Understanding How To Blend Your Family
Blended families are on the rise in America. According to the Census Bureau, by the year 2000 more than 50% of all Americans will be living in some form of step-family relationship (families made up of two adults that have been widowed or divorced, usually having one or more children). Therefore, learning how to successfully blend a family is a must. Failure to understand the special needs of the blended family, and God’s plan for meeting these needs, invites its demise. According to the Step-family Foundation, 2 out of 3 blended relationships will end in divorce. In order to survive these odds; it is essential for couples to understand the central issues that will help bridge the distance between them and bring harmony that will keep their marriages intact.
Issues for couples to consider
1. Establish biblical priorities. If you are presently in a blended family, establishing biblical priorities is where you must begin. Solomon declares that “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established” (Prov. 24:3). Therefore, which priorities will help to establish and build up your home?
On the vertical plane, your highest priority must be Christ and your relationship with Him. If He is the Lord of your life and the wisdom of His Word rules in your heart, you can rest in His strength and guidance when the conflicts come. If Christ is not Lord of your life, then you are! And if you will not yield the wheel of control to the Lordship of Christ, then you can’t expect God to steer you through the obstacles ahead for your marriage and family. Can you affirm without hesitation that Christ is Lord of your life? Do your actions demonstrate the truth of your profession? Jesus spoke directly to this issue when He said to His disciples, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that they could not acknowledge His Lordship without actually obeying Him and doing as He commanded. Why do I bring up this point? Because the lack of a committed Christian walk is the most fundamental reason a blended family, or any family, self-destructs. You need God’s power and wisdom to have the successful marriage that you desire. My hope is that you will choose this day to make Jesus Lord of your life, and by His wisdom you will build your house by doing what He taught.
As Christ must be the highest priority on the vertical plane, your marriage partner must be the highest priority on the horizontal plane. God declared from the beginning that your spouse must hold the highest position, even above your closest blood relationships: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). The one flesh relationship must be the most important priority, even above your own natural children. If your spouse believes that he or she has been given a second or third position, and your job, your parents, or your children have the priority, your spouse will feel betrayed. This violation of your marriage vows will naturally place your entire marriage in serious jeopardy.
Therefore, be very careful to keep your priorities in harmony with God’s. These two priorities are the surest foundation upon which to build a secure and lasting relationship. It’s your decision.
2. The humility to bend. One of the great fatal snares I’ve observed in counseling couples from blended families is a proud attitude that is inflexible and set in its way. Many have said to me, “I’ve been married before, and I don’t want to have to make these changes in my lifestyle.” Or, “I’ve always done it this way. Why must I change now?” This unwillingness to give and compromise has destroyed many a second marriage. However, Scripture teaches that when God puts His wisdom in your heart you should be “willing to yield,” not ready to resist (James 3:17). Solomon adds that pride “stirs up strife” (Prov. 28:25). If you find stubbornness and strife in your relationship, ask God to help you humbly bend.
The changes that are necessary to bring harmony in your home will come naturally if you will ask God for this humble heart. Remember that God promises: “The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way” (Ps. 25:9). Therefore, if you want God’s guidance and instruction concerning your marriage, humble yourself before God and your mate. He longs to teach you His ways.
3. Accept each other’s history. Sometimes individuals confess to me privately before getting engaged (and sometimes after the wedding) that they are concerned about their mate’s past. Usually they express fear that the issues that ended their mate’s first marriage will recur. This fear naturally inhibits the companionship and trust needed for a successful marriage.
My response is to question whether or not the biblical priorities previously mentioned are clearly evident in the spouse’s life. Why is this important? Because, if Christ is truly Lord of a person’s life, then all things are possible, and God can change anyone from anything. I remind the fearful partner that after listing some of the worst sins imaginable, Paul the apostle declared concerning the Corinthians, “and such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
Therefore, the only thing that is relevant concerning a person’s past is what that person has done about it. Has your partner truly repented and received Christ? Does the fruit of his or her life reveal this fact? Has biblical action been taken to resolve all outstanding conflicts with the previous spouse? Has he or she acknowledged personal faults in the previous marriage and made changes that are clearly evident? If these things have been done, then accept your mate’s history and go forward. Blending a family requires understanding that you can’t go back and change what has been done, you can only change what you do today. Paul said, “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead” (Phil. 3:13). This is extremely good counsel. Go forward!
