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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Coping with Blended Family Issues

Blended families, where children from different relationships, come together as a result of a second marriage or relationship, are becoming more and more common.


Coping With Blended Family Issues

Blended families have certain challenges that other families don't have. When you bring together children from two different relationships, certain conflicts can emerge as everyone gets adjusted to the new relationship and the combination of two different families. With a certain amount of forethought and planning, many of these issues can be resolved.

The following examples, which are composites of actual cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrate some of the challenges that blended families might face:

Sam and Martha:
Sam and Martha were both in their mid-50s when they got married. It was the second marriage for both of them. Each of them had adult children from their previous marriages. A year after they got married, they bought a home together. They were both very happy in their marriage and in their new home. Six months after they moved in, Sam's daughter, Nina, a single mother of three children, lost her job and couldn't afford to stay in their apartment.

When she approached her father, Sam, about staying with him and Martha temporarily until she could get another job, Martha and Sam agreed to allow her to move in with them. However, nine months later, Nina was still living in their house with her children, and she was not making any effort to find another job. Martha was getting irritated and talked to Sam. He agreed that Nina was not living up to their agreement, and he agreed to talk to her. But Sam found himself unable to talk to Nina because he felt guilty about not being around when she was growing up.

So, he kept putting off having the talk with her, and Martha was getting increasingly annoyed. She felt taken advantage of by Nina, and she resented Sam's passivity. By the time they came for couples counseling, Martha was talking about divorce and Sam was despondent, caught between his daughter and his wife. After a few sessions, they realized that they allowed Nina to move in without a well-thought out plan. Although they couldn't go back to undo that mistake, they talked how to resolve this situation in a way that would preserve their marriage and try not to alienate Nina.

Sam also entered into his own individual therapy to deal with his guilty feelings about not being around for Nina when she was a child. Soon, they came up with a reasonable plan that they both agreed to, and Sam presented it to Nina. Nina felt hurt initially, but she eventually came to understand that Martha and Sam wanted their home back. So, within two months, she found another job and moved into her own apartment with her children. The tension between Martha and Sam was resolved, and they were closer than before, and Sam was able to make amends with Nina for neglecting her as a child.

Betty and John:
Betty and John met each other in a bereavement group that they were attending to grieve the loss of their spouses. What started out as a supportive friendship turned into a romantic relationship within a few months. Betty had two teenager daughters and John had a seven year old son and a five year old daughter. After they got married, they all moved into Betty's house because it was larger than John's house.

Problems between the children from this blended family began almost immediately. Betty's daughters resented John's younger children and felt annoyed when they wanted to hang around when their friends from high school came over. John's younger children felt left out and would cry and act out. Betty was home all day and so she had to deal with these conflicts. She found herself caught in the middle between her children on one side and John and his children on the other side.

When she told her daughters to be patient with the younger children, they got angry with her and they felt that she cared more about John's children than them. When she told the younger children to play on their own and not to barge in on her daughters and their friends, John's children sulked and complained to John when he got home from work.

Then, John would get irritated with Betty. She felt she was in a no-win situation. When they came to couples counseling, John and Betty were both exhausted and frustrated with the situation and wondering if they had made a mistake by getting married. However, after a few couples counseling sessions, they learned that they needed to come up with a united front to deal with these blended family issues.

They also came to appreciate just how difficult it is for children to deal with the loss of a parent at the same time that they are adjusting to a new blended family. They soon came up with a compromise that allowed the teenagers to have their privacy at certain times as well as family outings where everyone came together for a good time.

Getting Help in Therapy
Blending family issues can be problematic but, with the assistance of a licensed mental health professional, they can often be resolved.

If you and your partner are struggling with blended family issues that you cannot resolve on your own, it might be beneficial to attend couples counseling to work out these issues and save your relationship.

I am a NYC licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individuals and couples.  

To find out more about me, visit my web site: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.

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