By Natalie Nichols Gillespie
Taken from The Stepfamily Survival Guide. Used with permission.
Dear Been There, Done That,
Helppppp!!! I married this great guy/girl with these really great kids. At least, I thought they were these really great kids when I met him/her. But now, after only a few months of marriage, they seem to be pulling us apart. Or maybe it’s his/her ex-wife/husband that is doing all the pulling. Maybe we are pulling each other. Whatever—the honeymoon’s over! It seems like all we do is fight, fight, fight. I want us to all get along, but that seems next to impossible! Can you help?
Dazed and Confused
Dear Dazed and Confused,
First of all, take a deep breath, pray a big prayer, and have a good cry if you need the release. Better? Now, they’re still great kids. You’re still a great parent/stepparent. And you’re absolutely right! The kids are pulling. The ex-spouse is pulling, and fighting about all of it is way too common in stepfamilies that haven’t really jelled yet. You just threw all these ingredients together. Give them time to firm up. Your stepfamily can be a success. Be relieved that you care enough to want it to be.
Been There, Done That
- Figure out a way to have regularly scheduled couple time, and consider it sacred! Gary Ezzo in the parenting course Growing Kids God’s Way recommends setting aside the first 15 minutes when a spouse arrives home from work as “couch time” for the parents in the home. Teach the kids that no interruptions will be allowed, with the exception of reporting a fire, police at the door, or copious bleeding. If after work doesn’t fit in your schedule, set the alarm clock fifteen minutes earlier and have couch time right before everyone gets up each morning.
- Find reliable babysitters as soon as you can. Let the youth pastor at your church know that you need trustworthy teens for babysitting. If you can’t afford a babysitter and some of your children are old enough, “hire” them in exchange for extra time to stay up before bed, an extension on their curfew when they go out, or a new clothing item they wanted. If all else fails, find other families willing to co-op babysitting. Put all the kids at their house one night while you go out (which is fun for the kids too), then trade the following weekend so they can have a turn.
- Be spontaneous and exciting. Buy fancy lingerie!
- Don’t feel guilty about the time you devote to your marriage instead of the kids. Showing your children what a healthy marital relationship looks like is good for all of you.
- Improve your lovemaking and times of physical intimacy. Sexual release is an important outlet for frustrations that develop in any marriage but especially remarriages. If this is a topic you have difficulty talking about, grab a good book or other resource that can help. Dr. Tim and Beverly LaHaye’s classic The Act of Marriage provides invaluable information. FamilyLife’s Simply Romantic Nights gives married couples the chance to open conversational doors and have creative fun while exploring this God-given gift of physical intimacy.
- Don’t get in a rut of always going to the movies, watching videos or TV, playing video games, or spending your time on the Internet. These passive activities are not meaningful ways of connecting. Sitting silently in front of any kind of screen does not qualify as “quality time” together.
- Set the timer for fifteen minutes to do nothing but talk, and set the ground rule that conversation can’t include talk about the kids.
- Go on a walk or play gin rummy or a board game. Talk about your childhood, your favorite colors, your dream vacation. Get to know each other again.
Ten Quick Ideas for Reviving Romance
1) If the kids are old enough to be left alone, sneak off for breakfast once in a while before they get up.
2) Plan a weekend away, arrange for childcare, and “kidnap” your spouse from work on Friday with the bags already packed and in the car.
3) Go to a theme park or fair without your children and ride the roller coasters or Ferris wheel. Eat corndogs and cotton candy.
4) Play “tag” with H.I.M.I.L.Y (“Hi. It’s Me. I Love You) notes taped in unexpected places. If Adam finds a H.I.M.I.L.Y. from me on a Post-it note on his steering wheel, for instance, he might respond with a H.I.M.I.L.Y. on my pillow.
5) Choose a song that is “your song” and dance to it. If you already have one, have it playing when your spouse walks in the door.
6) Bring home flowers—just because.
7) Write your partner a love letter recalling all the things that made you fall in love and outlining what you admire most today. Remembering the good old days and focusing on the current positives will help you both keep the fires burning!
8) If you are the partner who never arranges for a babysitter, take the initiative and set up a date. Tell your partner which evening, what time, and how to dress. Hire, pick up, and be prepared to pay the babysitter. Choose your destination for the evening, and let the romance begin.
9) Go swimming or biking, or play a game together. Getting outside of your normal environment or choosing a new or long-forgotten activity can be lots of fun.
10) Make a list of ten or twenty things you’ve never thought to ask and get to know your mate in a whole new way. Stay away from controversial topics and ask about such things as favorite colors, a best friend’s name from childhood, a favorite movie, a dream vacation, and a favorite overall food. Some answers may surprise you.
Excerpted from The Stepfamily Survival Guide by Natalie Nichols Gillespie, Fleming H. Revell, 2004.