Marriage - Why This Time It Can Work
Help for Stepfamilies

By Derek Randel & Gail Randel, M.D.

Till death do us part, or unless we decide to call it quits! Welcome to the new disposable marriages. The sad reality is that most adults today will have more marriages than children.

Consider the story of a lovely couple, Ron and Rachel, who married when they were 25 years old. As they approached their 35th birthdays they had two children, Sue, age seven, and Sam, age four. Unfortunately, they would not be together to see Sue turn eight because Rachel filed for a divorce.

Before long, Rachel found her true love, again. His name was David and he found his soul mate for the third time. Rachel had custody of her two children and David shared custody of his two children with his second wife.

What are the odds that David and Rachel's marriage will last? Statistics show that 50% of first marriages end in divorce and 66% of second marriages where children are involved split up. The odds are not in their favor.

David and Rachel faced many complex issues. Here is a sampling:

  • Discipline: "You're not my father."

  • Chores: "You never give your children any chores
    when they come over."

  • Time alone: "The kids just walk in on us, there are no boundaries."

  • Visitation: "David expects me to love them just because
    they're his children."

  • The ex: "When she calls, he jumps."

These annoyances continued to escalate. Is there anything David and Rachel can do to avoid another visit to the lawyer's office?

The answer is yes - by using the teaching, and coaching methods of the Step Family Foundation, Rachel and David have an excellent chance of having a successful marriage. The Step Family Foundation, established 30 years ago, has an 84% success rate at keeping couples together.

One area the Step Family Foundation helps spouses deal with is unrealistic expectations. For example, Rachel wants to be one big happy family like her first marriage was at first. She expects David to replace Ron as the children's father. She also wants her children to treat David as if he were their father. Meanwhile, David just wants peace.

These are some of the myths that lead to a 66% divorce rate for second marriages with children. Rachel's new family will never be the biological family she had in her first marriage. Step families have their own unique dynamics and behaviors. Understanding these dynamics is critical for a successful marriage. Let's face it; David will never be the father of Rachel's children. He can be their stepfather - a loved one, or a mentor - but not their father. There is no replacing the biological parent and David and Rachel would be much better off showing respect towards the children's father.

Here are a few suggestions for dealing with annoyances that plague many stepfamilies:


Whenever possible Rachel should discipline her children, not David. If David does handle any of the discipline, it should be discussed beforehand with Rachel. This way there will not be any problem with David exceeding his authority or being too harsh. A united front will give the children a sense of security. And the next time David hears, "You're not my father" - the best response would be, "Thank you for sharing."


These are contributions to the family. The two parents must be on the same page with who does what chores, and what the consequences will be if the chores are not done. When David's children visit they must also be assigned chores. After all, they also live in this house and just because it is on a part time basis does not mean everyone should wait on them or attend to all of their needs. All of the children need predictability, order, and a sense of security.

Time Alone

Being able to set your boundaries is a life skill. Teaching your children how to set boundaries will benefit them in all areas of their life. Begin by closing your bedroom door, and clearly communicate to your children that nobody enters without permission. This must go both ways; knock before you walk into their bedrooms.


As mentioned above, predictability and order are important when children come to visit. Visitation must be ritualized for everyone's benefit. The children need to know where to put their belongings, where they can sit, where they will sleep. Children need to know what is expected of them, and they need to know the weekend's schedule.

The Ex

There are ex-spouses but never ex-parents. The need to get along and co-parent is paramount. The divorced couple does not need to discuss their personal lives but they do need to discuss their children. On the other hand, neither spouse should jump up and react immediately whenever the ex calls.

By communicating beforehand and agreeing on everyone's roles, chores, and discipline issues, there is no reason that David and Rachel cannot have a successful marriage.

To learn much more about setting boundaries, handling chores, discipline, or any parenting issues please contact us at the number below.

Derek Randel is a coach for the Step Family Foundation and has a program called Parent Smart From The Heart. For consultations or general questions he can be reached at 866-89-SMART, or visit his web site:

Derek also is the Author of The Parent Manual
and Bittersweet Moments.

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