Healing From Infidelity

Life certainly has its challenges, but little compares to the monumental task of healing from infidelity. As a marriage therapist for two decades, I’ve heard countless clients confess that the discovery of an affair was the lowest, darkest moment of their entire lives. And because affairs shatter trust, many seriously contemplate ending their marriages in divorce after infidelity occurs.

However, it’s important to know that, no matter how bleak things might seem, it’s possible to revitalize a marriage wounded by infidelity. It’s not easy- there are no quick-fix, one-size-fits-all solutions to save a marriage from divorce- but years of experience has taught me that there are definite patterns to what people in loving relationships do to bring their marriages back from the brink of disaster. Read the rest of this entry »

Managing the Fires of Conflict in a Marriage

“The amount of conflict in a marriage only determines the speed at which the marriage is moving toward greatness or toward destruction.  If you want to sit still in your marriage, rule out all conflict.  If you want your marriage to crash and burn, let the conflict rage but refuse to learn the skills necessary for managing it.  Well-managed conflict is like a stairway that can lead you to higher and higher levels of marital greatness.”

Neil Clark Warren [1]

“A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!  It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire.  A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that.”

The Bible, James 3:5-6a (The Message)

“You Could Learn a Lot From a Forest Fire” (Smokey the Bear)

One of my favorite memories as a child was a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.  I was fascinated by the vast blend of wilderness, mountains, and hot water geysers.  But when in 1997 I had the opportunity to take my own children to see Yellowstone, it didn’t look quite the same.  Nearly one-third of the park lay burnt from several small forest fires that, in 1988, merged into five large complex fires claiming a full 793,000 acres of trees.  Battling the fire required 25,000 firefighters, as many as 9000 at one time, and cost US tax payers $120 million.  But how did the fires start and why did they burn out of control?  After all, wildfires are common in Yellowstone (an average of 24 fires is ignited by lightening alone) but rarely burn as much as 100 acres—combined.  So what were the circumstances that lead to a significant portion of the park burning in 1988?  And more importantly, since the most distinguishable difference between high-satisfaction couple relationships in stepfamilies and low-quality relationships is their ability to resolve their differences, what lessons can you learn about managing the fires of marital conflict from the fires of nature? [2]

When Drought Leads to Wildfire

All relationships go through periods of drought.  But severe drought sets up a relationship for the fires of conflict.  Despite the fact that Yellowstone National Park experienced wetter-than average summers from 1982-1987 and relatively low fire activity, an overall 10-year pattern of dryness contributed to a significant build-up of forest debris.  This would later prove tragic.  During the spring of 1988 Yellowstone had above average rainfall.  But by June, the park again experienced a severe drought and the summer months turned out to be the driest in the park’s recorded history.  Prior to 1988 Yellowstone’s wildland fire management plan followed the generally accepted wisdom of allowing naturally-ignited fires to put themselves out, which they did quite naturally once the fallen debris in the immediate area had burned.  But months of drought combined with a decade of build-up, left the park full of debris and ripe for wildfire.  In July of 1988 the National Park Service decided to suppress all fires.  But the decision came too late.  Within a week, small fires—that under normal circumstances would have been quite manageable—burst out of control and eventually encompassed more than 99,000 acres of God’s wondrous creation [3].

Sounds like a lot of marriages.  Investing in marriage means keeping it “wet” with the refreshing waters of fun, time, and consideration (see chapter six on the importance of fun in marriage).  Every marriage begins with such efforts and may even have periods of “higher-than normal rainfall”.  But stop investing in your marriage and you’ll begin to build up debris that is capable of taking a natural occurring fire—that would normally run it’s course and dissipate—and turn it into a wildfire than can destroy a relationship.

Healthy stepcouples have conflict, but they make having fun and romance a strategic part of their conflict management plan.  Enjoying each other makes times of conflict easier to handle because your attitude toward your partner and the problem is one of collaboration.  Having a loving relationship makes you more willing to find ways of resolving conflict.  But a relationship plagued by months and years of debris will find that small fires can easily rage out of control.

