Loving The Family You Choose; How to Bond with Your Step-Children

Loving The Family You Choose; How to Bond with Your Step-Children

With 50% of first marriages and 67% of second marriages ending in divorce, more and more families are becoming blended. However, despite the commonality of the situation, it’s not always easy for new step-parents to win over their spouse’s children.

Even the term “step-parent,” has negative connotation, reminding us of Cinderella’s evil step-mother. Personally, I think we could improve on the phrase. I mean what is a “step” child anyway? A person who is one place removed from being a “real” child? How about we call them Chosen Children instead? After all, by choosing their parent to be our partner, we are choosing a life with them as well.

In my work with couples, I have found that relationships have a greater chance of failing if parents are not able to build healthy relationships with their spouse’s kids. So, in the interest of keeping relationships afloat, here are some tips to help new parents connect with their Chosen Children.


Don’t Try To Replace Their Biological Parent

This is one of the biggest mistakes I see new parents making. You are not, and never will be, a replacement for your children’s biological parent. Nor, should you have to be! Make it clear to your Chosen Children that you are not trying to replace their parent, and that you respect the relationship that they have with him or her. Then, depending on the age of the children, explain that you will, however, be doing some parent-like things, like enforcing curfew, requiring chores, etc.

Don’t Gossip!

Hopefully, this goes without saying but, definitely, no matter what, DO NOT bad-mouth the biological parent. Even if the children are saying how annoying she is, DO NOT participate. It’s okay to listen to your children’s grievances and validate their FEELINGS, but don’t chime in and agree that their parent really is an awful person. If they are upset and saying negative things about the other parent, you can be support but remain neutral by saying things like “I’m so sorry you are feeling this way. I know it’s awful to get in a fight with a loved one.” Remember, children’s feelings change often and they act and speak impulsively. When the fight is over and they are feeling better about their mom or dad, they will remember the negative things that you said and possibly hold them against you.

Give Them Space To Grieve

This is relevant whether their parent is still alive or not. If he/she is still alive, the relationship that the children had with him/her has majorly changed. Sue Patton Thoele, author of “The Courage To Be A Stepmom,” states that children grieve the possibility that their parents may get back together when one parent remarries. She also reminds us that part of this grieving process may look like the child is trying to break-up the new relationship. Thoele asks parents to give this process time, noting that losing the idea of their original parent’s successful marriage is huge for kids.

Thoele also suggests that, if the biological parent has died, the new parent should make an effort to help the children keep her memory alive. This can be done by placing photos of the deceased parent in the children’s rooms, talking about positive memories, or even holding memorial rituals on important days, like birthdays. The idea is to let the children know that it is okay, and even positive, to keep a strong sense of connection with the parent that has passed.

Make An Effort To Know Them…And I Mean Really Know Them

Show genuine interest in what interests them. Ask them about their friends, school-life, and after-school interests. Try to plan events for just you and them, without your partner, centering around the things that they love. Take them to a Katy Perry concert or to see a butterfly migration if that’s what they’re into. Your efforts don’t have to be expensive, they just need to be real.

Be Yourself

Don’t try to be someone that you are not. Let your new children learn about the real you. If you love painting or underwater basket-weaving, share your interests with them and give them opportunities to participate in what you love. Finding common ground, (besides loving their parent), will help build a bond to last through generations. Being authentic with them also let’s them know it’s ok for them to be authentic with you.

If you would like to learn more about connecting with your spouse’s children, contact me. I am here to help!

5 Surprising Ways to Help Your Relationship

5 Surprising Ways to Help Your Relationship

If you are like most people, the first thing that comes to mind when you decide to work on your relationship is something that you can do for your partner. You start to think about getting him tickets to a playoff game, or cooking her your famous lasagna. Let’s be clear, those things are great too. However, the real key to improving your relationship is to start with numero uno. That’s you, by the way.


You’ve heard the saying, “You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself.” Well, it’s true. So, here are five ways to love yourself, and, in turn, improve your union.


1. Don’t Be Afraid To Grow

I get it. You finally found someone who you love spending time with, and you don’t want to risk changing, because what if that ruins the relationship? The thing is, one of the biggest markers of a solid relationship is the ability of both partners to reach their highest potential, while together. If one or both partners feels like they are being held back, the relationship will likely fail.


Allow yourself the space to develop to your fullest potential. Live fully and take chances. If the relationship is meant to be, it will grow right along with you.


2. Establish Who You Are Outside Of The Relationship

Relationships that bring together 2 whole people are much healthier than relationships made of two half people trying to be who the other wants them to be. Do you like swimming or skiing? Are you interested in drawing, painting, or poetry? Whatever your interests are, make time to indulge in them outside of the relationship. Not only will this brighten your step, but, it will also give you something new to talk about when you see your partner again.


3. Realize That You Did Not Marry Your Mother/Father

I can’t tell you how often people, unconsciously, make this mistake. If you find yourself acting like a child around your partner, it may be that you have some unfinished business with one of your parents. Therapy can help with this, but, sometimes, all you need is a reminder that you are an adult and your spouse is not your parent (even if he/she may act like it sometimes).


