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A Matter of Perspective

The difference between premarried hope and stepfamily reality.
By Ron L. Deal


For years, dating couples with children from previous relationships and married couples in blended families have had polar opposite reactions to my books. Why? Because they have different perspectives.

Dating couples moan, “Gee, Ron, are you trying to scare us out of getting married?” while married stepfamily couples marvel, “You are describing our life exactly! Have you been peeking in our windows?”

The dating couple feels like I’m being negative; the married couple is relieved that someone finally told them they are normal. And when I have tracked a couple from dating to marriage, their response transformed to, “We just thought you were being a pessimist,” or “We wish we would have listened to you better.”

How could perspective make such a huge difference? Well, premarital couples have high hopes, are consumed by the fog of love, and expect positive things to happen; it’s the nature of being in love. Married couples, on the other hand, are living in an actual stepfamily. They cannot gloss over the challenges. It’s the difference between expectation and reality.

The research that David Olson and I did for The Remarriage Checkup explained and validated the perspective shift. We discovered that couple satisfaction during dating is highly correlated with the couple’s relationship. However, marital satisfaction (i.e., once the couple is living in a stepfamily) is increasingly correlated with stepfamily and stepparenting dynamics that surround the couple’s relationship. As the context of their relationship changes, so does their satisfaction—and their perspective.

Different perspectives

Children and adults often find themselves disagreeing because of contrasting viewpoints. For example, adults sometimes object to labels like “stepfamily” or “stepparent” because they make them feel second class or evil. However, kids use these exact terms quite freely to describe what seems obvious to them. “This is a stepfamily and he is my stepparent,” one 23-year-old said to me. “That’s not hard to figure out.”

In addition, biological parents have an insider’s perspective on the home while stepparents may feel like outsiders. One stepmom put it this way: “My husband is connected to his children and to me—he loves all of us and feels like he’s a part of us. But I am only connected to him, not his kids. It’s almost as if I live in stepfamily, but he doesn’t.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

And what about holiday step-stress? For many adult stepchildren, it doesn’t feel like being home for the holidays when they visit a parent with a remarried partner who has children, grandchildren, and extended family.  Instead, it feels like going someplace strange. Sometimes these adult stepchildren wonder, Is it just me? After all, everyone else seems to be okay with it.

The point is this: Stepfamilies are made up of people with different family histories and varying life narratives that result in different perspectives about what is happening in their shared home. This can be quite frustrating, and it disconnects people who are trying to deepen their bonds.

All too often one spouse ends up criticizing or judging the other’s perspective—or deciding not to trust it. The outcome is alienation.

TAKING ACTION

Build a bridge and get over it

So what can you do? Actively build the following bridges of understanding in your home; cross them to connect with the other person’s heart.

Listening. One key to building bridges is listening.  And I don’t just mean hearing; I mean listening. Go beneath words to understanding the meaning of another’s perspective and what that is telling you about their point of view. And then accept that viewpoint. Realize that because others have a different past than you, they can have completely different opinions, even if those opinions don’t make sense to you. Resist the urge to talk them out of their opinions—listen and absorb.

Empathizing. Listening lets you take in the other person, and empathy adds compassion and appreciation for what it’s like to be them. Empathy communicates a deep acceptance and concern for the other person which facilitates bonding and trust. And that’s when a tiny miracle happens: Two hearts, with two different perspectives and two varying realities, connect. 

© 2012 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.

FamilyLife is a donor-supported ministry offering practical and biblical resources and events to help you build a godly marriage and family. 



Meet the Author: Ron L. Deal

Ron Deal

Ron Deal is a marriage and family author, conference speaker, and therapist. He is founder and president of Smart Stepfamilies™ and director of FamilyLife Blended™, the ministry initiative of FamilyLife® to stepfamilies (for more visit www.RonDeal.org and www.FamilyLife.com). 

Ron is author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family (and DVD series), The Smart Stepdad, Dating and the Single Parent, The Smart Stepmom (with Laura Petherbridge), and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family (with Dr. David Olson). A highly sought-after, recognized expert in marriage and blended families, Ron is a member of the Stepfamily Expert Council for the National Stepfamily Resource Center, and is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor with over 25 years experience in local church ministry and family ministry consulting. He is a featured expert on the video curriculum Single and Parenting (2011, Church Initiative) and his material is widely distributed by a variety of family education initiatives

Ron served as a member of the Couple Checkup Research Team (headed by Dr. David Olson, PREPARE-ENRICH) which conducted the two largest studies of marital strength ever accomplished. They surveyed over 100,000 marriages and remarriages (over 200,000 people) and examined the qualitative differences between highly satisfied marriages and low-quality marriages. The results of their groundbreaking research for couples are published in the books The Couple Checkup (Olson, Larson, & Olson-Sigg, 2008) and The Smart Stepfamily Marriage (Deal & Olson, 2015), and are featured in Ron’s newest seminar for dating, engaged, married, and remarried couples, the Couple Checkup Conference.

Ron is a popular conference speaker and has appeared in dozens of national radio and TV broadcasts both in the U.S. and Canada. His daily 60-second radio feature, FamilyLife Blended, is heard by thousands each week around the country and online. He has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, ABC’s Nightline, WGN-News, The Mike Huckabee Show, FamilyLife Today, Focus on the Family, HomeWord with Jim Burns, Celebration, and The 700 Club, and his work has been referenced online (e.g., ABCNews.com, Today.com), in magazines (e.g., Essence), and in newspapers throughout the world (e.g., USA Today, New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Journal, and Minnesota Star Tribune). The May 2012 issue of Ladies' Home Journal featured Ron's therapy work with a blended family couple in their popular feature column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” Ron has written feature family articles addressing a variety of family matters for a variety of publications and online magazines including Focus on the Family magazine, ParentLife, The Family Room, Gospel Today, Christianity Today, and HomeLife magazine. On a regular basis Ron trains therapists, marriage educators, and ministry professionals at conferences around the country and has spoken at the National Stepfamily Conference, and the Utah and Arkansas Governors' conferences on the family.

Ron and his wife, Nan, have three boys. Their middle son, Connor, died unexpectedly in February 2009 at the age of 12. In his memory, the Deal's have partnered with Touch a Life Foundation to rescue and rehabilitate children in Ghana, West Africa, from trafficking. They would be honored if you would help them sing Connor's song. Visit Connor's Song to learn more about this ministry and to hear Connor sing.

In addition to FamilyLife sponsored events Ron is available to present his Couple Checkup Conference or Building A Successful Stepfamily conference in your church or community. Learn more here.

 

 

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