There’s a story … of a lovely lady … who meets her prince charming and the two of them with their six combined children live happily ever after.
Having been Cindy Brady myself — if you changed my stepsister into a boy and fused my twin sister and I into one girl, then you have it: the perfect Brady family — I know that there are bigger problems in the house than Jan’s inferiority complex to Marsha, Peter’s near death experience with a tarantula in Hawaii, and Greg getting a tad chilled in the meat freezer at Sam’s Butcher Shop when he gets locked in there. (Yes, I watched a lot of TV as a kid.)
The real issues? Peter hates Carol. He totally resents her because ever since she and her big hair came to stay, his dad isn’t around to throw the football or to check over his homework. And Cindy hates Mike. Despises him. Why should he tell her what to do? He’s not her dad. Plus he’s just a dweeb.
It’s worth investigating what makes a real Brady family tick because approximately half of all marriages in the US each year are remarriages for one or both partners and 65 percent of them involve children from a previous relationships. The divorce rate for remarriages with children are 50 percent higher than the marriages with no kids.
How do you make it work?
Here are four tips from Wednesday Martin, Ph.D., author of Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do.
1. Form an airtight, solid relationship and show it to your kids.
Martin suggests doing this in small, simple ways like holding hands or telling them about one of your couple rituals, like where you go for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Having an airtight marriage means acting like a team, especially when it comes to conflicts about discipline and manners.
2. Have some childless time with each other.
Acting as a team and conveying a solid relationship to your kids is easier if you take time to nurture it, says Martin. She urges full-time stepmothers to take a childless vacation each year, to carve out a few days in the year where you can just be a couple. Date nights work, as does making your bedroom a childfree zone.
3. Learn how to fight.
Fighting doesn’t doom a relationship, says Martin. Fighting the wrong way does. She writes, “According to marital experts, it’s not fighting itself or even the frequency of fighting that leads to marital instability. It’s the way people fight. Some fighting styles can destroy a marriage, while others can actually strengthen it.”
- Cushion a hard request between two loving acknowledgements (“I know it’s difficult to deal with the tension between your kids and me. But I would just really like them to say hello to me when I walk in a room; Thank you for being so considerate of my feelings.”);
- Put off an argument until a better time;
- Know when to walk away from a fight;
- Avoid the “four horsemen” of fights: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling;
- Break the tension with humor whenever possible.
4. Open up.
Ultimately, what binds a couple together more than anything, argues Martin, is opening up and being honest with each other, to risk rejection and fess up to your partner about why your feelings are hurt and what is so difficult in the union of families. She writes: “For women with stepchildren, that may mean swallowing your pride and making yourself vulnerable just when you feel most misunderstood and betrayed. But it is also likely to open the door to greater emotional closeness and a partnership that beats the odds.”