Having a blended family is often a difficult and complicated journey that is high in conflict situations. However, it is becoming a more common occurrence. A blended family happens when two people marry and one or both of them have children from a previous relationship or marriage. The family will need to form a unit; however, this often takes a long time and the transition is not easy. There are many articles that can be read that looks at how the children are affected; this will be addressed in Part 2. This article focuses on the couple themselves – after all the couple will be the people that pull the blended family together.

The couple will experience a variety of difficulties themselves and need to be able to overcome these difficulties to provide a strong container for their blended family. This is not small task and can often feel overwhelming. The key is to remind each other why you got married in the first place – the dream of your big happy family. This dream will make the work worthwhile.

A big difficulty that a blended family couple faces is the ‘Ex’. In a relationship without children once you leave you don’t have to have anything to do with your ex and neither will your new partner. However, when you have a child with your ex there will always be contact with them and your new partner will have to have contact with them as well. This can seem like a battle field. Arguments, jealousy, anger, hurt, manipulation and conflict are often linked with this triangular relationship. Each situation is different; however, a good idea is to set boundaries for the interactions. Everyone should understand what they can and cannot do. Everyone should be able to feel comfortable in their position as a co-parent and the child’s well-being should be the focus of these interactions. This is not an easy task and will not always be resolved. If this is the case the important part is for the couple to be on the same page and support each other in these interactions.

Co-parenting presents another difficulty in a blended family. Both partners may come into the relationship with different ideas on parenting. Their children are also used to their specific style of parenting. Discipline, expectations, style of parenting are all concerns that can cause serious arguments between the couple. These arguments affect the couple and the children. A good idea is to sit and draw up a parenting plan. This means the couple will need to understand each other’s views and opinions; once this happens an agreed upon plan can be drawn up. This plan should take into consideration types of punishments, warning systems, expectations and each parent’s authority. With this plan in place the couple will present a united front. This united front can be discussed and explained to the children. Communication between the couple will be vital to make sure they are always on the same page.

With a blended family the couple often finds themselves juggling many different schedules and this results in very little ‘quality couple time’. Without this time together a couple cannot grow in their own relationship. Date nights, weekends away, couple activities should not be forgotten – even if you have to add it to the schedule to make it happen; it needs to happen!

Often second marriages don’t have the same feeling of magic, romance and excitement and other people treat the occasion with less excitement. This can take away some of the experience of being married and in love. Try to make a fuss of your relationship. Make your anniversary a big deal; flirt with each other; make those romantic gestures. This relationship is special; make sure you both treat it so.

Following this advice won’t make your blended family’s transition conflict free; but it will help guide you through the rocky road towards a smoother path. The best thing for a couple to do is always communicate and empathise with each other. If the couple is strong and empathetic there will be more containment for the whole family.

By Amy Pieterse