Divorce and Blended Families

blended family

Here is a hypothetical question for you. Do you invite an ex-step-brother to your wedding? And what is the proper way to address an ex-step-grandmother? As bizarre as they may sound, these questions are very real for many people. Statistics are sobering: 6 in 10 second marriages (and 3 in 4 third marriages) do not last.

That introduces unique and complex dynamics into the already emotional divorce process. In my practice, splitting up a blended family is difficult because of three key reasons. By knowing about these potential issues ahead of time, families can be more present to their biases and better prepared for possible outcomes.

More pressure on the children

During the first divorce, parents work hard to make it clear to the kids that they are not at fault. The divorce is about the relationship between Mom and Dad, they say, and both will always love the kids no matter what.

If a second (or third) divorce happens, making the same point can be difficult – especially if a good deal of tension and arguments in the blended family was about the kids. After all, kids who go through their parent’s second marriage are often older. They have to adjust to the co-parenting or visitation arrangements with their biological parents in addition to building a relationship with their new step-parent. Many are much more present to wanting to defend their own turf.

Breaking attachments with step-children

No matter how contentious the first divorce may have been, each parent had some rights to see his or her biological children. The same cannot be said about the parent / step-child relationships in a second or third marriage. Step-parents can form strong attachments to their step-children that are tough to put on hold because the relationship between the adults failed. The hard reality is that a parent can prohibit an ex-step-parent from seeing his or her ex-step-children after the divorce.

Divorce and blended family: more people involved

Any time you have a situation with multiple moving parts, the potential for complications and hurt feelings grows exponentially. With a blended family, you must navigate the feelings between multiple sets of kids, aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins. If that does not require a complex chart, I don’t know what would!

Lastly, the social norms of a second or third divorce are murky at best. If you don’t talk to your brother for a year, he is still your brother. If the same thing happens with a step-sibling, what if any relationship is there a year later? How many times do you text an ex-step-daughter with no response back until you stop reaching out?  I encourage my clients to think through these and other tough questions with their end goals in mind. They must also be patient with a certain amount of awkwardness that is unavoidable in messy human relationships. The good news that preserving deep relationships with ex-step-relatives is possible, even if explaining those connections might require a white board.

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