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Strengthening Stepfamilies

Stepfamilies comprise 50% of families in America today.  While there can be great opportunities for growth, there are different dynamics within stepfamilies that can become stumbling blocks. Less-than-effective communication skills, poor conflict management, unrealistic expectations, and lack of empathy often get in the way of the new family formation being successful.

Many parents are highly concerned about the children who may have already suffered from the divorce and may be having difficulty adjusting to the new dynamics. While there are multiple factors to consider that can help, one of the most helpful gifts you can give to the children is to strengthen the new marriage relationship.  When problems arise, the couple relationship often gets lost in the shuffle.  This can lead to problems including mistrusting one another or looking down on the other for how they handle parenting issues.  This can cause additional strain a family system that may already be difficult to maneuver.

If you are stepparents, what can you do to strengthen your relationship and offer this gift? Set aside time for one another to enjoy each other. Remember and experience the reasons that brought you together in the first place.  This may be as simple as 10 minutes a day talking about each other’s day as well as your thoughts, feelings, concerns, and desires.  Do something together that you can both look forward to.  Plan even a short date to connect with one another.

Strengthening the parent-child bond is very important (and we know how to help people do that), but both parents in the stepfamily can offer a gift of stability to the children and to one another by strengthening the marital bond.

IDEALS for Families and Communities is offering a Saturday workshop called Successful Stepfamilies.  This workshop will help give couples valuable information and tools to help them be successful.

Register for our upcoming workshop on Saturday, October 5th.

Just Keep Swimming- Developing Your Resiliency Skill

When things in life get tough, what do you do?  Just keep swimming!  Through life’s challenges I often hear the voice of Dory from Disney’s Finding Nemo  singing, “Just keep swimming, swimming…What do we do we swim, swim, swim,…”  Dory is the voice of resiliency in my life!

Resiliency is one’s ability to roll with the punches.  When stress, adversity, or trauma strike, one with resiliency is able to experience anger, grief, and pain, but they are still able to keep functioning both physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Resiliency does not mean ignoring your emotions but rather acknowledging them and gaining the ability to control your emotions, not allowing them to control you. The great thing is that even if we find that our ability to bounce back and keep swimming has been lacking in the past, resiliency is a skill that we can practice and strengthen.  So how do you strengthen resiliency?  Our resiliency curriculum, Back on Track*, suggests 6 ways to help you develop your resiliency skill.

·         Get Connected – Building strong, positive relationships with loved ones and friends can provide you with support and acceptance through the good times and the bad.

·         Make Every Day Meaningful – Do something that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose every day.  Set goals to help you look toward the future with meaning.

·         Learn From Experience – Think back on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past.  Consider skills and strategies that helped you through rough times before.

·         Remain Hopeful – You can’t change what’s happened in the past, but you can always look toward the future.  Accepting and even anticipating change makes it easier to adapt and view new challenges with less anxiety.

·         Take Care of Yourself – Tend to your own needs and feelings, both physically and emotionally.

·         Be Proactive – Don’t ignore your problems or try to wish them away.  Instead, figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action.

Practicing resiliency each day can strengthen your ability to keep swimming through life’s small struggles and large stressors.  In challenging times, my inner Dory gets fainter, but I work to strengthen that voice, to strengthen my resiliency.    Through getting connected, making each day meaningful, learning from your experiences, remaining hopeful, taking care of yourself, and being proactive you can keep swimming and moving forward in life.

-Bethany McNeely, staff therapist


*Back on Track, written by Mary Ortwein, Sharon Bryant, and Benita Peoples, is a curriculum developed through our work with people in a wide range of life situations to help them bounce back by being real, relaxed, responsible, and resilient.

Firing On All Cylinders!

