Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is: Kids will make your second marriage a complicated and challenging experience. The reason is clear: In most circumstances, children do not want their parents to divorce. Therefore, the idea of you meeting someone new and finding happiness is not a priority in the appropriately egocentric world of your child. So your children’s view of your new marriage will necessarily be very different from your own.

Children are angry about the loss of their old family and anxious about the creation of a new one. Some children are quite good at hiding these feelings, while others will make their anger known every step of the way. Even if your children genuinely like your new spouse, you should remember that your son or daughter already has two parents. For many kids, the more they like their new step-parent, the more traitorous they feel toward the biological parent they perceive as being “left behind.” Struggles with divided loyalties can lead children to disrupt arrangements between you and your new mate.

Say goodbye to the honeymoon:

Second marriages that include children from a previous relationship start in overdrive. First marriages begin in the bliss of the honeymoon phase of the relationship—just the two of you, getting to know each other within your romantic cocoon. In second marriages that include children, the honeymoon phase is replaced by an adjustment phase. There is little time to bask in the glow of each other’s love when your son is protesting that his new stepsister has the bigger room. Bert, an accountant in Providence, captured this adjustment period aptly: “It felt impossible for me and Judy to feel good about anything. My son locked himself in his room and Judy’s daughter moped around the house, scowling at everyone. We felt like we ruined two lives.”

Say hello to the adjustment phase:

During the adjustment phase of your second marriage, the following issues need to be addressed on an ongoing basis:

Different parenting styles. Couples often experience significant conflict when they do not agree on how to parent each other’s children. It is imperative that you communicate with your partner about parental expectations and develop consistent rules for all the children. If you are inconsistent, the children will see this as a weakness and manipulate these parenting differences to their benefit. If you and your partner vehemently disagree about a particular parenting issue, consult with a child psychologist to get a more objective opinion.

The attention balancing act. Your second spouse wants your attention, your children want your attention, you want your spouse’s attention, your spouse’s children want your spouse’s attention. There is a finite pool of attention to go around, so it is likely that someone is going to feel neglected at one time or another.

It is important that your children receive the time and attention they need. This will differ depending on their age and how well they are adjusting to the new living arrangements. It is also important that you and your partner set appropriate limits with the children and carve out time for your marriage. It is essential to the health of your relationship that you and your partner develop routines and activities that allow you each to nurture the marriage.

Acknowledge your own feelings of jealousy and resentment. It is normal for you to feel jealous of your spouse’s relationship with his/her children—this is difficult to admit, but it’s more common than you might think. You’ve remarried and feel lucky to have found love for a second (or third, or fourth…) time. You want your spouse all to yourself. It can feel like it’s the children who stand in the way of the exclusivity that you desire. Rather than deny these feelings and feel silently resentful, understand them as natural, discuss them with your partner and they will lose their grip on you.

It ain’t the Brady Bunch. The Brady Bunch made remarrying with children look easy. By the second episode all the kids were chummy and there was a quick (and unrealistic) acceptance of their step-parents. Sure, if all the kids get along this makes for instant family harmony. But this isn’t a realistic expectation. Don’t all full (non-Brady) siblings argue anyway? Don’t force the relationship between your children and their new stepsiblings. Your children must accept the loss of their old family before they can accept their new one. This may take a long time, but it is well worth the patience and understanding you’ll need to demonstrate to help your kids get there.

Don’t forget to nurture your marriage. Children in blended families are often given a great deal of power by parents. This is due to parents feeling guilty about disrupting the lives of their children. In order to placate your guilt you may over-compensate by giving your son or daughter too much latitude and abandon the previous parent-child boundaries that were the rule in the past.

Without clear boundaries, children will continuously intrude into the private matters of your marriage. After all, they’ve already lost the only family they’ve known and may want to hold onto you for dear life. One way they might try to accomplish this will be to wedge themselves between you and your new spouse. Children should always feel loved by you, but they also need to learn that you will require time with your new spouse, a person you also love, albeit in a different way. The clearer the boundaries, the faster the children will settle into these new arrangements.

Blended families can work, but not without large doses of information, support, and patience. If you and your spouse work as a team (and feel like a team), you will be able to navigate the complexities that are involved in blending families.

Is your relationship worth protecting? Are you ready to make your marriage everything it can be?

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Author's Bio: 

Rich Nicastro, Ph.D. is a psychologist and relationship coach who is passionate about helping couples protect the sanctuary of their relationship.