Becoming a Successful Stepcouple

Happy Stepcouple

Lately, in the work I do outside of coaching stepmoms in a support group, I have seen many stepcouple relationships come to an end.  The statistics for second time marriages ending up in divorce tears at my heart – up to 70%.

In her article “Lessons Learned from Stepfamilies” written in Psychology Today, Virginia Rutter states that stepfamilies represent “the spawn of failure, the shadow side of our overidealized traditional family”.

We have the odds stacked against us. Why?

It’s pretty obvious to the women who struggle day in and day out. Common experiences I’ve heard say it all:  feeling shunned and disregarded; being undermined and unacknowledged; being unappreciated and invalidated, even being a target of hatred and jealousy.  High conflict exes, children with torn loyalties and unresolved feelings of grief and loss create difficult behaviours then you add parenting conflicts.  A stepmom is an incredibly resilient, incredibly strong, incredibly patient woman, and is a foundational person in the life and success of a stepfamily.

Despite these adversities, she continues to commit, love and sacrifice for the wellbeing of her family and her man.  But, if she has a partner who doesn’t understand – and often they don’t; who doesn’t communicate and often times completely misses the mark in supporting her, or even goes so far as to undermine her efforts, we can see the fine line between staying or going, being stretched too tight. But, let’s be honest, it’s even the day to day grind of life – intimate relationships and parenting added to the many, complicated layers of stepfamily life. Life is stressful and busy enough without high conflict exes and stepkids.

But what does it take to keep the stepfamily on the road to long term success? It really is the strength of the stepcouple. They must be a united team and being on the same team means support, patience, and compassion; better than average communication and negotiation skills, and unconditional love and acceptance of the other person.

But how? That sounds HARD.

First of all, there is plenty of research that shows that it’s usually the newer stepfamily who is unable to handle the extra pressures and extra players and extra politics.  It can take up to seven years for the stepfamily to gel as a unit. That seems like a REALLY long time if you feel rejected in your home.

I read the book “Stepcoupling: Creating and Sustaining a Strong Marriage in Today’s Blended Family”. It’s a fabulous resource and it is the foundation for creating The Successful Stecpouple Retreat.

Why a retreat?

Because, if my research is accurate, it’s never been done before, AND look at the divorce rates noted above. Better to take an ounce of prevention and beating the odds and investing in each other than investing in a divorce lawyer as a 1000’s of dollars for a pound of cure.

It’s a weekend created specifically to meet the unique needs of the stepcouple challenges so that you can focus on your partner and yourself without distractions, where you can re-connect, replenish, and repair.

You can do the day to day replenishing, but if the day-to-day connection and replenishing each other isn’t there then sometimes relationships take some repair.  If you are solid already then great…but sometimes relationships start to weaken especially if they get put on the back burner too long because of the day to day of life.

A second time divorce feels like a bigger failure to us as adults. And the children have already gone through at least one divorce as well. Divorce sucks for adults but divorce for kids is traumatic. Worse, they are egocentric and most often blame themselves, thinking it’s their fault their parents are divorcing. They have a hard time rebalancing and adjusting to massive life changes.

“Nurturing your stepcouple relationship is the most important thing you can do for the long-term health and stability of your stepfamily. While special dates don’t take the place of caring for your partner on a daily basis, they can be wonderful ways to connect.” Susan Wisdom

I have had the pleasure of becoming great friends with a local stepmom I met and she’s coming to the retreat. This is what she says:

“It’s a challenge! Ironically our struggle right now is finances.  I will do whatever I can to make this retreat.  Sell odds and ends etc… because to me… making things like this retreat a priority is how we stay strong as a couple.  We can’t give up, eh can’t afford us time, so let’s stay at home and nit-pick at each other…heck no to that!”

She also said that she and her partner don’t need the retreat. “We are strong, we communicate. NOT going to this retreat would make us incredibly naive in thinking we don’t need to always be working on things to keep it the way it is.”

So very true Jenny Goch, thank you for your wisdom.

Join us September 29 to October 1 and make your partnership your priority.


Ali Wilks HeadshotAli Wilks has a BA in Psychology and an MSc in Human Ecology specializing in Family Studies. She is also a certified stepfamily coach, the owner and founder of Step by Step Mom – a stepfamily/stepmom coaching business and Wellness Editor at Stepparent Magazine. Her other job is with Children’s Services, since 1998, in Edmonton, Alberta. She is currently a trainer on Edmonton’s Caregiver Training Unit teaching classes on building skills, providing advocacy and support for foster, kinship and adoptive parents. These classes include building the essential skills in raising nonbiological children from the foster care system who present with special needs. Ali is a stepmother of 3 adult children (with a couple of grandkids too) and the birth mother of 2 beautiful girls.

Becoming a Successful Stepcouple