4. Keep A Gratitude Journal

Numerous studies have shown the far-reaching positive effects of gratitude. Everything from your stress-level to your overall happiness is affected by being grateful. Not surprisingly, your relationship can benefit from this practice too.

By keeping a gratitude journal, you are reminding yourself of all of the reasons that you have to be happy, and this happiness will naturally leak out onto your relationship. Try to write 3 things per day that you are grateful for and make at least 1 of them about your partner or relationship.


5. Follow Your Dreams

Happy couples support each other’s hopes and dreams. If you’ve always wanted to learn French, do it! Or, maybe your goal is to race a triathlon. Whatever it is that you’ve been dreaming of, now is the time to make it happen. Either your relationship will become stronger for it, or you’ll realize he or she wasn’t the one for you. Either way, you win.


If you could use a little help in the self-love and happiness department, contact me to setup a free 30 minute consultation. I work with individuals as well as couples and I’ve seen many people transform their relationships and lives through working on themselves.

Shared or Separate Finances: Which is Healthier For Your Relationship?

Shared or Separate Finances: Which is Healthier For Your Relationship?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my work with couples, it’s that each couple is incredibly unique. What works for one couple may not work for others. Furthermore, what works for a couple at one time, may have an expiration date. This is often the case in regards to money management within relationships.


When it comes to money in a relationship, there are so many decisions to make. Who will take responsibility for the finances? Who will pay the bills? Where will that money come from? Will there be a savings account? Will there be a retirement fund? Will there be “fun money” to play with? And then there is the much debated question: Will we keep a joint account, or will we each have our own bank accounts?

That last question is often debated because it carries a lot of psychological weight. But, in my opinion, it doesn’t have to.


Many people equate sharing money with trust or closeness in a relationship. If you decide to keep a joint account, does that mean that you trust each other more than those that don’t? Does it mean you are closer than those that don’t? Does it mean you are willing to go “all in” and merge everything down to your last penny? If that’s the case, what does it say about a couple who doesn’t join their accounts? Do they trust each other less? Are they preparing for divorce by not marrying their money?


My take on this is that it’s perfectly acceptable to take the judgment out of this decision and simply look at the logistics without it having to mean something about the quality of your relationship. Which method is easier for the couple? Which way makes the most sense financially? Let’s examine some specifics by talking about a couple of hypothetical situations.


Couple A is made up of Bill and Jill. Bill works from home as a computer programmer. He is an independent contractor, not an employee, so he’s able to write-off many of his home expenses. Jill is a realtor, so she’s also an independent contractor. However, the expenses she can write off are often different than the one’s Bill can write off. Can you see how Bill and Jill might benefit from having separate accounts to make things simpler and maximize their tax deductions when reporting to the IRS?


Couple B contains Jack and Julie. Jack is a government employee and Julie works at a bank. Both are employees with steady paychecks that don’t change much from month to month. Julie is also really good at managing money whereas Jack could use some help in this department. Could you see the benefit of these two sharing an account?


You see, in these two examples, whether or not to share accounts has nothing to do with trust or love. Instead it’s simply about what works for each couple.


Intent Is Everything

Whether or not you decide to keep separate bank accounts, the key to a healthy relationship is good communication. If you are keeping your own account so that you don’t have to discuss finances with your spouse, your problems are bigger than your bank account! On the other hand, if you’d like to keep some money on the side to surprise your love with shiny things from time to time, I can definitely get behind that decision and I bet your spouse can too.


If you would like to talk more about managing money in your relationship, contact me. I’m here to help!

Why You Need To Be Cuddling More

Why You Need To Be Cuddling More

If you are in a long-term relationship, chances are your partner gets on your nerves sometimes. He forgets to take out the trash for the millionth time, or she fails to put the cap back on the toothpaste, and it’s all you can do not to lose your mind. Well, what if I told you that there is a very simple way to instantly feel better about your partner? Would you try it?

If you’re still with me, I’ll assume the answer is yes – good answer! So, what is this magical way to see your partner in a better light?

Physical Affection – as in, hugging, kissing, and good, old-fashioned cuddling. In fact, Drs. John and Julie Gottman, world renowned marriage researchers, found that a 6 second kiss, or a 20 second hug both release a bonding hormone in the brain called oxytocin. When this hormone is released, all sorts of wonderful things happen. Blood pressure goes down, along with stress, anxiety, and even the risk of heart-disease. This means that hugging and kissing doesn’t just feel good, it’s actually good for your health!

While hugging and kissing can often lead to sex, the idea here is to savor these forms of physical affection on their own. Without the pressure of a successful night of orgasms, you and your partner can simply bask in the warmth of being together while letting your hormones do the work of bonding you and creating that warm and fuzzy feeling.