Conflict—A Useful Burn

God’s design to care for forests includes occasional burns that decrease the level of debris.  If ecologists had understood this earlier the Yellowstone wildfire of 1988 might have been prevented.  The conditions leading up to that destructive fire really began in the 1700’s when early explorers, who believed that fire suppression was good stewardship, put out all blazes as quickly as possible.  Throughout the 20th century, park managers continued to view fire as a destructive force, one to be mastered and controlled.  But by the 1940’s, ecologists began to realize that fire was a primary agent of change in many ecosystems.  In other words, they realized it might be useful and healthy for the forest.  In the 1950s and 1960s, national parks begin to experiment with controlled burns.  Later in the 1970s, fire management plans allowed lightening-caused fires to burn and reduce fuel accumulations of unwanted debris.

Healthy marriages are comprised of couples who understand that the fires of conflict—managed in a constructive manner—are actually useful to the marriage.  They understand what years of research has confirmed: conflict helps to weed-out the unhealthy or weak aspects of marriage and replace them with a stronger marital alliance and growing sense of security [4].  By contrast, couples who automatically suppress conflict—as did the early explorers of America’s forests—discover they inadvertently build up unhealthy, decaying debris in their marriage.  And that, in turn, proves deadly later on when a build-up of resentment proves unmanageable.  Indeed, the number one predictor of divorce is a couple who habitually avoids conflict [5].

Conflict in your marriage must be managed, but not completely suppressed.  When handled with cooperation, conflict can actually lead to greater levels of intimacy which was clearly demonstrated in our research.  Couples in high-quality relationships resolve their differences, demonstrate important listening and understanding skills, and have unity in how they tackle disagreements.  In stark contrast, unhappy and dissatisfied couples stock pile the debries in their relationship because they avoid issues, invalidate one another concerns, don’t feel heard, turn small problems into big ones, and can’t even agree on how to disagree.

We should add here that a related strength we found in high-quality couple relationships, called couple flexibility, contributes to the ability to resolve conflict.  Flexible couples demonstrate creativity in problem solving, compromise as they deal with each other, and are adaptable, able to change when the situation calls for it.  This feeds the couple’s ability to find solutions to the complex stepfamily problems that arise.

A woman named Brenda wrote us about her stepfamily of four years; she was about to give up.  She had two “ours” babies, ages 1 and 3, and was stepmother to a 11 year-old stepson, Josh, who was spoiled by his mother and resentful of his stepmother.  Brenda wrote about all the influences from Josh’s home and her frustration with not having much control.  She and her husband disagreed on how to “play their game” and found themselves divided frequently.  We encouraged Brenda and her husband to focus on what they could control and to very intentionally sprinkle their relationship with fun and energy over the next few months.  We also talked about searching for compromise and creative solutions to their dilemmas but most of all, we encouraged Brenda personally to find a way to adapt to her circumstances and accept what she couldn’t control.  It worked.  Six months later Brenda wrote us again noting that she had found a way to “let go of control” regarding Josh and his mother.  This had empowered her to be more cooperative with her husband when they discussed what they could control.  The net result was a more flexible Brenda and a more collaborative marriage.

Prescribed Fires—Utilizing Controlled Burns

In their book Fighting For Your Marriage, authors Howard Markman, Scott Stanley, and Susan Bloomberg suggest that couples should have regular “business meetings” to proactively discuss issues or problems in their marriage.  This is what we might call a “controlled burn.”

One of the positive outcomes of the 1988 Yellowstone forest tragedy was a change in fire management policy and greater awareness of potential fire activity throughout America’s national parks.  A number of policies were modified, but one significant change opened the door for a more aggressive controlled burns program in the nation’s forests and parks.  The unique vegetation in Yellowstone exempted the park from this change, but many forests and national parks increased the number of intentionally set fires on a regular basis to decrease hazardous fire-fuel debris.  Interestingly enough, parks implementing this strategy have discovered increased fire fighter safety, greater structural control when a wildfire does break out, and a greater confidence that natural burns won’t explode out of control.

We highly recommend that you, too, have controlled burns in your marriage.  Sitting down weekly (or some other regular basis) to proactively discuss family decisions, parenting dilemmas, financial concerns, and the status of your stepfamily’s growth is a healthy way of reducing the potential of hazardous fires.  In addition, we believe doing so will increase “fire fighter” safety in your marriage (protecting you from becoming trapped by wildfire) and increase confidence in your ability to lead and manage your stepfamily.

Managing the fires of conflict and proactively igniting controlled burns requires skill.  It also requires knowledge of what creates the fire or conflict in the first place.

