The number one challenge I encountered while researching The Remarriage Blueprint was this: When remarried couples have children from a previous marriage, they are highly likely to face the huge and shocking impact of what are called Insider/Outsider Forces.
These Insider/Outsider forces tend to shift the members of the couple into vastly different positions. The outsider (the stepparent) is struggling to enter the family system and make some changes of her own. The insider (the biological parent) shares a deep, strong bond with his children, who are often highly resistant to the newcomer.
So the outsider is struggling to become a real member of the family and feeling left out in the cold.
The insider is carrying on a shuttle diplomacy between his new love, and his old, deep bonds with his children. He or she is trying hard to mediate between the customary ways the family used to operate and the different ways his Outsider partner feels it should operate now.
The outsider is often feeling unwelcome, ignored or downright invisible.
The insider is often feeling frustrated and exhausted.
A glaring example of this situation occurred in the remarriage of Julie and Matthew Albright. Julie was never able to gain access to the family – to suggest changes, to have her parenting supported, to have any input into family decision making. She described herself as “some kind of family add-on”; “an amorphous kind of being” someone whose ways of parenting were constantly criticized and derided by Matthew and his ex-wife.
The remarriage did not survive.
So how does a couple best handle this situation? First and foremost, simply being aware of the impact of insider/outsider forces is a huge step toward resolving them.
I would suggest several sessions during which the insider parent listens with empathy (and without interruptions) to the outsider’s bewilderment, hurt feelings and a sense of being ostracized.
Ideally, a day or so later, the insider can take the same space of time (20 minutes) to describe his or her frustrating attempts to be heard, uninterrupted and with empathy.
BOTH INSIDER AND OUTSIDER POSITIONS ARE STRESSFUL.
Another great tip is to avoid spending lots of time together as one big, not-so-happy family. Times with the whole new family together are times when tensions tend to be at their highest. Rather, spend a lot of one-to-one time: Time alone shared by the bio-parent and each of his/her children, to keep the connection strong. Time alone with the stepparent and each of the new stepchildren, who need to establish a connection without the biological parent around. The stepparent might find some easy ways of connecting with his or stepchildren – whether it is playing a board game, baking cookies or having a teenager show her how to tweet.
Finally, and most importantly, the couple needs to set aside regular times to be alone – to go out to dinner, or a movie, or on a hike – in order to keep the relationship positive and rewarding. The major point here is that establishing good one-on-one connections throughout the entire family is the key to overcoming this challenge.
“By educating yourself about this vital issue and addressing the problem, you are halfway to solving it. ….