Ron Deal: I’m thinking of a stepmom, who… we recently had a conversation. And she said to me, you know, “Ron, I keep becoming the wicked stepmother. It- it’s not who I normally am. But I’m so frustrated with some of the circumstances that take place with my husband’s ex-wife and how we have to deal with her and the frustrations it creates for us, that I find myself getting quick tempered.” Now, listen to that…
Jim Daly: But she’s not traditionally that-
Jim: … way.
Jim: That’s interesting.
Ron: So the context is bringing that out in her, whereas, she’s not normally that way.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Insights from Ron Deal, who often counsels and teaches remarried couples about how to manage stepfamily life better. Ron was with us last time, and we’re going to return to this important topic today on Focus on the Family. And your host is Focus president, and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, last time we heard from Ron about the unique challenges that married couples experience in a blended family context. And we may get some, uh, complaints, uh, for covering this, I get that, but Focus on the Family has always supported the sacred commitment of marriage. And we’re well aware of the hardships single parents can face, and how divorce will disrupt families. But God is in the business of redemption and restoration. There’s plenty of biblical stories that demonstrate that. And even in a broken family situation he can bring healing and new hope for a new future. So we want to come alongside these blended family couples and help them build a better, stronger relationship in Christ. And help them fight the risk of another divorce. And the fact is, a lot of what Ron shared last time, and will share today, is applicable to all of us. Uh, we in the Christian community need to do better in our marriages, living out the fruit of the Spirit with our spouse which includes, love, joy, peace, patience and much more. So I encourage everyone to lean into this conversation today because it’s really good stuff. And if you missed the conversation last time, get the download or request the CD. You will not regret it.
John: And when you get in touch, ask about Ron’s book that has been, really the basis for our conversation, it’s called The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family. And you can call us for your copy 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800 232 6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And here now is where Jim resumed our conversation, with Ron Deal, on Focus on the Family.
Jim: Ron, uh, for those that are picking up today that didn’t hear last time, uh, we talked a lot about fear and getting a handle on fear. The, the idea of pursuing humility as a great way of conflict resolution and dealing with those unique pressures that are in the stepfamily. Let’s talk about expectations, um, to kick it off today. I would think that, um… You know, again, for whatever reason the first marriage or the previous marriage has ended. And a, a wife or husband is going into this marriage with expectations, probably some negative expectations too. In fact, you refer to that as ghost buster.
Jim: Uh, talk about the ghost buster analogy.
Ron: Well, we all… We all have a little residue on our hearts after we go through a, a terrible loss, by death or by divorce. It, it leaves something with you. It makes you blink. What I mean by that is, trust is just a little bit more difficult. And so the residue creates this, um, the ghost of marriage past, as we like to say, that just leads people to wonder if they can fully trust their partner.
Jim: What does that ghost say to you?
Ron: Well for different people it says different things. For example, for the person whose spouse just turned and walked out, had an affair, le- The marriage is over. Bam. You didn’t see it coming, and there it is. The ghost says, “Boy, life can turn on a dime. Don’t lean in too far.” To-
Jim: Well I think for women it’s worse. They’ll hear, I’m not good enough.
Ron: There you go. So the ghost, for them, is a shot to h- her self-esteem, and who she is, and how valuable she is. And so she’s left wondering if… In her second marriage, she’s wondering, am I as valuable to him as I would like to be? Because that’s where my security is gonna come from. So, all of which, just leads to that guardedness that we’ve been talking about. And, and I’m… My message to couples in stepfamilies is, you cannot let that guardedness control you. Because you will lean away from your spouse rather than leaning in. You will, um, share some of who you are, but you won’t share all of who you are. You will make assumptions. When they say things, you will assume the worst in their words. What they really mean, right. That’s what you’re thinking, oh, what he’s really saying is, I’m not valuable. When he may just be pointing out something that irritates him. But an irritation is not, I reject you, right.
Ron: And that’s the difference. You take a little thing; you take benign comments and turn them into malignant comments. And that erodes the relationship.
Jim: Wha- a- And what strikes me, Ron, uh, it seems that the fruit of the Spirit is an uphill achievement.
Jim: And the fruit of… The other fruit (laughs)-
Jim: … is really a downhill. And let me ask you this question, why is it so easy for us as human beings to fall downhill into that ugly fruit of division, and disunity, and lack of love, lack of humility, all the things that are listed there in Galatians? I- it’s so hard to reach… It’s like the fruit of the Spirit is in the top part of the tree.
Ron: Uh, yeah.
Jim: And it’s hard for us to get to as human beings. Why is that?
