Blending Your StepFamily: Healthy Communication, Part 1

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From Pam Rohr, author of Blended but not Broken – Hope and Encouragement for Blended Families:

It’s been said that the key to any happy marriage is healthy communication.  In the cases of blended families, it’s not only the key to happiness, but paramount to the marriage’s survival.

Therefore, let’s consider these questions:

  • Do I feel that I am heard and understood by my spouse?
  • Do I really hear my spouse, or do I make assumptions and think, “I know what they’re saying”?

Couples who felt misunderstood and criticized are more likely to divorce. Criticism kills marriages and cannot be a regular part of your communication, because it hinders building harmony, intimacy and interaction. Criticism stifles healthy communication, because when you feel attacked, your walls go up, and now you’re on the defense.

No one is listening at this point.

The first step is to honestly look at ourselves in light of these questions and rid our discussions of any assumptions and criticism.  You see, we’re always communicating – sometimes verbally and others non-verbally through our actions.  The key question is, is it healthy communication, or is it riddled with assumptions, aggression or criticism?

We can communicate loud and clear without saying a word. One example is: your stepchild comes into to tell their parent goodnight and won’t even look at you.

You heard their message – they don’t want anything to do with you.

Decreasing the negative communication in a marriage is just one part of creating harmony.  Another is increasing the positive communication.

As I learned the hard way, avoidance and assumptions do not contribute to learning how to communicate in a healthy manner.  We thought that we knew what the other one was thinking. But we were wrong. Just because you live with someone doesn’t mean that you can read their mind. Because of this, every time that we would start to discuss a certain subject, the conversation would blow up. This happened so often that we just tried to avoid the topic altogether. After all, I was a pleaser, as long as things went smoothly, I didn’t want to bring up anything that would rock the boat.

So, the situation played out like this: My husband, Ron, would sometimes see my son, Keenan, do something that he thought was unacceptable and correct him. I, wanting to protect my little guy, would step in and defend my son. Ron took this as me undermining his authority and Keenan saw it as me not being either willing or able to always protect him from his “mean stepfather”. The more often that this happened, the more Ron felt disrespected, and the firmer he became toward my son.

So round and round we went. We were on a vicious cycle and we didn’t know how to stop it.

Ron disciplining too harshly (in my opinion), me coming to the rescue, and Keenan stuck in the middle.

But wise counsel and clear, HONEST discussions actually contributed to learning how to communicate in a healthy manner. It was important for us to have a third party present who could objectively see things more clearly and help us keep things calm. Then we were actually able to share what we felt and thought about what was going on. We didn’t attack one another and we stopped assuming that we knew each other’s thoughts, as we had done before.

You see, I had assumed that Ron didn’t like my son; and Ron thought that I was undermining his position as the man-of-the-house.

In truth, Ron actually loved my son very much. That’s why he was involved in the first place – he wanted what was best for Keenan. And I never intended on causing Ron to feel disrespected, I just wanted to stand up for my little boy.

You see, this wasn’t a role problem or a discipline problem – it was a marriage communication problem.

In times of stress, there are generally three different communication styles.  Learning your and your spouse’s innate stale is a great first step toward healthy communication.  These three styles are:

  1. Passive Communication – Passive communicators display an unwillingness to honestly share their thoughts, feelings, and desires. This can stem from low self-esteem, and is often used to avoid hurting other people’s feelings or to avoid being criticized. Passive communication is a barrier to true intimacy because you are not being honest. It can leave the other person in the relationship feeling angry, confused, and not trusting because they don’t really know what you think or feel about certain issues.
  2. Aggressive Communication – This communication style displays accusatory remarks and blames the other person with words like, “You always…” or “You never…” Aggressive communication often stems from feeling threatened or having negative thoughts or emotions. The person becomes aggressive and puts their partner on the defense. This type of communication focuses on the negative characteristics of the person (often perceived, not actual), rather than on the situation being discussed. It also erodes true intimacy. Some people move in and out of Passive and Aggressive Communication. They hold it in to a point, and then they blow up.
  3. Assertive Communication – This is learning how to express yourself in a healthy, nonthreatening and non-demanding way. It means asking clearly and directly for what you want or need. It shows respect for yourself and your partner, and it gives them the opportunity to show respect in return. It doesn’t put them on the defense, nor is it accusatory.

Learning how to move from passive, aggressive (and even passive aggressive) communication to assertive, is vital to having sincere and honest discussions.

Learning to communicate well establishes respect, encourages honest dialogue and helps pave the road to a happy marriage and harmonious household.

For more tips on blending your step family, check out Pam’s website at www.NouveauLifeCoaching.com

And, for more encouraging and engaging podcasts and videos, visit the E-Squared Media Network at www.e2medianetwork.com

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