4. Resolve any guilt or resentment. Rather than worrying about your mate’s past, you should be more concerned about your own. If either of you have been previously married, each must question his or her own heart to be sure that no guilt or resentment is being held on to. Unresolved issues here will greatly hinder the future of your marriage. If you have failed to resolve such issues, you are laying a sure stumbling stone for your present relationship. Many times in counseling a spouse will say to me, “It seems as if my husband is taking his anger toward his previous mate out on me.” Usually statements are made such as, “You are just like my ex-wife.” Or, the husband will say, “Every time my wife sees her ex-husband she goes into a deep depression.”
Do people really hold on to past issues like this? Yes! Remember when John the Baptist preached that King Herod should not have his brother’s wife, Herodias? Scripture declares that, “Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him, but she could not” (Mark 6:19). What happens when a person holds resentment? At some time in the future, that resentment will cause that person to take an evil action as it did Herodias. She simply waited for an opportunity to strike out at John. Ultimately, she had him killed. Therefore, “If you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25).
On the other hand, if you are beating yourself up with guilt for your failures, remember, “There is…no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). John also declared, “For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:20). God knows that you’ve failed and He also knows that you’ve repented. If you’ve done that, then He’s forgiven you. You need to accept that your history has been blotted out, washed clean (Acts 3:19). Resolve these issues once and for all, and go forward!
5. Have a game plan. Blending a family takes a great deal of wise planning because there are many potential minefields that you can avoid if you talk these issues over. This game plan should ideally begin before you get married by discussing such things as:
a) A sufficient time for courtship. Don’t rush into marriage. You need plenty of time to truly get to know one another. A sufficient length for courtship allows you time to establish and deepen your friendship with each other. Friendship is the basis of any lasting marital union. Solomon’s wife believed that this was the key to her successful relationship. She declared, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend” (Song 5:16). Have you established this friendship with your prospective mate?
b) Establish a relationship with your partner’s children. It is essential that from the beginning you work hard at establishing a real friendship and relationship with the children of your prospective mate prior to engagement. You may be in a hurry to get married, but children take time to come around to the idea of having a new parent. If you try to rush the children, you will regret it. It’s important to remember that you are not marrying just one person, you are marrying a total package, which includes children. If you fail to take the time to establish a real friendship with the children, you start off your new marriage with them believing that they are really not important. If you’ve already married and have failed to take this step, you need to get to work immediately. You must look for every way possible to develop each stepparent-child relationship.
Some steps toward accomplishing this goal would be to first establish regular conversations with each child. As you show respect for their concerns, relationship will grow. Offer to include them in the things you are doing and show support for them in their hobbies or sports interests.
Speaking from personal experience, as one who grew up in a single-parent household, children are very idealistic. Many are still hoping and praying no matter how hopeless it looks that their moms and dads will get back together, which makes you a very real threat. Knowing this, it would be wise to make friends from the beginning and go slow with the wedding plans. There is no shortcut or substitute for true relationship.
c) Where will you live? Another inherently explosive issue is what I call “protecting my turf.” These conflicts occur when adults or children consider the marriage partner as “moving into my house.” Many times teenagers or older children become very angry at having to share a bedroom with a stranger. The battles that result from these turf wars can tear two adults apart.
There is a simple solution to this dilemma. I have found that you can alleviate this conflict altogether by simply starting out fresh in a totally different home. Consequently, everyone is starting out new with no turf to protect and no history or memories from the past.
With all these issues and many others, it is essential that you have a game plan for what you will do. Don’t wait until the conflict arises, talk over the potential conflict and take the appropriate action now.
d) What church will you go to? Agreement on which church you will attend is also very important. If you don’t attend the same church already, one of you will have to leave your friends and the place where you have found spiritual encouragement and guidance. This is not easy. It is important that you make this decision together as soon as you can, because you don’t need any interruption in your spiritual growth or feeding while you are trying to adjust in so many other areas of a new marriage. This settles a potentially touchy subject early in your relationship.