Avoiding the Fire Triangle

Any good fire fighter knows that it takes three things for fire to keep burning: heat, fuel, oxygen.  Remove any of the three and the fire goes out.  In couple conflict heat describes an issue over which the couple disagrees; fuel is the process of how the couple interacts; and oxygen is the negative feelings each person feels that drives how they respond to the other.  Let’s examine each of these.

Heat. Every couple has disagreements.  But when disagreements escalate into “issues” there is heat.  Ned, for example, loved to buy flowers for his wife, Amy.  He enjoyed surprising her with romance and never thought twice about the money.  In fact, he’d always heard that all women love flowers and therefore assumed that money was no object when showering his wife with gifts.  That’s why he couldn’t understand why his wife complained every so often.  She appreciated his thoughtfulness, but her frugal nature couldn’t help but wonder about all the things they could do with the money he spent on flowers.  Obviously, Ned and Amy had differing values about money that brought about heat in their relationship.  Ned valued romancing his wife; Amy valued saving for family needs.  They had argued about this before, but at this point, no one was listening.  And, there was more.

Fuel. Even though Amy appreciated Ned’s thoughtfulness, the way she responded to him didn’t communicate that at all.  Once after being presented with a dozen roses she immediately pointed her finger at Ned and “scolded” him with her eyes.  Ned, feeling unappreciated and confused, jabbed back accusing her of being “too tight” with money.  As frustrations escalated, and each positioned to “make their point heard,” the two found themselves arguing over a multitude of issues that had nothing to do with the issue at hand.  But there was another element of this fire triangle that lay beneath the surface.

Oxygen. Below each of Ned and Amy’s anger Ned’s frustration and anger were deeper, more menacing emotions.  Ned felt hurt by Amy’s rejection of his generous gifts and he feared that ultimately she didn’t really like him.  And boy was that a familiar feeling.  During his first marriage, Ned’s former wife frequently made her disapproval of Ned known.  As the marriage deteriorated, she eventually drifted in her commitment and ultimately left the marriage.  This left an indelible mark on Ned’s heart and created what in I called in my first book The Smart Stepfamily The Ghost of Marriage Past.  These ghosts are deep bruises on a person’s heart that whenever bumped resurrect overwhelming emotions and often relationally destructive behaviors.  Ned’s ghost reminded him of how awful rejection is and led him to fear another divorce.  The only solution—according to the ghost—was to first shower his wife with gifts so that she would feel cherished and return his love.  When that didn’t work and Amy complained, the ghost activated Ned’s fears leading him to “return fire,” hurting her with criticism as he had been hurt.  The ghost somehow convinced him that arguing with someone who rejects you can somehow make them accept you (and there’s not much chance of that happening).  In addition, blaming her for being too tight with money allowed Ned to distance himself from Amy protecting him from her seeming rejection.  “If she can’t reach me, then I can’t be hurt again,” Ned used to think to himself.  Ironically, the oxygen Ned was breathing led him to be angry, reactive, fearful, and distancing—all of which were actually bringing about the very rejection he feared.

Putting Out the Fire

In order to stop the fires of conflict from raging in their marriage, Ned and Amy must squelch part of the fire triangle of heat, fuel, and oxygen.  Ned, for example, might become a “ghost buster,” coming to terms with the difficult bruises from his past that lead him to be fearful and then reactive to Amy’s value about money.  Amy could recognize that when she “scolded” Ned with her eyes or tone of voice, it made him feel very small and child-like.  Doing so made it very unlikely that Ned would appreciate her need to save money and more likely that she would feel ignored.  And both of them could stand to learn a process of resolving conflict that would help them manage the negative emotions that arise from time to time in every couple’s relationship.  Then, and only then, will ghosts be put to rest and intimacy begin to grow.

Marriage That Lasts A Lifetime

The engagement parties, the wedding showers, the big day itself, and the honeymoon have all come and gone. They were wonderful, the memories are still fresh, and you want to keep the delight alive as long as you can.

You’ve heard that relationships change over time, that challenges will present themselves, and that the “spark” won’t last forever. Part of you knows all that is true. But you are determined to not let that happen. Here’s a recipe for how you can keep your relationship glowing in the first few years of marriage—and beyond.

