The Beatles sang, “All you need is love,” but it just isn’t true.
Every intimate relationship, as we discuss in our book Building Love Together in Blended Families, needs love and faithfulness (or trustworthiness) coupled together. In most relationships, especially romantic ones, love usually develops first, then trust, which deepens your experience of love.
However, in blended families the process is different. In order to first build trust, which can then open the door to love, stepparents have to be stubbornly persistent to show themselves faithful, even if a child or family member does not love you.
Consider this example. Strategically loving a rejecting child whose primary love language is Physical Touch with a fist bump while avoiding bear hugs because you know it makes them uncomfortable. That is stubborn faithfulness that has a chance of becoming mutual love. In the face of their opposition, your continuing to love sends a powerful message that ultimately is hard to deny.
At best, love without faithfulness leads to doubt and insecurity. At worse, it causes deep hurt, adding cause for rejection and a fracturing of the relationship. What is needed in the face of rejection to survive—and perhaps overcome it—is a long tenacious love that proves itself over time.
Helpful ideas for rejection in blended families
For most, overcoming rejection from a child or extended stepfamily member is simply a matter of persistent, stubborn love. The problem is, being faithful to love in the face of rejection is not simple to live out. Rejection in blended families hurts and is discouraging. What is needed is the resolve to keep going and a few helpful tools.
There is much to be said for not giving up. But another part of resolve is not caring too much about winning the person’s heart.
That sounds counter intuitive, we know. So let us explain.
Making the other’s affection the object of your resolve gives them far too much power over your personal wellbeing. Instead, your resolve to remain faithful must be found “above and within.”
Find your sense of worth and identity in a relationship with God, so you can separate who you are from whom the rejecting person implies you are. Finding significance from above and definition from within will fuel your resolve to continue knocking on the door of their heart without letting their resistance destroy you.
Releasing unmet expectations can also boost your resolve. One stepmom said she had to learn to let go of her expectations and hopes that her husband’s daughter would appreciate what she does and who she is.
Initially she was motivated to speak her stepdaughter’s love language in order to “become her mom.” In order to keep her resolve, she had to shift her motivation to “because it is the right thing to do for her in spite of her attitude toward me.”
She also focused on her husband. “If nothing else, it is loving toward my husband to continue speaking his daughter’s love language.”
Gently speak their love language
As the stepmom we just mentioned discovered, there’s a difference between communicating love with the full expectation that the gesture or action will be reciprocated and gently communicating love with no expectation of anything in return. Offering a word of affirmation without the expectation of a “thank you” communicates a stubborn, faithful love when you face rejection in blended families.
And it does more than that. It helps you to think more highly of the person to whom you are being kind. It softens you and, hopefully, them.
Do what you can
One new stepmom shared that her teenage stepdaughter had not been to their house for visitation for months due to her busy senior year schedule. It really was not anyone’s fault that they didn’t have much time together. Life just got in the way.
But because her stepdaughter had taken the online love languages profile, the stepmom knew her love language was Gifts. So, she bought her a Starbucks gift card and mailed it to her with a note.
“It was a small gesture,” the stepmom said, “but she texted and thanked me for it.” This simple but tangible act of kindness communicated love and bridged the gap.
Hang on to what’s good
One stepdad said loving his stepson was like beating his head against the wall. He later shared a strategy that helped him stay faithful to pursue his stepson.
“When you see the child responding positively, even if they don’t know how to express it, it helps. It encourages us to keep moving forward.”
Right. Any glimmer of light, even a faint one, brings hope.
Partner with your spouse
One stepmom with an adult stepdaughter was excluded from family birthdays, holidays, and activities of the grandkids.
“She invites my husband,” she said, “but not me. Should my husband attend those things without me? If he goes, I’m worried it will discourage her from ever including me. But if he doesn’t, I’m concerned it will make things worse.”
This is an example of competing attachments playing into rejection in blended families. Both she and her husband are in a tough spot. Though it feels like an either/or situation, they should utilize a both/and solution. That is, the father can choose both his wife and his adult daughter by initially compartmentalizing the relationships with the hope that they can merge them eventually.
For example, since the husband (dad) is the “gateway” to the wife (stepmom) being included, we suggest he spend some time with his daughter and grandchildren without the stepmom. But then strategically include her in all-family activities and holidays.
This is an initial strategy to respect the daughter’s pace and whatever is behind the rejection. Hopefully, striking a balance between time without the stepmom and with her, will gradually result in her being more welcomed.
Eventually, though, she must “merge into traffic.” This requires that her husband partner with her by gently, but assertively, bringing her into the family. Sooner or later, he may have to say to his daughter, “I know this is hard for you. But I need you to make space for her in our family life. If nothing else, please be decent to her out of your love for me.”
Love and faithfulness are vital to overcoming rejection in blended families. Ask God to fill you with both as you pour them out to others in your home.
Adapted from Building Love Together in Blended Families: The 5 Love Languages® and Becoming Stepfamily Smart by Gary Chapman and Ron L. Deal, Northfield Publishers (2020). Used with permission. All rights to this material are reserved.