6. Your commitment. One thing that blending a family will require is an absolute commitment. This is true for any couple, blended or not, because a successful marriage requires hard work to experience the companionship that God intends. However, blending a family is even a tougher job. As I mentioned earlier, the statistics of failed blended marriages are staggering. However, you can beat these statistics by making an absolute commitment before God and to your spouse. Declare to your mate that the word divorce will not be used in reference to your marriage. Pledge that you won’t quit, even when times get tough. Then go before God and ask Him for the grace to keep your commitment. He will honor this!
It’s important to remember that most people marry with great emotion and feelings of love, never thinking that they will ever consider breaking their marriage covenant. But, when the conflicts come, the emotions of love disappear very quickly. What keeps you together when this happens? Commitment.
Ultimately, it’s your commitment to Christ that is the key to keeping your commitment to your mate. Why? Because as you keep your commitment to Christ, your one-on-one relationship with Him brings the fruit of His Spirit and the power of His love into your heart (Gal. 5:22-23). As God’s Spirit reigns in your life, you won’t selfishly live according to your fleshly nature, but you will choose to walk in love (Gal. 5:16-17). Love will cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Therefore, if you want to keep your commitment to your mate, be sure your relationship with Christ is alive and personal.
In addition, remember that your commitment is not just a feeling, but a covenant with a person you’ve married (Mal. 2:14). Feelings come and go, but your commitment must remain in spite of your feelings. The lack of feelings simply means that there must be unresolved conflicts in your relationship. Don’t give up on the marriage. Instead, seek reconciliation and the feelings will return.
Issues for parents to consider
1. Agree on discipline. One of the great struggles that blended families deal with are how to handle the children. Philosophies of how to discipline, when to discipline, partiality in discipline, and the mixture of two different parenting styles often give rise to conflicts that can be quite intense.
Finding solutions concerning discipline requires that you both sit down and calmly discuss your views of discipline and parenting. Make a list of where you agree and disagree. When you discover areas where you don’t agree, discuss possible ways in which to compromise with your spouse.
Remember that God wants you to find agreement with your spouse on the issue of parenting and discipline. Jesus was emphatic when He taught His disciples, “Agree quickly with your adversary” (Matt. 5:25). Agreement with someone you have a conflict with is not an option; it’s a command. Failure to obey this command will create great heartache and disunity in your home. The best way to keep your spouse from becoming your adversary is to find a mutually agreed upon compromise before either parent disciplines again.
If you fail to find this agreement with each other, the children will sense this division and will exploit it, which will only create more conflict. Therefore, don’t discipline unless both parents are enthusiastically in favor of the decision. If you can’t come to an agreement, don’t do anything. Tell your child or teen that you haven’t decided what the discipline will be. Then return to the discussion table with your spouse, keep praying, and if need be, seek counsel from your pastor or other experienced parents for possible solutions. It greatly pleases the Lord when you seek agreement with your mate because it creates greater love and respect within the marriage. It simply takes two willing parents that will take the time and make the effort to find the compromise. Why not start today?
Last, be sure to have these discussions with your spouse in private. You don’t need the added confusion of the children’s input in these talks. Also, if you have Internet access, I have provided several basic outlines for parenting young children and teenagers with a suggested book list for further reading at our web-site www.calvaryag.org.
2. My children vs. your children. How do you see the children of your spouse? Are they separated into the category of “your kids - my kids”? Do you hear these words coming from your lips? Or, do you consider all the children “ours?” This point may seem insignificant or unimportant to some, but it has a profound effect upon how you relate to the children in general and the effectiveness you will have in reconciling conflicts.
The biblical principles that instruct us not to show favoritism and to demonstrate fairness must govern your thoughts on this subject. There is an excellent principle taught under the Old Covenant that applies well. When a man had two wives and loved one more than the other, he was commanded not to show favoritism to the children of his loved wife or reject the other children when it came time to give out the inheritance (Deut. 21:15-17). This command revealed that all children within these blended families were to be treated fairly. The father was to follow the natural birth order without partiality. Therefore, as a parent you must not prefer one child to another. You must have one standard for all (Prov. 24:23).
The same thing is true for us spiritually. For most of us who are Gentiles, we have been adopted into the family of God and have an equal standing with the natural children, the Jews. The kingdom of God is one giant blended family. Most importantly, God has placed “no difference” between us (Rom. 3:22). Therefore, don’t create a difference between your children and your mate’s. If you do, you will be creating a separation that will only divide you further. If God makes us one Body in Christ, shouldn’t you seek to be one family too?
