Successful Parenting in a Blended Family
Fifty percent of all families are blended families. These kinds of family structures—where one or both spouses bring children from a previous marriage or relationship—can be challenging. Blended families have a higher divorce rate because of particular dynamics present at the first day of the new marriage.
In my counseling, I've seen one particular dynamic lead to a variety of problems: non-biological parenting. This is the relationship between a step-parent and stepchildren.
Biological parents often enter a new marriage with a protective instinct. They may come into the new relationship with emotional damage from their past, and that results in a lack of trust.
They may not trust their new spouse with decisions related to stepchildren.
They may not view the new spouse as an equal when it comes to parenting.
They may think, "They don't love them like I love them."
These attitudes are asking for trouble. In these situations, I've heard one spouse say something like this: "You may not be my spouse the rest of my life, but my children are going to be my children the rest of my life. And if it comes down to a choice, I choose my children."
That's a very dangerous mistake to make in a relationship.
In Genesis 2:24-25, God reveals His laws for marriage. One of these is the law of possession. He says "the two shall become one." Not one-point-three or one-point eight, but ONE. The only way two things can become one is if both husband and wife surrender everything to the relationship.
That means finances, assets, decision-making, and children. Withholding any one of those things—refusing to give it up—becomes an idol. It threatens the marriage relationship.
Because marriage is trust. When you marry somebody, it's imperative that they become co-owners of those children along with you. If you don't trust a person with your children, then you shouldn't marry them.
I do understand that, in the beginning of a relationship, non-biological parents make not have the natural love a biological parent has for his or her child. However, they can love a child by choice. This is the same holy agape love God has for us.
Love by choice is the greatest level of love. It means doing what Jesus would do regardless of emotion or circumstances.
I'm not saying that a non-biological parent's love is better than biological love. Nor am I saying that a non-biological parent should replace the biological parent. But both parents do have to be equal.
While it might be wise at the beginning of a new relationship for the biological parent to enforce discipline—at least until the non-biological parents gains authority— the non-biological parent should still have full rights to that child.
Otherwise, these complicated relationships can drive a wedge between a husband and wife.
Blended families, parent your children together. Follow God's Law of Possession. Make sure the children see you trusting each other and operating as a team.
Learn more in the MarriageToday program:
Blending Families: Parenting and Children
How to Trust Again in a New Marriage
In a blended family, one or both spouses bring children with them from a previous marriage or relationship. Half of all families are blended families, and these relationships feature special dynamics that are present from the beginning.
It's vital to understand these issues. One of the most significant ones is that people tend to enter a remarriage or blended family with lower trust and higher expectations. This is a difficult combination.
Lower trust means having less good will toward a spouse, and more suspicion of motives and actions. This happens when a person enters a new relationship after having had their heart broken.
In their first relationship, the other person was innocent until proven guilty. But in the new marriage, lowered trust means assuming guilt until proven innocent. Why? Because no one wants to get their heart broken again.
Higher expectations result when the failures of someone's past leave them in a place where they refuse to put up with failure from a new spouse. They enter a marriage less forgiving, less gracious, and less welcoming.
Divorce rates are higher in blended families because both spouses may be entering the marriage with low trust and high expectations.
Marriage is trust. You can't marry and mistrust. In marriage, you are entrusting your life, your future, and even your children to another person.
After establishing trust, a couple must disassociate from the past. They need to forgive the wounds and failures of their past relationships and move on to the present. Past difficult experiences often lead to an inner vow.
Inner vows are a type of long-term sin.
When we go through pain, often we make ourselves promises to comfort ourselves. We say, "No man will ever treat me like that again" or "No woman will ever do that to me." Then we go through the rest of our lives protecting ourselves with that vow.
These vows make us unteachable. Inner vows prevent Jesus from being Lord over that area in our lives. Every person makes inner vows when we face emotional pain—but we have to break those vows.
Rather than keep control of that part of our lives for ourselves, we have to give that area to Jesus.
In the process of getting free from the past, a couple also needs to focus on the future by dreaming new dreams together. That's why Karen and I always suggest that couples have a vision retreat.
A husband and wife need to get away and talk about their plans for the future. They need to discuss their desires, their values, even their plans for children.
During this retreat, both of you work through the issues in your past. Talk about them. Pray together about them. Ask God to help you forgive them. Then, determine that you will treat each other as innocent until proven guilty. You can't let the scars of your past become a harsh taskmaster in your marriage.
Submit your marriage and blended family to God. Rather than letting your scarred emotions be the lord of your marriage, make Jesus Christ the Lord of your marriage. He has promised to heal your hearts—and He will.
Learn more in the MarriageToday program:
Blending Families: Trust and Expectations
How to Heal from Prior Relationships
Fifty percent of all families are blended families—a marriage where one or both spouses bring children from a previous marriage or relationship.
Blended families can be incredible. I know many, many successful marriages that began this way. After all, there are a lot of great blended families in the Bible. Even Jesus came from a blended family. But they also include particular dynamics that are present from day one. These can be very challenging.
One of the most significant issues is unresolved feelings toward a past partner.
Blended families begin after a past relationship has ended. It could have been a marriage, a sexual relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a live-in lover. Regardless of the relationship, break-ups are never easy.
Sex creates a powerful bond between two people. Our society trivializes sex, but the Bible tells us there is a joining of souls when a couple becomes "one flesh." Sex connects two people in a deep, powerful way. When you sever that relationship, it's never a clean break. A part of that person comes with you.
Studies tell us that fifty percent of married people who get divorced still harbor feelings for their ex-spouse ten years later. Think about that. A full decade after a relationship ends, half the people still experience powerful feelings toward their ex.
Sometimes those feelings are good. Sometimes they are bad. Either kind can be problematic to a new marriage and a blended family.
