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Enduring Disharmony



by Ron L. Deal


          I’m going to give you a strange suggestion.  I prefer to think of it as a gift, really.  But it’s the kind of gift you wish someone wouldn’t ever give you because it represents a truth you don’t like hearing.  Are you ready?  Learn to endure disharmony in your home. 

          “Now just wait a minute, Ron.” you quickly object.  “I want my family to be a loving, peace-filled place for everyone and you want me to be okay with disharmony?”  Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy, but it really is a gift for you and your children.  Let me explain.

          The crux of becoming a stepfamily is developing a family identity.  Biological families are born with it (flowing through the marital union), but stepfamilies have to grow it.  Born with different last names and different pasts, stepfamily members have to learn to be family.  While this process is occurring (and it can take many years) there will be natural conflict, strife, guilt, and angst in your home.  Children may be reserved, moody, and sometimes depressed about what is going on in their life.  Stepparents may feel left out and anxious about their relationship with the children.  Biological parents may feel guilt over the past and/or bringing their children into a home that doesn’t feel completely safe.  There is plenty of reason to experience disharmony.

          Now here’s the tough part: disharmony is a must—a necessary evil—to help your stepfamily create a family identity.  It is the wilderness that must be traveled in order to reach the Promised Land.  But how? 

          The struggles you face force people to walk together in the midst of conflict and find ways of loving one another, especially when you didn’t choose one another (e.g., stepparents and stepchildren).  Rubbing your rough edges against someone else’s rough edges smoothes both and eventually—are you ready for this—gives way to connection.  The struggle produces trust, respect, and appreciation for one another.  Get it?  Disharmony, or perhaps I should say the working-through of disharmony, actually moves you forward as a family.  But when you short circuit that process by being a peace-maker or fixer things don’t get better. 

          Keeping the right perspective about the “trials” your family is facing is a gift, not only for your family, but also for you.  Here are four perspective-points to remember:

·         When tension comes, remember that you aren’t done cooking as a family (see How to Cook a Stepfamily).  The rejection or discouragement of today is not a prediction for tomorrow.  The tension of the moment will lessen over time as relationships grow.  Don’t panic! 

·         Disharmony is not a statement of “mistake”.  When stress comes many people wonder if they should have never gotten married.  In most cases that is ridiculous!  You are simply experiencing the normal pains of developing a family identity.  Learn from the disharmony, don’t discredit your family. 

·         Remember that children who do best in life have parents (and stepparents) who don’t make the child’s happiness the source of their own.  In other words, your well-being should not be determined by the well-being of your children.  If it is, you will undoubtedly smother, control, and hover over your child.  This creates a number of problems in and of itself; most notable is giving your child a lot of emotional control over you.  Care about your child, but don’t idolize them.  This leads to the next point...

·         You can’t fix everyone’s emotions.  When people are sad, let them be—and cry with them.  When angry, listen to find out what emotions lie beneath.  Give people permission to feel what they feel and don’t become over-responsible to alleviate all their concerns.  You can’t, and it won’t work anyway. 


So, how do you endure disharmony?  Breath deeply and sooth your heart with these four principles:

·         “Let Jesus hold you” means trusting God with what you can’t control.  Ask him to sooth your emotions and give you courage.  Talk to him moment to moment asking for wisdom.

·         Do the right thing.  Part of trusting God means acting appropriately even if you feel hurt, angry, or fearful. 

·         Resist the urge to take control of fixing others.  Listen and respond to their anxiety or pain, but keep your boundaries up.

·         In all cases, act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).


          It takes courage to travel the wilderness of disharmony and discover your family identity.  There are no short-cuts.  You can do it. 




Ron L. Deal is President of As For Me and My House Ministries (Smart Stepfamilies), author of The Smart Stepfamily, and presenter of the Building A Smart Stepfamily seminar. 



Comments ( 11 )
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#11: by Ron Deal on 02.08.2014 @ 08:02am CST

Leanne, enduring disharmony does not mean enduring abuse. A parent--especially a stepparent--should never become physically aggressive toward a child. The recent should absolutely be the last time this happens. You should calmly, but most assuredly talk with your husband about what happened and let him know that you won't stand by and watch that happen again; tell him that you will tell an authority the next time. You are trying to bully or scare him, just make it clear that you stand for it. Besides, given your family history of abuse, he has to know that doing this will sabotage his ability to connect with, let alone lead, his stepchildren. To summarize, let me say it this way: What you are trying to say to him is NOT a "I'm choosing my kids over you" threat, rather it is a "Physical aggression is wrong and I won't tolerate it" clarifying statement.

