally have the most difficulty adjusting to step families because they're trying to establish their own identities and often aren't emotionally expressive. It's essential to keep this in mind when trying to make your marriage work, as well working on the functionality of your blended family.
Put your marriage at the center of your blended family. According to Shirley Cress Dudley, a marriage and family counselor and author of the book “Blended Family Advice,” it's important to keep your marriage as a priority no matter what issues arise within the blended or step family. This is often difficult when you feel a special loyalty to your biological children and perhaps also to your ex-spouse.
Establish and maintain honest communication with your spouse. Blending a family is difficult. No one is going to happy all of the time. You and your spouse should be able to discuss the situations that occur within the family that result in anger, hurt and confusion. But be sure to take responsibility for your own feelings and try not to blame your spouse for how you are feeling. You should also try to clearly articulate your expectations for each other and your levels of comfort in the role of stepparents.
Present a unified front with your spouse concerning the household rules your teens must follow, notes Dr. Frederic Reamer on the PBS.org website. Teenagers who hear inconsistent or contradictory messages from the two of you might try to divide you even further, trying to get the biological parent to show more loyalty to them. You should establish the same rules and consequences for all the children in your blended family, step kids and biological kids alike.
Express appreciation for your spouse for the effort he is making to develop a relationship with your children Keep in mind that establishing new relationships with stepchildren is a long process and at times, a difficult one. So it’s important to recognize each other's efforts to successfully integrate your two families.
Try to have compassion for your spouse and teenage stepchildren. Think about the emotional pain your partner is also having with conflicting loyalties to you and his children. Remember that this is your struggle as well. Also, consider the upheaval living with a stepparent can cause in a teen's life -- and how it can compound the identity struggles that typically occur in the teenage years. Have patience with the teens in your household.
Make a commitment to strengthening your relationship by spending time just with your spouse. In “Blended Family Advice,” Shirley Cress Dudley suggests spending time alone every day, even if it’s just a few minutes before going to bed. Moreover, she recommends scheduling actual date nights two to four times per month.
Seek additional support from other blended families. All blended families experience challenges in becoming a healthy family unit. So it is helpful to connect with others who understand what your family is experiencing. There are many face-to-face and online support groups available for couples and children in blended families.
Sonya Lott, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Pennsylvania, who offers online and in office counseling to individuals struggling with grief, loss or a life transition. She also facilitates mental health workshops for educational, professional, and community groups and maintains a blog on her website www.drsonyalott.com.