Sometimes we look back on relationships and idealize the good things. For instance, a new relationship may be going well, but the first time we encounter a difficulty, we start remembering the good parts of our past relationship. We long for the way it was.
The devil torments us by reminding us of the high points in our past. That's because he does not want us to remember the reason the relationship ended. In these cases, we have to deal with these feelings. We need to thank God for the good memories and then move on. Rather than long for them, we have to let them go.
Other times we may look back on past relationships and feel bitterness and anger. Maybe we were hurt deeply by that break-up. Or maybe the devil is perverting or poisoning our memories. Regardless of what happened, many people enter a new relationship burdened with anger about the old relationship.
They focus on the bad things. When this happens, the new spouse bears the brunt of the pain. This happened early in my marriage. I had emotional scars from my past and an angry, arrogant disposition. Karen got the worst of it.
Unforgiveness is an invisible umbilical cord that connects us to our past, and it was feeding me bitterness. I had to sever it for the sake of my marriage.
I had to learn to take captive the painful thoughts from my past. With God's help, I took the steps toward forgiving those who had hurt me.
In a blended family, good and bad feelings from past relationships can be unhealthy. For your new marriage to thrive, you need to let old feelings go.
Thank God for the good in your past. Ask Him to help you forgive the bad in your past. And then determine to live in the present.
Learn more in the MarriageToday program:
Blending Families: Prior Relationships
4 Keys to Dating and Finding the Right One
One question I get asked fairly often—and it's usually from married couples hoping to instill good values in their children—is "What's the right way to date?" They're wanting to give their children solid biblical advice about dating.
But the Bible doesn't say one specific word about dating, because people didn't date back then like we date today. However, Scripture does have strong words that can apply to today's dating culture:
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!" (1 Cor. 6:15).
"Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body." (1 Cor. 6:18)
"You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies." (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
In today's culture, young people tend to have relationship after relationship. They "date around." They engage in casual hook-ups. Rather than honoring God with their bodies, they see sex as inconsequential.
What they don't understand is that God created sex to be consequential. For one thing, He created sex for procreation. But not just that. God gave us intimacy because it's part of the process by which we become one with another person.
Sex creates a deep connection between people. When you have a sexual relationship with someone, it creates a powerful, intimate bond. When you break up with that person, part of that person comes with you. Part of you goes away. It hurts. That's why sex can be so damaging before (and outside of) marriage.
That leads to a few concepts I often teach about dating:
Intentional dating approaches it with the idea that you're preparing for marriage. It is the opposite of recreational dating, which is dating for fun or for sexual purposes. If a romantic couple discovers one of them doesn't have the intention of getting married someday, then they end the relationship.
Make a decision to set parameters on physical affection. For instance, "We're going to kiss and hold hands, but we're not going to lie down together." These kinds of boundaries keep couples from ending up in compromising positions.
Date by faith, not by fear.
Acting on fear makes your fears come true. People who act promiscuously because they're worried about finding a spouse and getting married are hurting themselves—and their future marriage. Instead, put faith in God's Word and rely on God to bring you the right person.
Date to explore, not to impress. Rather than worrying about physical attraction, go deep. Engage in meaningful conversations. Be honest and authentic. You don't want to get married only to discover that the two of you have hurtful issues in your past, or different ideas about raising children.
Dating God's way honors parents, families, and the two people involved. By following His standards on sex and dating intentionally, a couple can begin their marriage on a strong foundation without any regrets.
Learn more about dating and marriage in the MarriageToday program:
How to Find the Right One
4 Reasons Marriage Still Works
People have become fearful of marriage. I hear a question from individuals all the time: Does marriage still work anymore?
The answer is YES. Absolutely it does. You have a one hundred percent chance of success in marriage because God created marriage, and He never makes anything to fail. He made us for marriage.
The reasons relationships fail is because we don't follow God's rules for marriage. God revealed these laws in Genesis 2:24-25.
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
Laws create order, and if you follow them, your marriage can remain safe. Here are the four laws of marriage:
First, the Law of Priority.
This is expressed in the phrase "a man shall leave his father and mother." In terms of priority, the marriage has to be placed before all other relationships. Don't give priority to your parents, children, work, or hobbies.
When Karen and I first married, I golfed all the time and it almost destroyed our relationship. Your marriage has to come first.
Second, the Law of Pursuit.
This comes from the phrase "…and cleave unto his wife." The word cleave sounds foreign in English, but in the original language it means to pursue with all your energy. Deuteronomy commands us to cleave unto the Lord.
Are you actively pursuing your spouse? Marriage is work. It requires energy. Many couples apply no energy to their relationship but expect their marriage to thrive. That won't happen unless they pursue each other.
Third, the Law of Possession.
Marriage is about sharing everything, as revealed in "the two shall become one flesh." When you get married, you share everything with your spouse, from your bank account and furniture to important things like decision-making.
A dominant marriage, in which one spouse makes all the decisions and controls everything, always brings trouble. Selfish people cannot succeed in marriage because selfish people refuse to share. They won't cooperate. Ignoring the Law of Possession can wreck your relationship.
Fourth, the Law of Purity.
"They were both naked…and were unashamed." Adam and Eve were completely exposed to each other physically. They were also exposed mentally and emotionally until sin took that intimacy away. It forced them into hiding from each other.
A healthy marriage requires intimacy without fear. If we are careful in how we behave and take responsibility for our issues, this kind of relationship is possible. But if we hurt each other and don't take responsibility, we become sensitive. We refuse to open our hearts to each other.
Does marriage even work anymore? Yes, it does. But only when we put Jesus first and when we obey the laws of God. That makes it the most secure relationship on earth—but we have to do it God's way.