Honest Communication Is a Stepfamily’s Greatest Ally
Every time David successfully put off another conflict, he stored up resentment toward his wife or stepchildren for “controlling him.”
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!