Commit to yourselves that you will never take your relationship for granted. It’s all too easy in the hurly-burly of everyday life, to get caught up in the externals of life such as work, household chores, television, and the internet. Even family and friends can draw attention away from your spouse.

Marriage entails making adjustments, and changing ingrained patterns of behavior can be challenging. A lot of the challenge is about finding the right balance: the balance between together time and alone time, between couple time and time with family and friends, between work and play, between fun time and down time. Finding the right balance often involves setting boundaries, establishing priorities, and making commitments that will increase the odds that certain things actually happen.

You may be wondering: Does this leave any room for spontaneity, or do we have to so regiment our married life together that all the fun gets squeezed out of it? There’s a challenge there, too: over-regimenting one’s life can be as non-nurturing of your relationship as taking an approach that is too laid back and unstructured.

So here are some concrete steps that will keep your relationship vibrant.

First, commit to scheduling a minimum of fifteen to twenty minutes each day where you sit down with one another just to touch base. A wonderful way to begin this daily check-in time is to share a ‘partner appreciation’ with each other. A ‘partner appreciation’ is something you like or admire about your spouse, or something that you appreciate that he or she did. Then you can share how your day went, how you’re feeling at the moment, or small points that you’d like to catch up on. However, this is not a time for complaints or big issues. Keep it positive.

Second, engage in mutual physical touch each day. This may sound like a no-brainer and the last thing that you would ever have to think about. “We touch one another all the time!” you might be saying to yourself. Over time, however, anything that initially may have been fresh and spontaneous runs the risk of becoming overly familiar and even routine. At that point you may start paying less attention to one another’s physical needs, and what had once seemed so natural and spontaneous begins to fall by the wayside. The antidote is to bring active awareness to engaging each other in physical touch, so that it remains fresh in the moment.Third, do something fun at least once each week. Yes, you probably are having lots of fun most of the time at this point in your marriage. But beware of the gradual creep of those external pressures such as work, friends, family, or volunteer commitments that can begin to push having fun into the background.

Third, structure into your schedule a weekly dialogue time where you sit down together for an extended conversation about a significant issue, a potential or real problem area, or even ways to enhance your relationship. The key to a successful dialogue is to follow a few simple guidelines:

Only one person talks at a time, and the other person does not interrupt. The person who is talking shares his or her feelings, concerns and desires regarding the issue at hand.
The other person tunes in empathically, listens intently, then verbally acknowledges what the other person has shared. This is to be done without adding any commentary from your own point of view, but do try to “read between the lines” to identify what is implied in what your partner has shared.

Repeat, perhaps several times, with each person remaining in the same role. Change roles so that the other person has a chance to express his or her feelings, concerns, and desires about the issue at hand. It is helpful for the new person expressing to begin by saying what makes sense to you about what your partner has shared. The partner’s job now is to tune in empathically, listen intently, and verbally acknowledge what the other person has shared. Repeat, and go back and forth as long as necessary until both of you feel well understood. When appropriate, aim to come up with a solution that leaves both of you feeling that your concerns and desires have been taken into account, creating a win-win solution. The “secret” here is to commit yourselves to meeting your spouse’s needs as much your own.

This leads to one final recommendation: If you have not already done so, attend a marriage education seminar in order to learn how to communicate and dialogue more effectively. This in turn will enable you to deal with the inevitable issues that come up in any marriage in a manner that minimizes hurt feelings and disappointment and maximizes the satisfaction of being able to deal with issues in a constructive and respectful manner.

Repeat liberally every few years and reap the rewards of a relationship that renews itself through a mutual commitment to enhancing your relationship.

Reprinted from “First Years and Forever e-Newsletter for married couples” (Nov. 2007, Vol. 6 Issue 8 ) with permission of Cana Conference of Chicago www.familyministries.org.

Marriage Myths

Myths about marriage often get perpetuated, leading many to make unwise decisions based on faulty information. In reviewing the latest empirical research on marriage in an article in the  American Journal of Family Therapy, I was a bit surprised by some of the findings. See for yourself how “with it” you are regarding marriage by taking this marriage myths quiz. It’s good to know the facts!
True or false: Children are better off with divorced parents than with parents who are unhappily married.

False. The sad reality is that the effects of divorce are pervasive and long-lasting for children. A recent book “Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce” by Elizabeth Marquardt thoroughly illustrates the challenges children of divorce face. Children of divorce experience greater challenges in maintaining their marriages and have an increased risk of divorce.

