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How to Make Your Blended Family Work

You can find success in your second marriage.

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If you were injured and trying to reach a safe place, would you step onto a rickety, swinging bridge?

That's a fair description of too many second marriages. When the remarriage creates a blended family—in which at least one of the spouses becomes a stepparent—the footing's even more treacherous. Couples may have charged ahead, stepped on a couple rotten planks, and now dangle, holding on for dear life.

Sadly, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 65 percent of remarriages end in divorce. And Barna Research shows that born-again Christians divorce at virtually the same rate as the rest of the population.

Here's the added complication for blended families: experts say it typically takes four to eight years for a new family to blend—to feel like a real family rather than a stepfamily. But of the second marriages that fail, most do so in the first four years—before families realistically could have expected to blend.

So wouldn't you feel more confident crossing that remarriage bridge if you had a map, drawn by couples who have crossed before you, that revealed which planks were secure and which were rotten?

Rotten Planks

Any marriage sees its share of conflict in its early years, as couples realize they're not Cinderella and Prince Charming. The fairy-tale view of a second marriage assumes that all the mistakes and pain from the first marriage are ancient history. This time, couples say, we have a clean slate.

Reality hits as couples realize the new marriage, just like the last one, holds big challenges. Some are brand-new, such as getting a feel for each other as new husband and wife while also trying to parent one or two sets of kids. Some are reruns, such as staying angry at a former spouse and not realizing what that anger is doing to the new marriage.

Pat and Ricki Giersch, a suburban Chicago couple, have been married five years. Each spouse's first marriage ended in divorce. Each brought two children to the new marriage . . . and found their early disagreements stressful. That clean slate wasn't so clean. It contained a long list of hidden wounds.

Ricki remembers when she and Pat would sit down to pay bills. Maybe there would be a higher-than-normal credit card balance. Pat would ask what they were going to do about it, and complain that everything was going to the credit card company. Then he'd launch into a diatribe: "Am I here just to pay the bills? Am I in this all on my own? You guys just want a piece of me."

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How to Make Your Blended Family Work