Ron: I got a couple thoughts. I think one of them is ’cause we’re fallen, okay. But along with that is, I can do it. Um, I think we spend far mu- too much time in marriage ministry, and education, and parent training, and whatnot with building families, talking about all you can do to grow who you are. That’s an important thing. I need to have an attitude about Ron that says, I need to grow, and I need to learn. But that needs to be rooted in my dependence on God and the Holy Spirit working in my life. If I’m not rooted there, I’m never gonna find the strength to overcome my frailties and my faults and- There’s gonna be some things that just plague my marriage with Nan, for our entire life.
Ron: But if I don’t have humility, I’m not hearing. How many times did Jesus say to people, “You have eyes to see, but you don’t see. You have ears to hear, but you don’t hear.” Just because you’re around Jesus, doesn’t mean you actually see Jesus. And all of us, who are living and breathing parents, um, husbands and wives, we’ve gotta really open ourselves to what Jesus is saying to us about, me. Then I can grow, then I can change, then I am empowered by the Holy Spirit to be more.
Jim: Well I mean, that is excellent. And that’s where it all starts, is that relationship with Jesus Christ. Le- let me, uh, talk about again, those expectations though, especially with kids because that can be all over the map.
Jim: What, uh, the kids are expecting out of a stepparent. What the stepparent’s expecting out of the children-
Jim: … and hi- his or her new, uh, spouse. Talk about that kind of wild environment, where expectations are all over the place.
Ron: Yeah. You know, it was interesting, when we went into this study, I really thought that most of the couples had never really anticipated that the stepfamily dynamics might bring stress to their marriage. I was proven wrong. I- I love that, when I’m proven wrong.
Ron: Actually, I hate that when I’m [crosstalk]-
Jim: Yeah. Okay, that sounds more honest.
John: But what can you do?
Ron: That’s right. There’s the humility, I gotta own it. Uh, 88% of couples going into a marriage with kids, anticipate there’s gonna be some stressors and strains. Well, they’re right, there are, but here’s what we learned. Just because they anticipate the stress doesn’t mean they know what to do about it.
Ron: A full 50% of the couples in our study, in another study 75% of the couples, never had a conversation about how to parent. So here you are asking about the expectations of parenting, but couples hadn’t really thought through it enough to even have a conversation around it before they got married. What that says is, their expectation is that because you and I love each other, parenting things are just gonna work out just fine. It w- You know, we’ll figure that out as we go. And my message to people is, whoa, whoa, whoa, you gotta understand. This should be so big that it determines whether or not you get married. If you can’t see eye to eye on the parenting things, raising the kids, then you really need to rethink the timing of a marriage, or a decision to even get married. It’s really important.
Jim: Uh… What I’m hearing you say is, the intentionality for a step-couple is critical.
Jim: You’re more mature.
Jim: You know the pitfalls. You’ve perhaps come out of, uh, a bad situation. You’ve got to redouble your efforts to understand what those expectations should be.
Ron: Uh, um… We’re talking about conflict in couples, in stepfamilies. I’m thinking about a woman who just wrote to us on Facebook. And, and what she said is, you know, “I’ve held my kids to the standard of As and Bs in school.” Uh, “I married a man who… His standard is whatever.” Right, “And his ex-wife kinda has a whatever standard for their kids. And so, you know, his daughter brought home Cs this semester, for two semesters in a row. And I’m sitting here trying to figure out, how do I keep holding my kids to the standard of As and Bs?” All right, w- we can talk about standards in education, that’s one thing. But obviously they’re not together in their home, it’s a home divided. This is not only a parenting issue, but also now a marital issue. And for couples in stepfamilies, this just stirs up the fear.
Jim: Uh, Ron, in your book, uh, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage, you talk about that closeness and flexibility, um, the need for that in a step-couple. Um, you encourage them to take a relaxed view about change. That caught my attention because that’s hard for people to do-
Jim: … because temperaments come into play.
Jim: It… To me, that’s a temperament statement. If you’re a type “A” person, driven, you’re organized, you have a task list, um, you’re working out every day. I mean all that kind of thing that usually comes with a task-oriented person. To tell them that they need to relax toward their view about change is like pushing water uphill.
Ron: You’re right.
Jim: How does a person who’s got that temperament, uh, hear that advice so that they can be more successful in a step-couple relationship?
