by Susan G Mathis
Steve and Gayle were up to their eyeballs in frustration and conflict. Once again Steve’s ex had taken him to court, wanting more child support money so she could stay home and enjoy a comfy life. Gayle, however, would have loved to stay home, but she had to work to help balance the budget. Steve’s son seemed to get all the newest gadgets, while Gayle’s son felt more and more frustrated at the seemingly unfair life they had. Something had to give.
Conflict can happen for lots of reasons: if you feel mistreated or misunderstood, if you feel you’ve been treated unjustly or unfairly, when your self-esteem is threatened, or even if one of you is just in a bad mood. Though every couple will deal with disagreements, in a second marriage you often add in conflict with—or over—the children.
Some of the conflict may stem from the residue of a prior marriage, from the pain of a divorce or a death, or from the children not accepting your relationship. Add to that some kind of unexpected trauma or unfair treatment, whether external or internal, and you have a perfect storm.
It’s not impossible to navigate through even the difficult times. Resolving conflict is a skill that can be acquired. Yes, it requires maturity, a positive attitude, a willingness to be open and honest and lots of flexibility. Most of all, it requires determination and reliance on God’s help.
But it can be done, and your marriage can be stronger for it. Though none of us will ever be perfect, we can continually work on our own issues. And with God’s help, our behavior patterns will improve.
When frustrations arise
Picking and choosing your battles is very important in any marriage, but it’s critical in a second marriage. There are simply too many things going, and if you constantly nitpick, you’ll create an atmosphere of ongoing conflict.
Assessing your situation and responding accordingly will help you prioritize what really matters. In the midst of blending a family, many couples find creative ways to make peace in the midst of seeming chaos.
Many remarrying couples find the busyness of blending a family rife with opportunities to get frustrated, angry, upset or even mad. There’s too much to do, and there’s not enough time and energy to get it all done.
But you can still be successful in solving conflict in the midst of it all. And even when you experience those “combustible” moments, God’s grace and forgiveness are available to you.
Money, child support and the ex factor
We all know that finances can be a hot button, especially in these uncertain economic times. So can issues of safety, values, honesty, trust or any number of other things.
But in a second marriage particularly, often money issues are a reality that can cause lots of conflict. The kids’ expenses can affect you, unlike couples without kids, so it’s best to be realistic about those challenges and plan for them accordingly. Fortunately, by being proactive about this important issue, you can avoid conflict resulting from opposing views or differing expectations.
Child support can also be a real frustration. Sometimes it feels like one of the spouses has to work only to send money to the other household, and resentment can set in. Other times, the other household can be living economically or materially better than you simply because he or she is receiving a check from your spouse, and that feels unfair. Though things like this cause short-term conflict between you, realize that ‘it is what it is’ and refuse to let your marriage suffer because of outside forces like these.
In a divorce, the ex, the father or mother of your children, is most often an ever-present reality, and that can cause unforeseen conflict. The complexities of interactions with an ex may be ongoing, but don’t allow them to affect your present marriage and family life.
The parenting rub
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of a second marriage is the kid factor. Though we know that every one of our children is a gift from God, they do add stress, and often, conflict.
There’s often conflict over parenting, especially if you’ve been a single parent and done it alone for a period of time. And when your parenting styles are different, you may have challenges not only with each other but also with the kids feeling that things are unfair or bias. In a blended family, you have to figure out how to make it all work, not only for you as a couple, but also for the kids.
This is a learning process for most second marriage couples. Experts suggest that, in the beginning, it’s best to ease your way into parenting a stepchild. Let the biological parent do the disciplining and encourage the stepparent to be the affirmer, encourager and builder of the relationship—slowly. When multiple step-siblings are in the home, things can get complicated, and it takes even more care.
Though there may be extra challenges in the blending family journey, they don’t have to get the best of you and your marriage. In fact, you can have a strong and thriving marriage, in spite of the combustible moments you might face.
Conflict Resolution Basics
Here are some basics of resolving conflict well:
Check your attitude, making sure that selfishness, anger or stubbornness isn’t controlling you.
Ask for God’s help, especially when dealing with touchy subjects such as sex, money or the kids.
Take ownership of your own emotions and reactions, and analyze the problem to find out if it is, in fact, the actual problem. What’s really going on?
Be sure it’s the right time to talk about the situation, and never argue in public or in front of the kids, especially about something as personal as sex or kid stuff.
After all this, you’re ready to discuss the problem. Be sure to use “I” statements instead of pointing the finger and blaming the other, and, don’t use name calling, explosive words or push each other’s buttons while you’re trying to resolve an issue.
The bottom line, treat one other the way you’d want to be treated! Listen to each other, find a solution together, forgive one other and resolve to learn from the experience. Then celebrate that you’ve overcome yet again—together.
Adapted from The ReMarriage Adventure: Preparing for a Lifetime of Love & Happiness, by Susan and Dale Mathis. Copyright © 2013, all rights reserved.
Susan and Dale Mathis are passionate about helping couples prepare for marriage and for remarriage, since they are a remarried couple themselves. Dale has two master’s degrees in counseling and has worked in counseling and human resources for over 30 years. Susan, the founding editor of Thriving Family magazine, has written prolifically for magazines and newspapers and continues to serve as a consultant, freelance editor and writer, and speaker. For more information about Susan or Dale, visit their website at www.SusanGMathis.com.