That addresses the physical aggression part, but you still have to address as a couple the conflict part. What led to the argument in the first place? How can you respond differently as a team in the future? If you keep hitting that brick wall, it's time for some counsel--a pastor, a mentor, or a therapist. Keep trusting God to lead you through.
#10: by Leanne on 02.07.2014 @ 11:30am CST

This is good information that I haven't heard of before. We are a blending family of 2 years and we are in the midst of disharmony and it sucks. There was a blow up that including yelling, screaming and grabbing arms between my teen and my new husband this week and left our younger daughter really shaken up and feeling like she cannot trust her step dad. My children's biological father was physically abusive to me so when my husband yells at me or our daughters it triggers the pain all over again of the past. After reading your article I'm praying for a way to relate this information to my current family situation but this is hard for me as a mom to allow that kind of behavior to happen without me stepping in the middle and blowing the whistle. I don't agree with what has happened at all.God knows a way but I sure don't.
#9: by Lonely stepmom on 04.01.2009 @ 10:29pm CDT

This article is SO refreshing! I am the step parent and my husband has made things SO hard in our relationship by expecting everything to be perfect right now! He makes me feel like a terrible person if I have any diffrence of opinion with "his" kids. As you point out- "your well-being should not be determined by the well-being of your children". If he thinks his kids are unhappy then he acts like he can't go on another day (which of course makes me feel so insignificant as his wife). He even says that he can't be the dad he needs to be for "our" son if "his" kids (my step kids) aren't here. He threatens divorce all the time if he thinks his kids are not being placed first. This article makes me feel so much better, and I know that disharmony is OK- I'm not a horrible person because everything isn't perfect right away (we've only been married 2 years, we're still blending).
#8: by Steph on 02.05.2009 @ 07:33pm CST

Thank you so much for that insight. It has been one hard road to walk and thoughts of quitting has been frequent. Especially with teenagers being involved.
#7: by emily paredes on 02.05.2009 @ 02:52pm CST

What a good article Makes me feel connected to others who struggle with S parenting.
Sometimes I do want a divorce and know that that is drastic.

Thank um8mmc
#6: by Toni on 02.04.2009 @ 11:06am CST

Family Identity - I really like that phrase... in the beginning when the family is coming together there are so may traditions & "that's the way we do things" that can tear the new family apart, it's insightful to create "new traditions & this is they way WE do things". :)

We made ourselves so miserable in the beginning trying to make everyone happy, not upset the ex's, and be a traditional family. My husband's exwife - told her children they come before their step father which devalued him and caused so many issues when my husband informed the children the pecking order is GOD, spouse, children, world. Our kids are old enough to understand through his explaination that without a strong marriage in Christ there would be no foundation for the family.

This is year 8 and we have all teenagers with all the drama and dissatisfaction they feel... but they and we know that if we keep our focus on God... it'll pass. After all it is through trial that we grow. :) God bless and keep the faith
#5: by Crystal on 02.03.2009 @ 11:49am CST

Thanks for writing this - this was a lesson our own family had to learn. When you accept that the perfect picture of family in your mind isn't going to pan out as you had hoped - it takes away the burden of disappointment but allows you to move forward and work with what you have. When I talk to other stepfamilies, they call our situation "perfect" - and it is, for us.
#4: by Mike on 08.20.2008 @ 08:10pm CDT

I am sure this article will find familiarity with many on this journey. Thank you, Ron, for your timely insights. I can't help but recall so many instances where biblical history demonstrates many leaders consulting everyone but God for guidance and peace no matter what the circumstance...recently I was in the "thick of diharmony" in our two year old blended family home of teenagers...trusting that God will provide will help enduring disharomny.
#3: by Bennett on 07.03.2008 @ 03:01pm CDT

"Stepparents may feel left out and anxious about their relationship with the children". This is me as a stepdad. Thanks for your article and great points. Lord, help me with my untrust!
#2: by Jeanne on 07.02.2008 @ 08:36pm CDT

WOW! What a great article!! What a source of relief to know that we are normal and disharmony is normal in this wilderness adventure of building a successful stepfamily!! It sure seems like a desert sometimes, but then God brings in a fresh, cool drink of water just when we need it!! Thank you!
#1: by Angie Gaeth on 07.01.2008 @ 09:10am CDT

How God works...I have been struggling the last couple weeks; feeling that I have to make everyone in my blended family happy. That I need to be the peacemaker. In the meantime I feel like I'm walking on eggshells, so as not to say or do the wrong thing.
Thank you for the timing of this article.

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