If you think about it, it’s pretty amazing that our bodies are made to feel better when we cuddle. Remember that hormone oxytocin I just mentioned? It’s the same one that gets released when a mother gives birth, allowing her to bond with her child. If you’ve ever seen a new mom cuddling with her baby, you know what I mean – it’s almost like she’s drunk with love. That’s how powerful these hormones are.

If you are a psychology buff, you may remember the famous research of Dr. Harry F. Harlow. Dr. Harlow used monkeys to demonstrate infants needs for physical closeness and affection. In his famous study, the monkeys were either given a wire “mother” or a cloth one. Some “mothers” came equipped with nipples to dispense food and others didn’t. Regardless of whether food was available, the monkeys chose to spend more time with the cloth “mothers,” showing that cuddling can even be preferable to food.

So, now we understand how lovely cuddling really is and that it has both physical and mental benefits. But, what if you are just not a cuddler? If you grew up in a family where cuddling wasn’t the norm or have never been in relationships where physical affection was abundant, it might feel awkward or annoying to reach out to your partner to give and receive warmth and affection.

If that’s the case, first, know that you are not alone. Many people who grew up in non-touching homes or who have been hurt in the past, have a hard time showing affection. If this is you, start small. Maybe make an effort to hold your partner’s hand more often or put your hand on her knee when you are sitting together. Then, as you feel more comfortable you can work up to the more touchy-feely stuff. Either way, remember that you are doing something good for yourself, your health, and your relationship when you reach out and touch your partner.

If you would like to learn how to bring more affection in your relationship, contact me. I’m here to help!

The 3 Biggest Mistakes Newlyweds Make And How To Avoid Them

The 3 Biggest Mistakes Newlyweds Make And How To Avoid Them

You did it! You found someone that you want to spend the rest of your life with. Hooray! Maybe you even had your dream wedding complete with a chocolate fountain and harpist (or whatever your dream is).


Ok, so now that you are done with wedding planning and back from your honeymoon, the work of actually being married begins. This is a whole new phase of life, and although it’s a wonderful change, it’s also a challenging time for many.


In my work with couples, I’ve noticed three major mistakes that newly-married people make. So today, I want to give you the heads up on what they are and how to avoid them.


Pushing Things Under The Rug

Let me paint you a little picture and see if any of this sounds familiar. You just got back from your honeymoon. You’re still able to smell the sea air and the lime from your Mint Mojitos. Sharing a wonderful time together and you are SO IN LOVE!


Then, you notice your new spouse starts leaving the toilet seat up. Ok, no big deal. You don’t want to say anything because you don’t want to ruin the bliss. Plus, it’s easy enough for you to put the seat down before you use the bathroom. Fight averted!


Next, you notice that your loved-one left his towel on the bathroom floor after showering and he left the cap off the toothpaste and there is toothpaste on the bathroom counter. Yeesh, you didn’t realize he was so messy!


You clean up the bathroom and walk into the kitchen just in time to see him chugging orange juice straight from the container. No glass. Just his lips on the (now half empty) container that is supposed to last at least a week. At this point, you are wondering what sort of monster you married.


While individually these things may seem small, all of these little annoyances can easily add up and cause you to resent him if you don’t find a way to communicate what you are feeling. Still, you don’t want to hurt his feelings or seem like a nag, so what are you to do?


Suggestion: Hold a “family meeting,” once a week where you talk about appreciations as well as any grievances or frustrations. Keep the mood light and positive by including lots of things you love and appreciate about your spouse but don’t be afraid to bring up all of the things that are bothering you too. Having a designated time to talk about these things encourages ongoing communication in your marriage. It is also a great thing to keep doing if and when you decide to have kids as a way to teach them healthy communication.


Gossiping About Your Spouse

I get it. This thing of being married is new. In the past, when you had a bad date or a boyfriend irritated you, the first thing that you did was talk to your girlfriends about it. However, times have changed. You are married now, and if you tell your friends all of the annoying things that your spouse is doing, they will likely hold those things against him even after you’ve made up. This will make it harder for your friends to accept your spouse, and that can have negative implications for your relationship as a whole.


Suggestion: Don’t gossip! Keep a journal to let out your feelings or consider seeing a therapist who will always remain impartial. Don’t tell your friends anything that your spouse wouldn’t want shared. Remember, it’s not only about you now; it’s about your relationship too.


Money Matters

One of the biggest changes that happen after marriage is the way that money is handled in the relationship. Maybe you had separate accounts before but now you are sharing one. Perhaps, you have brought your student debt into the marriage or he has a car loan. Either way, your financial profile as a couple is likely different than yours was alone.


Too often, I see individuals in a couple acting as if they are still on their own when it comes to money. Now that the two of you are married, so are your finances!


Suggestion: Set some guidelines for how money will be handled in your relationship. For example, maybe you talk to one-another before making purchases over $100. Setting boundaries like this can help avoid hurt feelings and let both of you know that you are on the same page financially.


If you are newly married and want to learn more about keeping your marriage on track, contact me. I’m here to help!