Creating a healthy blended family can feel like a lot of work. You have to combine two households, establish parenting and stepparenting roles, and navigate common pitfalls like shared custody or difficult exes.
With so many changes and challenges to navigate, it can sometimes be easy to put the actual reason for your blended family—your marriage—on the backburner. It’s harder to have a “honeymoon period” or slowly grow into your new roles as husband and wife when you also have the immediate responsibilities of raising children together.
However, building into your marriage should be job number one when establishing a blended family. Your marriage is the foundation for the family, and without a solid foundation, you can’t have a healthy home.
Prioritizing Your Spouse
When you enter into a marriage and already have children of your own, it is natural to feel closer to your kids than to your spouse. After all, you’ve been with your kids a lot longer than you’ve been with your new spouse. You have more history together with your kids, with a relationship that has developed literally since their birth. And, of course, they are your kids—your own flesh and blood. You rightly should feel connected to and responsible for them.
However, you should also feel connected to your spouse. God’s Word repeatedly refers to married couples as being “one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31), almost as if they were a single body (Ephesians 5:28). Being “one flesh” surely describes a connection at least as close, and probably even closer, than the relationship between a parent and a child. As much as you love your kids, you should work on creating an equally strong bond with your spouse.
Prioritizing your spouse might sound like you are choosing them over your kids—and it might seem that way to your kids, too. However, this isn’t an “either/or” situation; it’s “both/and.” You can love both your spouse and your kids. Let your kids know that you still love them just as much as before; they haven’t lost you as a parent. But, also make it clear that you are committed to your new spouse and that the two of you are a team.
Making your spouse a top priority is actually the best thing you can do for everyone in your blended family, including your kids. Having a healthy, stable marriage will help everyone in the family feel secure. For your children to fully accept and build a strong relationship with their new stepparent, they need to believe that your spouse will truly be around “until death do you part.” Modeling a healthy marriage will help your children when they eventually leave the nest and get married themselves (Genesis 2:24). And, of course, it serves your spouse (and yourself) to have oneness in your marriage and enjoy being together (Proverbs 5:18).
Building a Blended Marriage
So how can you prioritize your marriage in the midst of a blended family? Here are some suggestions from our blended family team and other experts on the subject:
- Do things together as a family. If you feel like you are in the middle of a tug-of-war, constantly having to choose between spending time with your spouse and your kids—don’t choose. Do things together as a family, including both your kids and your spouse. That way, you get to spend more time with everyone, and you reinforce that you are all in this together.
- Schedule time for just the two of you. Although you should do things together as a family, that doesn’t mean that you never spend intentional time alone with your spouse. Regular date nights and occasional getaways are important for keeping your marital relationship strong. There are costs involved; you may have to hire a babysitter or say “No” to some activities in order to allow time in your schedule. However, the benefits to your marriage are worth the cost.
- Consider “compartmentalizing” relationships. This might sound like a negative thing, but it can be helpful in a couple of ways. “Compartmentalizing” means you treat your roles as a spouse and as a parent/stepparent separately. Internally, this means that you can celebrate having a healthy marriage even if your role as a stepparent is challenging; they are different relationships, and a problem in one area does not have to bleed over into another. Externally, you can compartmentalize relationships by separately spending time alone with your biological children. By showing children that they still have access to their biological parent, they can become less resistant to the presence of a stepparent.
- Don’t blame your spouse for the mistakes of your ex. You might come from a past relationship where your ex caused problems with his or her behavior. That can make you sensitive to any hint of those behaviors in your new spouse. For example, if your ex was an alcoholic, a single drink for your non-alcoholic new spouse might make you nervous. If your ex was financially irresponsible, you might be overly critical of your new spouse’s spending habits. It is one thing to be wise about potential problems, but don’t distrust, disparage, or discourage your new spouse because of something that someone else did.
- Learn from your mistakes. It is important to recognize your own part in any past relationship failures. No one is perfect, so there is sure to be something you can learn from your past. Be aware of them, and even share them with your spouse, so that you can both avoid making those same mistakes again.
- Don’t isolate. Community is one of God’s gifts to us. As Christians, we are called to love, serve, and help one another within a local church. And when you are navigating all the changes and decisions involved in building a blended family, you need all the help you can get. Don’t isolate your new family and try to figure everything out on your own (Proverbs 18:1); look for a community of like-minded believers who will walk alongside you.
We’re here to help! Contact us if you have any questions or would like to be connected with a blended family mentor couple.