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Honest Communication Is a Stepfamily’s Greatest Ally

Hiding your true feelings to avoid conflict only creates bitterness.
By Ron L. Deal

David’s new marriage was on the verge of failure. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his wife; they just could not agree on how much responsibility their children should have. This one disagreement led to a number of arguments and strained relationships throughout the home.

With each conflict, David became more convinced that the family was fragile and couldn’t handle his honest feelings or opinions. His fear led him to believe that he could never reveal his true self. He found himself answering his wife's questions with what he thought she wanted to hear rather than the honest, transparent truth. He didn’t want to bother her or create a rift in the home.

Yet the more David hid his true feelings, the more bitter and angry he became. Every time David successfully put off another conflict with his peaceful, happy face, he stored up resentment toward his wife or stepchildren for “controlling him.”

David didn’t know how much longer he could continue living under these circumstances. As much as he tried to save the marriage by avoiding conflict, his reluctant compliance was destroying the very relationship he wanted to protect.

Maybe you’ve lived like David in your own stepfamily. You’ve put on a smile and a good show. You’ve attempted to preserve the relationship and guarantee harmony, often agreeing to things that you might otherwise disagree with just to keep the peace. But there is a better, more productive way to communicate and still have a healthy home.

Be honest in a loving way

A common pattern in remarriages is for spouses to have the perception that their new relationship is fragile. As a result, they respond to one another out of fear that they, in the words of Colonel Jessep in the movie A Few Good Men, “can’t handle the truth.” So husbands and wives veil their feelings and live dishonestly, because they assume that the other person will become easily angered.

The same can be true for stepchild/stepparent relationships. Stepchildren wonder if their stepparent is trustworthy, and stepparents fear hurting their stepchild’s feelings and pushing them further away. So each of them chooses to cover up their true opinions.

But healthy relationships are ones in which truth is valued and shared. As the Apostle Paul admonishes us in Ephesians 4:25, “Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” You can’t have a healthy relationship without honesty, and you can’t have honesty when you sugarcoat the truth or assume pressure will shatter relationships.

At the same time, we should be honest with one another in a loving way—even when it includes anger. In the very next verse, Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). We should manage our frustrations in such a way that it doesn’t become a foothold for Satan.

We must discipline ourselves to act appropriately even during conflict. That means speaking rationally and not calling names or placing blame. It means looking for compromise that benefits everyone, not just yourself or your biological child.

Further in Ephesians 4:29, Paul encourages us to manage how we talk so that our words are not corrupting or unwholesome, but edifying, building others up. Remaining silent never solves anything, but using words to tear down another person only makes the problem worse.

Everything you say must be done with the clear goal of resolution, not from a desire to wound. The goal is building up the relationship, not winning the fight with your spouse or stepchildren.

Live the truth

The driving force behind hiding your feelings is fear, the greatest enemy to healthy relationships. When a person’s fears are deeply ingrained from past experiences or even an oversensitive personality, it’s hard to change their way of thinking. But just as I told David, “The hard part is you have to live the truth before knowing whether or not it is the truth.”

Sometimes the only way to conquer fear is to face it, gently pressing through and living truthfully in spite of the way you believe people will respond. It requires taking a risk, acting with love, and testing how living out God’s statutes really impacts the home.

While counseling David, I challenged him to try an experiment. “You’ve become convinced that your family is delicate,” I said. “I wonder what would happen if you responsibly share your true feelings and opinions with your wife in a healthy, collaborative manner, instead of avoiding the truth. You might discover that your family and your relationships are not as brittle as you think. The only way you’ll know is to test it.”

After a couple of weeks of being assertive with the truth, but respectful, David reported that his wife was more capable of hearing him than he anticipated. Even more importantly, he was more capable than he thought of managing his strong emotions responsibly.

As we processed the experiment, David summarized his discoveries: First, his wife isn't fragile. Second, their relationship isn’t fragile. And third, he was not as fragile as he perceived himself to be. This last one surprised him most. On the occasions when his wife was troubled by his response, he learned that he could cope with her disappointment far better than he realized.

In total, David learned that he didn’t have to live in fear of his wife’s responses or his reaction to her responses. Most importantly, he was reminded that God’s will for our lives is by far the best blueprint for families—even stepfamilies.

Second Timothy 1:7 says, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” You don’t have to face your fears alone. The Holy Spirit gives believers the ability to be motivated by love, not fear; and when you reach into the spiritual realm and trust God’s Word, you will see the benefits.

No matter how fragile you think your family may be, trust God that His principles work! 

Refresh your marriage at the Weekend to Remember® getaway. And get $100 off by entering the group code ‘Articles’ when you register.

Copyright © 2017 by Ron L. Deal. Used with permission.

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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