Monday, May 11, 2009

Planning to Succeed in Your New Family

A few years ago I created a new marriage preparation program. Not that there weren't plenty of good programs already. It was just that none of those met the needs of my clients. You see, all those clients were getting married for the second or third (or even fourth!) times. They already knew the basics about setting up a home with someone - checking accounts, personal space, moving away from Mom, all that sort of thing. What they needed was something different.

They needed a program to prepare them for the surprising and sometimes harsh realities of life in a stepfamily. I've worked with stepfamilies since 1996 and I've been in a stepfamily since 1994, so I know the special challenges involved in this exciting form of family. "We" have adventures first marriages never dream of. I called the new program STEPprep.

Basic marriage preparation programs, even the really good ones, don't take into account such matters as how you'll discipline each others' kids, how you'll deal with stepbrothers' and stepsisters' feelings of rivalry or jealousy or betrayal; or how you'd like your new husband to deal with your previous husband (if at all); or how much involvement you want your new wife to have with the folks who were best friends with you and your previous wife; or what you plan to do with your ex-in-laws when they begin giving input on your new spouse's method of raising their grandchildren. (!!)

These questions - among many others - are just the sort of things that can derail a second marriage before it gets well established. In my experience, it's not just the challenge, but the unexpected shock of those challenges that rocks most stepcouples relationships. By addressing all the possible and probable surprises in STEPprep, we can develop specific plans to deal with them before they come up. That means you will be prepared to prevent the kind of shocks that can pull you apart.

Another difference in my STEPprep course, from a standard marriage prep program, is the individualized design of each couple's program. While I deal with a set group of topics in STEPprep, most of the program is designed based on the couple's make up. For example, a couple consisting of:
* a twice-divorced mother of three teenagers, all of whom live with her full time, and a never-married man with no children,
will have vastly different needs and concerns from:
* a once-divorced man with two young daughters who visit him on weekends, and a once-divorced woman with a full-time son (and a very involved ex-husband).

As I've worked with stepfamilies across the US and around the world over the last dozen years, I have seen that there are almost an infinite number of couple combinations possible. Yet almost all stepfamilies also seem to experience some similar challenges. The best solution is to teach about the commonalities while also addressing the individual issues. Which is virtually impossible in a class setting, so I meet with each couple privately.

Before I begin working with an engaged couple, they must complete a data profile from which I design their program. The answers they provide tell me where their needs lie and what will most likely be their greatest challenges in their new marriage. Some couples need a great deal of preparation for dealing with their new stepchildren (and their own biological children's reactions to the marriage), others need more help with ex-spouses, while others need more direction about blending two different backgrounds. And all usually need at least a little coaching with these and other stepfamily issues.

I have heard back from some couples who have completed the STEPprep program and gone on to get married. They have all said that the lessons, scenarios, and practice discussions have actually come up in real life. Many have said that they used exact wording we practiced when they dealt with challenges from their children, their ex-es, and well meaning members of their extended family who had offered "help." I am gratified to hear that the program works, but happier to know these couples have a much better chance of a happy future together.

If you'd like information about the STEPprep program for yourself or someone you know, please call me directly at 479-522-7490, email me at, or visit the website at

Bob Collins, STEPcoach

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