Ron: So, the principle is flexibility. Flexibility helps you find, uh, alternative solutions to stepfamily dilemmas that you may not have just seen on the surface. And without flexibility, sometimes you won’t find those solutions. But the person, as you described, who just tends to be a go-getter, let’s take the hill and charge, is not very flexible sometimes, right. They’re pretty rigid in their thinking about how things should be done. I think we’re back to, here’s how we apply humility. And I coach couples to say this, okay, what I know about me… Uh… I- Imagine this guy, we’re talking about guy, and-
Ron: … he’s standing before his wife, and he says this out loud to her, what I know about me, is that I’m that type A guy, and I’m ready to take the hill by charge. But what I know, is that if I don’t slow down, we’ll get ahead of ourselves and then you and I will end up in different places, and we’ll have more conflict. So, I need to just pause because the truth is, we can probably take a deep breath and be okay. Now what he’s just done, out loud, is think through and talk himself into a different attitude. What he’s also doing in the, in the meantime, is showing his wife that he’s managing who he is in that moment. Which means she doesn’t have to manage who he is, right. ‘Cause we often find that couples get into that little bind, right, where she’s trying to make him different. But when he takes responsibility… We’re right back to Jesus, you know, you own the log in your eye, right. That comes first. Well, then it softens the interaction between them, then they’re more likely to find a new solution.
Jim: And now I’m, I’m picking in the type “A” person. Let’s go the other direction. And it’s, um, you know the step-couple and the wife feels like her husband’s not stepping up. He’s so relaxed about change that he’s not participating in it. You know, he’s just out of the picture. How does that spouse, uh, address that issue that you’re not engaged?
Ron: Great question. Let’s assume there’s a history here, that in the past when she was frustrated with him not taking action, that she would come and criticize him, or you know, coach him, would be the word she would use.
Ron: He would use the word, control me, right. They see it differently. And so, let’s just apply the very same principle to her. Imagine her coming to her husband and starting the conversation with this, honey, what I know about me is that sometimes I get critical of you and I make you feel like you’re inadequate. And I want you to know I’m not doing that right now. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to manage that part of me, and I’m trying to speak with respect. And I do have a need for you and me to figure out how we can take action on something, and I’d like for us to talk about that. But please know, I am not telling you you’re bad or it’s all your fault.
Ron: Now just imagine her-
Jim: That’s much more motivating.
Ron: Oh, my goodness, right.
Ron: And now he is going, oh look, she’s just dealing with the log in her eye.
Ron: I don’t have to deal with that log in her eye, I can now just deal with me. And what I need to do is I need to just kinda say, okay, I gotta step up and I’m gonna try to challenge myself a little bit. It calms the interaction. It slows the interaction. It invites… See… 1Peter 5:5 says, “Put on humility towards one another because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” There’s a principle here f- even for marriages. When I come with you with harshness, you will oppose me, just like God opposes pride. But if I come with humility and softness, you will have grace for me. And now we have two people outdoing each other with grace. That always leads to a better outcome.
John: I’ll have to say I agree with Ron Deal so much. And he’s offering us some really wonderful spiritual truths that all of us can apply in our relationships, whether you’re in a first time marriage or remarriage situation, you can apply those concepts of humility and grace to pretty much every relationship. Well find out more about the book that Ron co-wrote with David Olson, it’s called The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. And you can order your copy by calling 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800 232 6459, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And let me point out to you that we have a wonderful counseling team available if you need to talk to someone about issues in your marriage or your family. It’d be a privilege to set up an initial consultation with one of them. Uh, and when you contact us, just let us know and we’ll have one of those great counselors give you a call back. And if the relationship with your spouse is in serious jeopardy, if you’re without hope, then we have an intensive counseling session available to you. Um, you’ll meet several days in a row with some couples who are also, uh, struggling, maybe even on the brink of divorce. Our Hope Restored marriage intensives offer a lifeline to couples. And the good news is that 80%, four out of five couples that we’ve surveyed after attending Hope Restored, are doing better two years later. They’re still together, and they’re flourishing. Let us tell you more about Hope Restored, uh, or our Christian counseling services, or that great book The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. Our number 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or visit focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
John: And let’s return to the conversation with Ron Deal, in which I asked this question. And Ron, I’d like to go back to the illustration you had because I’m still thinking about this. Uh, we experienced a little bit of managing expectations about grades-
John: … in our home.
John: So, I can imagine the difficulties-
Ron: (laughs). Yeah.
John: … when you’ve got two sets of kids and parents with differing perspectives. So, go back to that illustration and talk about the wife’s expectation for higher standards, the husband’s kids have it easier. How do I deal with all of that? Uh, weave in this idea of flexibility that we mentioned a moment ago, and some conflict management as well. What can she do in that situation?
Ron: Y- you really want me to solve that dilemma in two minutes-
John: Yeah, (laughs).
Ron: … or less? [crosstalk].
Jim: That is so specific. You must have a friend that’s gone through this.