Even in unhappy marriages parents are able to provide children with benefits that divorced parents cannot, such as greater economic standing, stronger family bonds, stronger connections with the community, more available time for parent-child interaction and better overall emotional health. This is by no means a suggestion that unhappy couples simply stay married, but it is a suggestion that unhappy couples get help and do what is necessary to turn the tide in their marriages.

True or false: Married people have more sex.

True. While singles may talk more about their sexual escapades than married individuals, it’s just talk. Married people have sex more often than singles. I’m sure there are many married people out there surprised by this one, but the facts are that it’s still better being married.

True or false: Single people have more satisfying sex than married couples.

False. Not only do married people make love more often than their single counterparts, but they also have more physically and emotionally satisfying sexual relationships. Considering the multidimensional nature of truly fulfilling sexual intimacy (mental, emotional, spiritual and physical), it comes as no surprise that the best sex is married sex.

True or false: Having children usually decreases marital satisfaction for both partners.

True. Unfortunately, having a child generally decreases marital satisfaction for both partners. It certainly takes some selflessness, maturity and strength to adjust to the changes and challenges that accompany the arrival of a child.

This is when some of the real work of marriage begins, as couples must stretch to strengthen the marital relationship and pull together despite the added stress and responsibilities of parenthood. While some may use this as justification for avoiding parenthood, it seems that God sees marriage and parenting as two of his greatest tools for smoothing off our rough edges and helping us to become more like him.

True or false: If divorced parents put forth positive attitudes about relationships, their children are no more likely to divorce than children of married parents.

False. Children who experience divorce consistently show more negative attitudes toward marriage than their peers regardless of parental attempts to communicate more positive attitudes. Children of divorce have an increased risk of divorce in their own marriages.

One thing children of divorce can do to better prepare themselves for success in marriage is to get into individual counseling to work through any issues surrounding trust and the vulnerability needed to form healthy intimate relationships. They also might seek out marriage education, get a significant amount of premarital counseling with their fiance(e) to work through any issues before marriage, and then continue to seek education and professional assistance as issues inevitably arise within marriage.

True or false: Cohabitation before marriage decreases the chance of divorce.

False. This myth is so widespread that many who have some fears about marriage unwisely believe they are taking precautions by cohabiting first. Little do they realize they are increasing their chances of divorce. Those who live together before marriage get divorced more often than those who do not.

Whether this fact reveals the different values or commitment level of those who cohabit vs. those who don’t, or speaks to the experience of cohabiting itself as a factor that weakens the relationship, the research is not clear. The key point to know is that cohabiting does not increase your chances of relationship success in marriage.

True or false: The majority of couples who divorce are low-conflict couples.

True. Less than a third of couples who divorce are those who would be considered high-conflict couples. Studies have shown that a variety of marital problems lead to divorce, with infidelity, drug use and foolish spending habits being some of the strongest predictors of divorce. The issue of divorce and conflict in marriage is not whether the couple has conflict, but how couples resolve conflict that matters most.

True or false: The quality of a married couple’s sex life is the single best statistical predictor of overall marital satisfaction.

False. Overall the quality of a couples’ friendship is more essential to marital satisfaction than the quality of their sex life. In a study comparing overall marital satisfaction with other variables, the couple’s sex life ranked fourth. First was affective (emotional) and problem-solving communication. Second was having common interests, and third was based on the amount and quality of leisure time a couple spends together.

How did you do in this marriage myths quiz? Hopefully you learned a few things, and will be better prepared to impart the truth about marriage.

Information was gathered from the following article:
Caldwell, B., & Woolley, S. (2008). Marriage and family therapists’ endorsement of myths about marriage. American Journal of Family Therapy, 36(5), 367-387. Available through the Academic Search Premier Research Databases.
All original research references are available in the article.

Laura M. Brotherson is a marriage and family life educator, and the author of the book “And They Were Not Ashamed – Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment.” Readers can contact her through her Web site,www.StrengtheningMarriage.com.