When cars are firing on all cylinders, they run efficiently, use up less of your gas money, and provide a smooth, enjoyable ride.  However, when the spark plugs are worn, the air filter is dirty, tire treads can’t be found, rotors are warped or brake pads are worn, the car may still be able to survive, but it is not going to thrive!  A car without care will also cost you more money and energy in the long run and it will not be as enjoyable to drive or ride in because of that constant distracting, clicking noise or that fear of the brakes giving out or the way that it uses up gas inefficiently.

Pot holes and weather can bring upon this type of wear and tear on our cars, and when cars are left to endure life’s grime and junk without care, they will endure extra hardship along the way.  Likewise, with a marital relationship, life can take a toll.  There are lots of unexpected pot holes that can catch people by surprise.  Yet, there are ways to care for your marriage in order to keep it strong and able to thrive without extra hardship.

Why wait until much of your marriage has worn thin before coming in for a tune-up?  IDEALS for Families and Communities offers counseling and several different programs that can provide your marriage the tools it needs to thrive again. You may be coasting along and just surviving, but a tune-up can help identify areas in your marriage that have worn a bit thin.  We can help you to develop your marriage into the thriving, fun, and enjoyable relationship that takes on the different kinds of weather that life brings.  What a joy to have your marriage firing on all cylinders and to maximize the strength of your marriage!  When a car runs beautifully and smoothly, it can be such a pleasure to drive.  What if your marriage was being maintained to enable it to be strong and healthy?

Is your marriage just surviving, or is it thriving?  Don’t wait until your just surviving. Come on in, and get a tune up!

-Sharon Bryant, Marriage and Family Associate and Special Programs Coordinator

“What Do I Say Now?”- Using (Part of) Expression Skill To Get Different Results

“What do I say now?!?” This question was posed to me recently by a girl who was trying to figure out what to say to a college roommate who was being…less respectful of their shared space than she would like. This is a common issue, whether between roommates, couples, work colleagues, or friends, of trying to answer the question, “What do I say when they did ______, and I am not ok with it?” While each situation is unique, we at IDEALS teach (and use for ourselves!) what we call “Expression Skill” to guide us as we talk through difficult issues.

The goal of Expression Skill is to express yourself fully and honestly in a way that maximizes the likelihood that others will respond to you with cooperation. It is not manipulation.  It is not “buttering someone up.”  It IS a way of influencing how someone will respond to you while allowing yourself to be fully honest about your perspective.  Sounds great, right?  Getting to be honest about an important issue (which can also be scary sometimes) but getting cooperation?

Here’s the first of the 7 parts of Expression Skill: Think before you speak. Yeah, sounds simple, but we often ignore what seems like common sense because it is hard to do.  Thinking before you speak is not ruminating about how the other person hurt you or what you want to just get off your chest.  Thinking before you speak means thinking through how you want to be honest and how your choice of honest words will affect the other person (turn them off or invite them to dialogue with you).  When you think before you speak, you give yourself time to calm down (which is really important!) and to also think about why you want to be honest with this person.  Maybe you really value the relationship. Maybe you want to work better together or at least co-exist with less tension. Maybe you have a common goal like paying off the house or keeping you living space hospitable for guests. When you think before you speak, you give yourself time to consider the value of the other person and the relationship. Expression Skill also includes considering the time and place of discussion (maybe trying to have an important discussion in the middle of a UK game or when both of you are overly tired is not likely to get the cooperation you want).

Learning to use at least this first part of Expression Skill can make a huge difference in helping you be heard and understood while getting different results. We, the IDEALS staff, know it works because we use it on a regular basis.  We do so because we believe that people, relationships, honest expression, and compassion are worth our time and effort to think before we speak.  If you are interested in learning the other 6 parts of Expression Skill, contact us. We teach Expression Skill and all of the other Relationship Enhancement skills in a variety of settings- one-on-one in the office, at workshops, and in groups with various organizations.

Do you have an example of when you thought before you spoke?  What result did you get?   Leave us a comment to let us know!


-Julie Dodson, Community Outreach Coordinator