3. Don’t be used. Many times couples come to me with stories of children that are using their own parent to get back at the new stepparent. This problem occurs for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it’s because the child doesn’t like the changes that have taken place in the family. At other times it’s because of the new restrictions placed upon a child, or perhaps the child simply does not like the new parent. I have even had some children admit to me in counseling that they would like to see the couple split up because this would allow everything to go back to the way it was. This problem must be guarded against at all cost and with all diligence. Your marriage and the harmony of your family depend on it.
To solve this problem, you must first determine, to the best of your ability, why the child is attempting to divide you. Is it jealousy because the child perceives that he or she is not being loved as before? Is it a power struggle over not wanting the restrictions this new parent has initiated? Is it selfish resentment because the child has lost influence over his or her parent?
You must objectively discuss all the possibilities with your spouse. Try to look for the common denominators in each of the conflicts that have occurred. Then discuss your conclusions with your child in a direct, honest, and loving way. Paul said, “Speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). You can’t beat this advice. Then pray for the conviction of the Holy Spirit to touch the child’s heart. Let God do His work in the child’s heart. Also, be sure that as you tell your child that his or her attempt to undermine your relationship is unacceptable, communicate your love and your desire to have a happy family. When most children realize that you’ve figured out what they are attempting to do, they will stop.
4. Giving vs. taking. Each person in this new family must understand and accept the fact that this new relationship will require many changes. Everyone must enthusiastically choose to become a giver and not expect to just receive. It is critical that the overriding principle that governs all aspects must be: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). I would suggest that as parents you sit and explain to the whole family that selfishness is the cause of every conflict and that it can greatly hinder the success of the family. James confirmed this when he warned, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16). Therefore, explain to the entire family that if they want the relationship to be successful, everyone must become a giver. This will build harmony and provoke others to give. Jesus explained this principle when He said, “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Therefore, as you sacrificially give to your mate and each of the children without partiality, and as your children do the same, seeds are being sown that will yield abundant fruit in your home. If you want others to be considerate and willing to seek compromise, you take the initiative and be the example. Try it and see what happens.
5. Lots of communication. Communication is the lifeblood of your relationship, without it you will slowly drift apart and your marriage will die. To keep your relationship alive you must be able to verbally give and receive. Think about it. There is no better way to resolve conflicts than to listen and respond to others in love. Effective communication enables you to find the forgiveness, reconciliation, and the solutions you desire. The most dangerous thing is when individuals give up trying to communicate. When this occurs, you must realize that you and your family are in serious trouble. You must restore a dialog, or all you can expect is greater division ahead.
If this is where you and your spouse are today, you must reverse direction. How? Seek an opportune time, as soon as possible, and tell your mate that you believe that you have committed a serious error by not discussing the problems or attempting to resolve them earlier. Commit yourself to continued talks until you have both agreed on a compromise. Also see Vol. 5 Issues 2 and 3 of this publication for further help finding solutions to your communication difficulties. Remember: keep talking until you find a solution!
6. Seek unity through reconciliation. One of the easiest ways to destroy the unity of your family is to allow conflicts to go unresolved. Don’t let this happen! Paul explained the steps to keeping unity with others. “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19). Paul makes it clear that if you want peace in your relationships with others you must take actions that promote peace and build others up.
Can you think of specific actions that you can take to obey this command in relation to your mate or children? Could you speak with family members in a way that would encourage them and show respect? When an offensive behavior occurs could you simply overlook it and choose not to make a sarcastic remark? If you’ve promised a family member a favor or to refrain from an annoying behavior, keep your commitment. Remember, the small acts of love add up to an overall impression that you do truly care.
The most important thing is to not allow conflicts to go on unresolved. This is your best prevention against disaster. Unresolved issues are like the pressures that erupt a volcano, very powerful.
Therefore, when conflicts arise, go and lovingly confess your faults, ask forgiveness, and pray with one another (Matt. 7:5) (James 5:16). Calmly talk the issue through until a solution is reached. Don’t walk away frustrated. Your marriage is worth it, and your family deserves nothing less!