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How to Raise Children in a Blended Family
and Keep Love in Your Marriage

Letter #2

Dear Dr. Harley:

I have enjoyed reading the information you have on the net and I downloaded just about everything. So much of it pertains to the problems my husband and I are having now, unfortunately, when I show it to him, he is not very receptive. I have tried the things you have suggested, but I just get the cold shoulder. We are both in the conflict/withdrawal stage right now and refuse to listen, understand or see things from the other person's point of view. We've been married 2 1/2 years, 2nd marriage for both of us. I have 2 children, 12 and 14 and he has 2, 19 and 17. My kids are really good, but my husband is unforgiving when they forget to shut off a light or fail do one of their chores. His children on the other hand have been in trouble with the law, were involved in teen-age pregnancies and more. But their behavior seems to be irrelevant. I am constantly on the defensive because he refuses to see the good side of my children. He is always right there to point out what they do wrong. Any suggestions on how I can break down this barrier? Our marriage was great at first, but it has become intolerable. Thanks so much!

A. L.

Dear A.L.,

Your husband disciplines your children in a way that does not take your feelings into account, and that is the core of your problem: He does not follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. Granted, the children probably irritate him, and his discipline is his way of expressing his annoyance. But the way he goes about it drives a wedge between you and him.

You have undoubtedly expressed your resentment about the way he handles the discipline of your children in harsh terms. And that has probably made him feel taken for granted, that you don't care about his feelings, and that you may have married him just to have someone to help you raise your children. I'm not sure of the details, but I can tell you this, sometimes it seems like you need the wisdom of Solomon to resolve the conflicts of blended families. But unless something changes soon, you and your husband will be divorced, or at least wish you were.

In some marriages like yours, where there does not seem to be a way to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement, I have recommended a separation until the children are grown, or until you can both learn to follow the policy in the way you both treat your children. In this separation, you and your husband talk to each other every day, at least by telephone, see each other regularly, and have sex together. You may find that this kind of separation can bring you and your husband back together again emotionally, restoring you to the state of Intimacy. When you start feeling better about each other, you may want to try living together again, this time making an effort to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement.

In some blended families that I've worked with, the children of one spouse upset the other spouse so much that they simply cannot live together while the children are still in the house. Even after they return to the state of Intimacy, they still find living with each other's children to be intolerable. When that's the case, the marriage has not ended, but the children and the upset spouse simply remain separated.

What I'm suggesting is a drastic measure, but since I do not have all the facts, it may not be the right thing to do at this time. Keep in mind, however, that saving marriages of blended families is probably the most difficult situation marriage counselors face, and often requires drastic measures. It's difficult because people in that situation tend to put their children's interests before their spouse's interests, and, as a result, are usually unwilling to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement.

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