Ron: No, it’s a great question. And really, life is full of those really hard dilemmas sometimes. And… So, let me talk around it. Because I’ve looked all throughout the Bible and I haven’t found the answer for what grades should be. All right, in terms of expectations from parents. So, parents have to do what parents have to do. We have to make a decision with the best wisdom we have available to us, with what we know, and we have to try to move forward with that in our home. What I would encourage this couple to move toward, is unity. Now, does that mean exactly the same? Does that mean they both buy into the exact, the same philosophy? Not necessarily. It just means that they come up with a standard that they can both live with.
John: Yeah, but flexibility here means, perhaps to her, I have to give up.
Ron: That’s right. And it could mean to him, he has to give up the expectation-
Jim: Or give a little.
Ron: Uh, give a little. I mean, my guess is, uh, cooperation on both sides will really be helpful. For both of them to understand, hey, this is where I come from, and this is why it matters to me that you get all As and Bs. This is why it matters to me that we not worry about a C. They both need to know what’s going on inside them around that, and talk it out, and share with that. I also think there’s a, a matter of, what’s good parenting? What’s good education? You guys have Cynthia Tobias on here a lot, talking about that sort of thing. And, you know, go to other standards like those people, and understand what a good philosophy is in general for helping kids.
Ron: That becomes a backdrop that informs you in your conversation with one another. At the end of the day, you have to find a way to be more together than apart. You simply cannot lead the home as a couple from two different places. And so sometimes it means calling grandma. Sometimes it means pulling into your small group for, you know, input. Sometimes you gotta go to a pastor or a counselor, and really hash this out. I tell couples it may take two minutes to make a decision like this, sometimes it takes two months of really deep conversation and pulling in all your assets. But at the end of the day, you gotta come out with a similar standard.
Jim: Uh, Ron, uh, last time we really concentrated on the marriage relationship, uh, John’s introduced the children. Let’s talk about the need for guarding the marriage.
Jim: I- And this is applicable to first time married couples as well.
Ron: It is.
Jim: And I see it even for Jean and myself. Um, we’ve gotta be mindful that the kids move on, but you’re with your spouse, hopefully, for the rest of your life.
Ron: That’s right.
Jim: And where do we make a mistake in, um, maybe over pursuing, overindulging, over-doing the parent-child relationship- … in a stepfamily context? Um, and, and how does a spouse help the other spouse see that it’s a little over the top?
Jim: And we’re damaging our relationship. And what are some of those circumstances that lead to that?
Ron: Yeah, couples in stepfamilies have to guard their marriage just like couples in first marriages. They just have more stressors. Honestly, they do. They have more internal and external stressors. The kids, the ex-spouses, the, the ex-mother-in-law who wants to see the kids at Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and, and you know, every other Friday. And how do we work that into our calendar, and what’s your expectation of that versus mine? Th- there are just so many things that can kind of pull and drain on the couples’ relationship. So, guarding their marriage and finding that leisure time for example, to just take a walk around the block and hold hands. And just decompress the day, and just be together. And just kind of, just be calm, (laughs). Try to find that little place of respite with one another. Those things really matter, even if it’s a five-minute walk because it says, all right, we’re, we’re here, we’re together. And we’re, we’re gonna continue to ride this out.
Jim: You use a term, committed love-
Jim: … in the book. Um, it, it, it sounds great.
Jim: We all want that.
Jim: Especially from our spouse (laughs).
Jim: Talk about what you meant by committed love.
Ron: Well it’s that covenant attitude that says, we’re in this thing for life. For couples in stepfamilies that, that means declaring to everyone around you, we’re in this thing for life. I mean, in the beginning…. And this is really important for couples in stepfamilies to hear me say this, all right. In the beginning your children are not nearly as invested in the success of your marriage as you are. Now that’s very different than in a first marriage. In a first marriage, biological, traditional family, everybody is invested in the success of mom and dad’s marriage. If they’re not happy, we’re not happy. If they’re separated, we want ’em back together again. Everybody is invested, equally. But in a stepfamily, on day one the couple’s invested in their marriage, but the kids, well, maybe, you know. Take it or leave it. Be okay if… Be okay if you didn’t stay together. That’s different. That’s very different. So, you as the couple have to be committed to that long-term relationship, even if other people around you are not.
Jim: Including your kids.
Ron: Including your kids.
Ron: And that can feel strange sometimes. You feel like maybe you’re betraying your kids. Sometimes parents report feeling, I feel like, man I, I’m… It’s like I’m doing something that has put them in a hard place in their life. Well, yes there are adjustments. And yes, sometimes they’re not necessarily excited about your marriage. But here’s the good news. With the honeymoon that we talked about in a previous broadcast, comes at the end of the journey, later and as the crock pot is bringing you all together. Then it is something the kids celebrate. They do celebrate your committed love. You just have to be the ones to take the lead on that.