Healthy Boundaries: New Partners and Old Ones

Almost three out of four remarriages fail. One of the most common reasons for failure is the lack of healthy boundaries in the remarriage. We see this issue in a majority of the couples we work with. The emotional connection to the former spouse (whether due to death or divorce) can easily sabotage the remarriage. It is possible to demonstrate agape, God’s unconditional love, for the former spouse without remaining emotionally attached. Each spouse in a remarriage must demonstrate their allegiance to one another first, “forsaking all others”, including former spouses. This does not mean to cease communication or to be unkind, as this relationship can be a connection opportunity to glorify God.

In Genesis 21, Abraham sent Hagar and his son, Ishmael, away into the wilderness, at the demand of his wife, Sarah. This is the second time in scripture, that there was conflict between Sarah and Hagar, her maidservant. She had given Hagar to Abraham to conceive a child because she was barren. Though it grieved Abraham to send away his son, he did so out of self-denial and obedience to the Lord, who had told him to honor Sarah’s request. Abraham obeyed and the Lord still blessed Ishmael and made a great nation through him.
One of the principles illustrated here is deny self, be a servant, and obey God through putting the marriage relationship first, before all other earthly relationships, including your own children, just as Abraham did. Abraham set healthy boundaries in obedience to the Lord, denying his own grief to serve his wife, Sarah, and put their marriage relationship first, above his relationship with Hagar and his son, Ishmael. Notice he did not treat them unkindly. The Bible says Abraham was distressed “greatly because it concerned his son”. He provided for them by giving them bread and water, showing his compassionate care for them.

Examine your relationship with your ex-spouse and answer the following questions. Discuss this with your mate.

  1. Are you worried more about what your ex-spouse thinks than your current spouse?
  2. Are you spending more time, money and/or emotions on your ex-spouse than on your husband or wife?
  3. Do you set aside plans you have with your mate, to readjust to your former mate’s requests?
  4. Do you engage in lengthy conversations by phone, email or in person with your ex-spouse, talking about issues that are not related to parenting?
  5. Have you and your mate had discussions, arguments or disagreements about the amount of time, money or emotions you spend on your former spouse?

If you answered “yes” to one or more questions, though you may be legally divorced from your ex-spouse, you may still be emotionally married to him/her. This can result from unresolved feelings such as fear or guilt which can allow you to be controlled by manipulation .You will need to set healthy, firm boundaries in order to demonstrate allegiance to and create oneness with your mate. This is VITAL and time is critical. Begin the process now, by discussing the issue with your mate and praying together for some creative workable solutions. The more you involve your mate in the process, the greater the level of trust and intimacy that will develop between the two of you. If together you are unable to create solutions, it may be necessary to seek professional Christian counsel for guidance. If so, choose a pastor and/or counselor who is skilled in counseling remarried couples.

For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:5-6 NIV

“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 NIV

“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” Amos 3:3

© Don and Kathy Coryell, February 2007, www.creativeconnectionsministry.com.

Use with permission.  All rights reserved.

The Parental Unity Rules

What?  You didn’t know there were any rules for maintaining parental unity.  Well there are!  And they are important!  You were never meant to parent alone.  That’s why God gave families two parents, instead of one.  But a divided parenting team will falter frequently.

These rules will help you work together and keep you on the same side as a parental team.  Remember, united you stand, divided you fall.

·         Rule #1:  Be proactive. Before situations arise, try to talk about and anticipate boundary setting, expectations for behavior, limits you will enforce, your preferred modes of punishment, and the values you want to teach your children.  Couples who get blind-sided by situations inadvertently find themselves on opposites more often than those who get out in front of parenting matters.  You can’t anticipate everything, but being proactive will reduce the size of your blind-spots.

·         Rule #2:  When in doubt, call a parental “pow-wow.” At my house (Ron), our children will occasionally hear the words, “I don’t know.  I’ll get back to you on that.”  My wife and I then have what we call a “pow-wow” or meeting to discuss our decision or how we will handle a situation.  This is not a statement of incapability.  You may have functioned quite well for many years as a single dad and are quite capable of making decisions and moving on with life.  This isn’t about that.  It’s about finding unity.  Even if it’s inconvenient, go the extra mile to ensure shared agreement in parenting matters.  You won’t regret it.

If your children object saying, “You never had to ask anyone before” don’t back away from the process.  “That’s true.  Before I married your stepmother I didn’t have to consider anyone else.  But she’s my wife and I need to include her in this.  Now don’t ask again.  I’ll get back to you once we’ve talked.”


Rule #3:  If you don’t appreciate how something was handled by the stepparent, call a private pow-wow to discuss it. Biological parents, the biggest mistake you can make in this situation is commenting negatively about your spouse in front of the kids or reversing their decision behind their back.  Either of those responses under cuts his/her authority and power (which is already a delicate matter to begin with).  Instead, first listen to their explanation (if you’ve heard from the children already, they may not have filled in all the details!).  If you still wish the situation were handled differently, acknowledge their good intentions: “I appreciate that you were trying to teach Rebecca a lesson.  I can see what you were trying to accomplish.”  Then, calmly share your thoughts about the situation.  This isn’t a competition.  It’s about finding a shared position you can both support.  Finally, negotiate what will happen “next time.”

·         Rule #4:  Communicate major changes in rules or expectations side-by-side. Standing as a united front communicates solidarity.  Suppose one of your pow-wows has resulted in a rule change.  If you are still in the early years of your family it’s likely best that the biological parent take the lead in sharing the change with your spouse (stepparent) standing right beside you.  The stepparent can certainly add to the conversation but you want your stance to clearly communicate your agreement with the change.

“Alright gang, I know for many years I’ve not required you to help with cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, but were going to make some changes.  From now on, if you don’t help prepare the meal plan to stay until the dishes are washed or put away and the counters are clean.  I know this is a big change so we’re going to give you some graceful reminders over the next few days, but plan on learning the new system.”

If your children toss a guilt-trip objection your way saying, “You’re only making this change because he/she [the stepparent] wants you to,” stand your ground.  “You are a smart kid.  Yep, she initiated this discussion, but we wouldn’t be making the change unless I agreed to it.  Now let’s get on with it.”

Lose the Mommy Guilt: How Children Benefit When Mom Works

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, in the United States today, more than half of all mothers with young children work. Working mothers have become the rule, rather than the exception yet ask around any office and you’ll find that guilt is the number one emotion many working moms struggle with. Guilt that they missed their baby take his first step, that they can’t be room mother at school or that they’re not there when the kids get off the school bus.

Part of the problem is societal; for decades working mothers have been blamed for the neglect of their children, the breakdown of the family. But study after study has proven that kids of working moms are happy, healthy and thriving. I say it’s time for working moms to lose the guilt once and for all.

Mommy Guilt is Normal, but Useless

In today’s bleak economy, even more mothers are working full-time, with longer hours, or taking second jobs just to make ends meet. For many women, working isn’t a choice, it’s an economic reality and guilt becomes just one more pressure on already overburdened women.

For other women, their career is an integral part of who they are. For them, it’s hard to imagine life as a stay-at-home mom. But the stresses of managing childcare and managing the household, on top of work responsibilities, can add to the sense of overwhelm many working mothers feel.

Just this morning, a co-worker’s eyes welled up with tears in my cube as she told me about how she had just fired her nanny after not showing up for work multiple times and the new one showed up an hour late on her first day. What my co-worker wants is to simply be able to concentrate on work while at her job and focus on the family when at home, and not feel torn no matter where she is or what she’s doing.

Here’s the good news: losing the guilt will make you a better worker and a better mother.

Day Care Isn’t Damaging

The latest studies show working women and their children are doing just fine. A 2005 Texas University Study found no difference in development between children of working and stay-at-home moms. A better predictor of how a child will do is their home environment and household income. It should be reassuring to know that the paycheck Mom brings home is making a big difference in everyone’s life. And remember that it’s more important to focus on what’s going on at home when you’re there, than when you’re not.

Dads are Doing More

Working moms would be wise to take a cue from working dads. Guilt isn’t a daily emotion for most of them, and instead they’re proud of the time they do spend with their kids.

According to a study by the Families and Work Institute, Gen X fathers spend an hour more a day with their kids than fathers did 25 years ago. Today’s dads are taking on more of the parenting duties — and kids are better for it even if their clothes don’t always match.

If Mom’s Happy Everybody’s Happy

Many women get great satisfaction from their jobs. Despite the pangs of guilt they may feel, statistics show working women are healthier and less depressed than nonworking moms. Moms who enjoy their work also set a good example for their children, modeling how to handle a busy, successful career.

Isn’t it time to focus on making the most of the time you have at work and at home?

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