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Dr. David Hawkins
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Date Your Mate

Dr. David Hawkins
The Relationship Doctor I’ve shared some responses recently from our Message Board, several involving issues about stepfamilies.

Since stepfamilies are more prevalent than ever, and involve unique problems, it is important to understand how to tackle these unique issues. Married life is difficult enough, but remarried life carries its own set of challenges. I’ve strongly encouraged remarried couples to learn all they can about the issues they’re likely to face in their new marriage.

One of the most common stepfamily problems concerns loyalties. Stepchildren often maintain loyalty to their biological parents, leaving stepparents feeling discounted, dismissed and generally unappreciated. These difficulties can lead to intense conflict between the remarried couple.

Parents often feel a loyalty to their biological children, leaving the “other parent” feeling dismissed. These parents may argue over parenting styles, disciplinary issues and other decisions. It’s easy to see how defenses are quickly raised and conflicts ensue, leading to marriage crises.

One Message Board reader offered this helpful bit of advice:

Hey! I'm one of those remarried, living in a blended family of girls. One of the most important things that my husband and I do, is plan and KEEP a date night every week. Even if the budget is tight, we at least go for coffee or ice cream. It is tougher to do during basketball season because two of our three children play at different levels and for different schools, but we go away without kids for at least an hour. This is important bacause it forces the children to realize that they are not the center of your universe, and it lets your husband/wife know that they do have a special place in your heart and that you show them favor. It is a good time to discuss problems, laugh, talk about kid problems (lots of those), and get on the same page as far as discipline. One of the hardest things to do is not to take sides. Date night reminds us where our loyalty lies - with God's plan for our family.

Kudos to this writer. Good for you. Let’s take a closer look at the advice.

One, keep a date night every week. Long after the children are gone, you’ll still have one another, and you need to be building a strong relationship. This cannot happen without effort, and a date night, for married or remarried, is a wonderful way to connect with one another. As the writer said, it’s a time to discuss problems, laugh (a sure way to maintain balance in the marriage!) and talk about kid problems.

Second, date nights help the children keep things in perspective—they aren’t the center of the world. It is critical for parents, and children, to put some distance between themselves and problems at times. Fun activities, sharing and laughter help the parents gain distance on family problems, and help the children maintain perspective as well.

Third, date nights are an opportunity to show your mate they are special. Who doesn’t need their love bucket filled up now and then. Actually, who doesn’t need it on a daily basis? Date nights are wonderful opportunities to tell your mate, “You mean the world to me, and I’m happy to be your date!”

Fourth, it’s important not to take sides. There can be no preferential treatment in stepfamilies, nor can there be factions. “We’re in this together” needs to be the stepfamily’s motto. If you start taking sides with one child over another, or show preferential treatment, resentment is sure to follow. While equality is hard to achieve, this truth will help stepfamilies maintain healthy boundaries. Children need to be treated equally, in spite of the fact that the bond between child and bio-parent is often stronger.

Finally, remember the overall goal—to glorify God. God created families and has a plan for them. This is the place to be loved, kept safe and protected, and to learn about yourself. It is a place to try out new skills and to be accepted.

Thank you for your responses to the Message Board and keep those cards and letters coming.

About the author: He is known as The Relationship Doctor. With more than 30 years of counseling experience, David Hawkins, Ph.D., has a special interest in helping individuals and couples strengthen their relationships. Dr. Hawkins’ books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You and When Trying to Change Him Is Hurting You, have more than 300,000 copies in print

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