Jim: Um, Ron, as we end the second day of this discussion… This has been really good. And I think there’s been so many good things for all of us in a marriage relationship, whether it’s your first marriage or, um you know, a marriage that came after, um, certain circumstances. Y- You have described for me so many things. The, the one that I’m really, um, caught on, is communication. The way that you have today role-played that. And for the spouse, either the husband or the wife, to communicate with the partner to say, here’s what I’m feeling, I’m not wanting to come at you, but you gotta help me here. H- Here’s where I’m at. You coming in that spirit of humility. It’s so wonderful. The question, uh, that I’ve got on that though, is if you look at communication in marriage as a four or five step process,
Jim: Why in the world are we so inept-
Jim: … at the first step?
Jim: It’s like we go… Down line we want it resolved, of course we want it resolved. We want to do the right thing. But for us to simply say, here’s how I’m feeling-
Jim: … this has wounded me. I need to better understand your heart. I don’t want to strike back verbally. I don’t want to respond to that. How come it’s so hard for us to do that first step that you’ve, uh, role-played for us?
Ron: Well I think it takes a lot of emotional intelligence, honestly. Um, u- humility is a heart issue. I, I, I’ve told marriage educators, um, for the last five years. I’ve said, you know, I’ve wondered for years why I could teach communication skills to some couples and they would use it, and other couples would use it in rehearsal and practice, and walk out of the counseling room and never use it ever again in real life.
Jim: And go right back to the fight.
Ron: What was the difference? And the difference is the heart. The difference is, I am willing to deal with me, before God and now before you. Without that attitude, I will just blame you. I will just defend myself. I will just get harsh and critical. I will just lash out and do all the things I know I’m not supposed to do. It’s human nature. It’s in us. It’s Adam and Eve in the garden for crying out loud. That’s where it all started. Blame her, blame him, blame God for the woman you gave me. It’s who we are, unless we’re willing to slow down, take a deep breath, say a prayer. I mean I think that’s where, Lord, help me see me.
Ron: Now, I can deal with me first. Then that affords me, I think, some influence. And now I can deal with you, and we can deal with each other, but we do so with a spirit of grace.
Jim: Well that is so well said. And that’s a good place to end this two-part series. I appreciate so much, uh, your effort and your co-author on The Smart Stepfamily Marriage. There is lot of good meat in here. The survey, which I think would be interesting for all married couples to take. And, uh… Yeah and, Ron, it’s just been great having you. Thanks for being here.
Ron: Thank you.
Jim: John, I so appreciate the great insights and sensitivity that Ron Deal brings every time we cover remarriage or blended family topics. He has committed his life to helping couples love one another well in those circumstances. And as we’ve already mentioned, Ron’s got a lot of great wisdom and encouragement for every couple, whether you’re in a stepfamily or not. And that’s why I recommend our listeners get a copy of Ron’s book. This is a wonderful resource. In fact, I’d like to put a copy of The Smart Stepfamily Marriage into your hands when you send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family today. That’s how much we believe in Ron’s content. Get a copy for yourself or for another couple you know that might need it. Uh, maybe your church.
John: Yeah, contact us today, our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or donate online and get the book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
Jim: And John, we know whenever we address the topic of marriage, there are people listening right now who are facing a crisis with their spouse. We get that. Maybe you’re in that situation right now, and you don’t have much hope for the future. If that’s the case, I want to urge you to contact us about Hope Restored, which is a counseling retreat for hurting couples, some of whom are on the brink of divorce, maybe even signed the papers, that’s not uncommon. But through the intensive counseling we offer over several days, uh, you can learn how to love each other again, and put God at the center of your marriage. It happens over and over again at Hope Restored. Did you know we have a 99% satisfaction rating from the couples who go through Hope Restored? That’s a great affirmation about the service they provide. Even better, over 80% of those couples two years later are still married and doing better. So, contact us today to learn more or ask to speak with one of our Christian counselors. We’re here to help you and your spouse to not only survive, but to thrive in your marriage.
John: And again, our number is 800-A-FAMILY, or you can find just a wealth of resources for husbands and wives at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And coming up next time, uh, you’re gonna hear from Becky Kopitzke, who offers encouragement to parents.
Becky Kopitzke: If we’ve had a mom fail, or a dad fail. We have got to remind our children that they are loved. Because the last thing I want is for my kids to think that God’s love for them is dependent on their performance.
End of Teaser
John: On behalf of Jim Daly, and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ.