Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Importance Of A Supportive Partner


Welcome to Part 2 of this series:

If you've only just tuned into this blog, this post will make a lot more sense if you read part 1 of the series before going on to read this part (2).

Step 3 - ENABLE (your partner) TO LAST OUT

If you’ve been in a step-situation or a blended family circumstance for a while you’ve likely become aware that your partner may feel, at times, as though she won’t last the distance. Whilst this may be frightening to you - after all you don’t want to lose yet another partner - it is a very normal emotion for her to have. Often women in a stepmothering role are plagued by feelings that most people do not readily comprehend but which will be helpful for you to recognise. Some of these could be:

* Feelings of jealousy – these are readily ignited if you rave about your 'darling' kids at every opportunity.
* Feelings of displacement - especially if your children only visit on weekends and you spend every moment with them.
* Feelings of resentment – if your partner feels like the chief cook and bottle washer whilst you are having fun with your children.
* Feelings of anger - if your kids don’t show them the respect they deserve you and if you fail to correct this.
* Feelings of frustrated helplessness – if you tell your children one thing after she has told them another or if you seem to take their side. This usually feels to the stepmum as though you and your children are siding AGAINST her.
* Feelings of hopelessness – if your partner gets the impression that you will never have the same strength of love for her as you seem to have for your children.

If you want your partner to last the distance it is imperative that you become sensitive to her feelings and learn how to diffuse them. Some of these feelings can be diffused simply by allowing their expression. So, when your partner talks about resentments she might be harbouring against your children or about resentment she may be feeling towards you, rather than jumping to your children’s defense or defending yourself, it is essential that you give her an opportunity to talk about whatever may be bugging her. I know that this is not easy because it will most likely feel like a personal attack. I can assure you, however, that brought to the surface, heard and not disputed, feelings tend to rapidly lose their intensity and you may well find that the next weekend will be so much happier if your special lady feels that you have understood what’s going on for her. If her resentment comes as a result of the children‘s bad behaviour or has some other tangible reason she will feels supported if you ensure that you take your children to task. If her stress or unhappiness is due to what she feels that YOU are doing or not doing, I’d suggest that you don’t just discard her concerns but listen carefully to what she has to say. Remember that your partner needs and deserves respect from both you and your children.

A client’s example:
(Client’s examples are shared with their permission – no real names are used and their real identity is disguised in interest of confidentiality).

The more Evan got into talking about Eliza’s (his partner) and Stefan (her 10 year old son’s) relationship, the more conscious I became of the anger that had been building within him for (I guessed) quite some time. He complained: “Whenever Stefan is upset about anything, Eliza fusses over him like he were a 3 year old. She even lays down in bed with him and stays there until he has gone to sleep! Lately she’s even stayed with him all night – is that normal? It certainly leaves me ‘out in the cold’ and I am wondering why she needs me at all. Stefan and I get on fine, but whenever I want to do something for him – like a read dad would - Eliza gets in the way. It’s totally infuriating – she obviously doesn’t trust me at all! What the hell am I doing in this relationship? The stupid thing is that I have never felt for anyone like I feel for her and I really like her kid as well, but whenever it comes to being a ‘real family’ she just won’t let me in. I get crazy when I think of the way she is with her kid, especially when I am not allowed to be part of it”. Evan’s initial anger turns into more and more distress as he continues to tell me how shut out, rejected and rebuffed he feels when all he wants to do is to create a loving family for the three of them.

Once Eliza joins our counselling sessions it emerged that she has been carrying a subconscious fear of Evan disappointing her son in the same way his biological father had disappointed him. He had left the home when Stefan was 5 years of age and he has only seen him a couple of times since. Stefan, who had been very attached to his biological dad, had been devastated by his loss, had suffered from night terrors for months after the initial separation and went into anxiety and stress-mode after each visit he’d had with his dad since then.

Eliza, although very much in love with Evan, was determined that her son would not be hurt by another male as he had been by his father. It was her fear of exposing Stefan to this possibility if she allowed Evan to get close to him that had influenced her behaviour and made her ‘draw back’ each time Evan attempted to be like a dad to Stefan.

Evan, once aware that the reasons she would not really let him close to Stefan were based in the past and not reflective of either her level of love for him or even her trust in him, he was able to give himself permission to recognise that he had felt very jealous of the way Eliza was relating to her son. Verbalising this realisation and finding out that it was quite a common and - given their particular circumstances - normal and understandable feeling, he was able to let go of the anger he had been feeling.

Eliza, recognizing how she was hindering the formation of a healthy new family through her previously subconscious fears that had resulted from her experiences of the past, made a major turnaround. She had never intended to hurt Evan or her son and was horrified once she realised how she had actually hurt them both by allowing her fears to control her behaviour.

Upon completion of the counselling Eliza was determined to allow nature to take its course. She said: I nearly ruined my new life because of what happened to me and Stefan in the past. I am so glad I woke up to what was going on before it was too late. I love Evan and I am really glad the he wants to be the kind of dad that Stefan never had. Every time I feel afraid, I now ‘hold on to my heart’ and choose to trust.

Evan said: I learnt so much through the counselling. I realised that I was using my anger to hide my hurt which wasn’t helping one little bit. I learnt to understand what was going on for Eliza and it makes me love her even more. Stefan and I get on like a ‘house on fire’ and I am so happy that we can now grow into being a real family.

Step 4 - GIVE STRENGTH TO (your partner) THE STEPPARENT

Stepparents - just like biological parents - wear out on occasion. When this happens to a biological parent, he or she can usually draw strength from:

* Other parents’ assurances: “Don’t worry, all kids do this sort of thing, they’ll grow out of it!”
* Relatives input: “It’s amazing how Johnny is the spitting image of you and how he gets up to just as much mischief as you used to!”
* Their own memories: “She was the most wonderful baby, she’s bound to grow out of this stressful phase sooner or later”.

Stepparents don’t have this luxury. They don’t believe other people’s assurances unless they come from other stepparents who are in a similar situation. Their relatives cannot draw comparisons because after all, step-parents are not related to their stepchildren. Additionally, stepparents don’t have reassuring memories. All they see is a stepchild who may be driving them crazy. So, that leaves YOU as their major wellspring of strength.

You can impart strength to your partner by:

* Telling her how much you love, cherish and adore her.
* Assuring her how much you admire the courage and determination she has shown in taking on such a difficult task as stepparenting.
* Letting her know (often!!) how much you appreciate that she has chosen to tackle this situation together with you.
* Being there for her when she needs you.
* Reassuring her that no matter what, together you will find a way through any difficulties.

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