Families come in all forms, and sometimes the way we define our family unit can change over time. This can mean old relationships fall apart and new families are formed. A blended family is one way of describing two families coming together. It’s natural for blended families to come across different challenges as they get used to a new way of living. Counselling can help blended families work through their issues and improve the way members of the family communicate.
What is a blended family?
This is usually where two people come together as a new couple and bring a child or children from previous relationships to make a new family. It’s another way to describe a stepfamily. As with all families, blended families don’t necessarily exist singularly or conventionally. Some new couples may have children of similar ages, whereas others may have children of very different ages. Perhaps one-half of the couple is new to parenting or they go on to have a child together. Whatever the new setup looks like, there are some common highs and lows of living in a blended family.
Other names for blended or step-families include remarried families, bonus families, non-traditional families, and reconstituted families. Many blended families simply prefer to be called ‘families’.
What are the common issues associated with a blended family?
Approaching a new relationship with much excitement and expectation can take a turn in the road when the children fail to see the positives and the parents realise they have different ways of doing things. It can take time for blended families to get used to the new family setup. Often, this involves new family members living together or spending lots of time together. This can result in conflict between family members while new rules are being set and new family decisions are being made.
In her article Step-parenthood, Gillian Marchant (BACP Accred.) talks about how to manage emotions and family dynamics when this happens. She shares how difficult it can be for new couples to parent as part of a blended family due to different parenting approaches and the emotional consequences of trying to bring everyone together.
Emotions such as anger, frustration, resentment, guilt or hatred can fester under the surface. Struggles around differing views about what constitutes good behaviour can add pressure and differing parenting styles may make you feel like you are the right choice for your partner but not for their children. All of this can happen under the pretence of a happy family.
If you’re in a blended family, you may experience many of the loving benefits such as extra support, and a mix of new interests and personalities. Extra family members to bond with can also bring about a sense of togetherness. This doesn’t take away the idea that this situation you find yourself in takes some adjusting. Blended families can come with a batch of communication and relationship issues such as:
- sibling rivalry
- financial stresses
- different parenting styles
- fear of change
- the child rejecting the new partner
- grief after divorce
- changes in rules
- new family traditions
- conflicts in personalities
- dividing time between everyone equally
Although many blended families face similar issues, each family is different and you know your family best. It’s important to take time to understand each family member’s needs and find ways to work through any arising challenges.
Overcoming issues as a blended family
Being in a blended family can be incredibly rewarding when you work to overcome day-to-day challenges. It can feel like a tall order at first, but coming together to resolve any potential issues can result in a happy, well-balanced family unit. If you’re in a blended family, here are some ways to work together as a team.
- Being patient and giving everyone space to settle into the new arrangements can help you all find your feet.
- Showing respect for everyone, regardless of their age, can allow family members to feel valued and appreciated.
- Empathising with each person's set of unique conflicts can help everyone get to know each other’s identity more easily.
- Making new traditions and routines helps build the foundations of a new family unit.
- Talking through any issues or concerns as a family shows support and understanding, allowing everyone to feel heard and emotionally connected.
- Being mindful or taking a deep breath when tensions are getting frayed is a positive move to maintain a sense of harmony.
- Treating all the children equally, especially when it comes to dividing up bedroom space and household chores, allows them to feel safe and at ease when adjusting.
- Prioritising your new relationship can help when it comes to working together and setting boundaries with the children.
- Having fun by doing things together can be a way to let off some steam and create affectionate and loving bonds.
- Agreeing over parenting styles and planning new, transparent house rules with your partner may help everyone feel comfortable with changes to living arrangements.
- Remaining calm and cordial with any ex-partners is the best foot forward to maintain a balanced relationship with your new partner.
It can be difficult to get used to and potentially communicate with ex-partners. Inevitably, conflicts of interest may result in disagreements or heated arguments. You may even struggle with retrospective jealousy, knowing that your current partner may have had a long-term past with their ex. Bringing your pain from a previous relationship can also have negative effects. If you’re struggling to cope with the demands of being in a new relationship, you may find one-to-one support with a counsellor helpful.
Counselling and blended families
Depending on the ages of the children in the blended family and how the couple prefers to work, couples counselling or family counselling can be a positive way to find equilibrium within the varying relationships.
Family counselling could be a way forward to help you and your blended family resolve communication barriers and find a sense of peace. Your family counsellor will gather the information they need about the new family dynamics by asking questions. They will work through this information with the family, inviting certain family members to observe and reflect on the situation - depending on their age, capabilities, and consent. Potential difficulties in counselling sessions include conflict between family members, different natures of certain individuals within the family, and the coordination of getting family members to participate in counselling.
In this video, psychotherapist James Dawe (UKCP Accred.) explains how counselling can support any family issues you may be experiencing.
Sometimes two members of the blended family may work together away from the other family members for one or two sessions as a way to move forward. Not all members have to attend every session; couples counselling or individual counselling may follow. The family can regroup after to talk through feelings and look at making changes. The family counselling sessions aim to establish a healthier way of connecting and communicating.
Couples counselling can be a result of family counselling or as a stand-alone therapy as a way for the couple to get the help they need. Relationship counselling in this context aims to facilitate better communication as a result of bringing two families together.
The role of the counsellor is to help you work together and find resolutions in a safe, non-judgmental, and professional space. They will ask questions to help you reach healthy conclusions rather than giving you the answers. It’s completely expected to feel nervous about opening up with someone you’ve not met before, but it’s good to bear in mind that the couples counsellor is not there to make criticisms or judge you.
Blended families can blend well as long as you all listen to each other with respect and compassion. Bottling up feelings and holding grudges may only result in resentment, anger, and mistrust. When communication is open and compassionate, your blended family can be full of warmth, love, and hope.
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