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Becoming Friends and Family

Issues for second-half stepfamilies to consider.
By Ron L. Deal

If you are marrying for a second time in later life, you may assume that you know what to expect. Although there is some truth to this, the new family that you and your new spouse are creating will not feel or act exactly like your previous family.

While going through premarital counseling, it’s important to consider future stepfamily dynamics.  Be proactive and anticipate how the transition will ripple through the new family.  Also, deal with legal matters such as changes to wills, family inheritance matters, and how previous debts will be paid off after the wedding. 

If possible, spend time with your adult children to explore their feelings about the new marriage.  Ask what names they will use for the stepparent and how they anticipate this impacting their family time and any grandchildren. 

Of course, stepparents in the second-half of life certainly aren’t trying to become authority figures for their adult stepchildren.  Work first toward a warm, supportive friendship with stepchildren and then inclusion as an “extended family member.” 

Here are some additional suggestions for making contact.

  • Realize that adult stepchild openness to you will vary.  Be okay with a wide range of responses including children who only want to see you at holidays (closed) to those who welcome your influence in their lives (mentoring relationship).  Meet their level of openness and trust that time will strengthen your bond. 
  • Let your spouse teach you about their child. Listen to the story of their life and find natural connecting points (e.g., shared interests, emotional experiences you can identify with, etc.).
  • If the relationship between your spouse and their children is strained, don’t try to fix it.  Getting hooked into their issues is a good way to alienate everyone.  Strive to be a fair, neutral person who encourages them to resolve their issues responsibly. 
  • Trust the passage of time and new phases of life to facilitate connection.  Sometimes, for example, the birth of grandchildren—who don’t know you as a step—can assist your growing relationship with adult stepchildren. 
  • Step out of the way on occasion.  Giving your spouse time with their adult children and grandchildren can be a gift to everyone.  Be present most of the time, but occasionally let them have exclusive time for one another. 
  • If adult children boomerang back into the household, manage your unfulfilled expectations.  Be careful how you approach boundary matters (e.g., financial support to the child, lost freedoms, etc.) so you won’t create undue conflict.  Speak understandingly to your spouse about the adult child and develop a unified plan for relating to him/her. 

Copyright © 2009 by Ron Deal.  All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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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 and 

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.,,, 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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