Are step kids ruining your marriage? The key to fixing this is to be a team with your spouse.
Once you see the bigger picture, the expert tips in this guide will help you get your blended family back on track.
No matter how alone and overwhelmed you may feel, many other stepparents just like you experience these same struggles.
Do These Problems Sound Familiar?
- Your spouse always seems to defend their kid, even their awful behavior.
- You and your spouse spend more time complaining about each other’s kids than having fun.
- You feel like an outsider when your spouse’s kids are around and can’t wait for them to go back to their other home for a few days.
- You really try to be kind to your stepchildren, but they say they hate you.
These issues are very common for stepfamilies. Rest assured, your marriage isn’t doomed.
From this guide, you’ll learn more about…
- How stepchildren really feel and the role they can play in ruining a marriage.
- Expert tips on handling stepchildren of all ages, especially ones that don’t like you.
- Key things you should never say to stepchildren.
Don’t give up! This isn’t an overnight fix. In fact, it will take some work, but your marriage will be much stronger after you work through these issues. Onward!
Can Stepchildren REALLY ruin your marriage?
Your marriage was great at the start, but somewhere along the way, your step children have turned into little monsters. It feels as if your marriage is crumbling before your eyes and you know exactly who to blame. But do you really?
Truthfully, you, your spouse, and your stepchildren all play a part in your troubled marriage. No matter how awful the kids are, the adults create conflict too.
Take a step back and look at this from another angle.
- Your stepchildren didn’t ask for their family to fall apart, and they didn’t ask you to join it either.
- You are an easy target for their hurt and confused feelings.
- Your spouse might have some shortcomings and struggle as a parent.
- Your stepchildren may have been through trauma that you don’t know about.
Change starts with you and your spouse. Truth be told, fixing your marriage takes commitment and a willingness to look at your own mistakes.
How Stepchildren Can Play a Role in Ruining Marriages
The scenarios below highlight three common problems with stepchildren and remarriages. You’ll see how these issues can pull spouses apart instead of bringing them together.
Problem 1: Kids’ behaviors and comments can pit spouses against each other
Some kids feel upset or resentful about a parent’s remarriage. Frankly, they purposely do things to get their parent and new spouse upset with each other.
Kids will push their stepparent’s buttons and form an alliance with their biological parent. This creates an unhealthy triangle that puts pressure on the married couple.
Jason and Lara
Jason and Lara have been married for two years. Lara’s son, Robbie, is 10 and lives with them most of the time. Lara knew the divorce was hard on Robbie, so she gave him extra attention when she could.
After several months, Robbie began picking fights with Jason and talking back. Most of this happened when Lara wasn’t around. Jason told Lara about Robbie’s behavior, but Lara dismissed his concerns.
After several months of this continued behavior, the tension between Jason and Robbie grew significantly.
Eventually, Jason lashed out at Robbie in front of Lara and she immediately defended Robbie. During this moment, Jason professed that Robbie had been picking fights for months, but all Lara could see was her husband’s anger and her son crying.
Hearing about Robbie’s behavior was so overwhelming for Lara, just as it had been during her divorce. Jason felt like he’d been kicked out into the cold, alone in his own marriage.
Problem 2: Kids are given the reins of power out of guilt
In second marriages, parents often hand over way more power to their children than they should. Much of this comes from guilt over breaking up the original family.
A guilt-ridden parent can become permissive, turning a blind eye to their kid’s irresponsibility. This can deeply threaten a remarriage.
Jim and Sarah
Sarah and Jim have adult children from previous marriages. Recently, Sarah’s 20-year-old son, Trevor, dropped out of college and moved in with them.
He promised to get a job at first, but ended up spending much of his time hanging out with friends.
Jim tried talking to Sarah about Trevor finding a job and getting out on his own. When approached, Sarah said that her ex-husband was too demanding of Trevor growing up. And as time progressed, Sarah created even more excuses for Trevor’s lack of responsibility.
Jim became more frustrated over the next few months and finally had a confrontational blowout with Sarah about Trevor’s situation.
During this moment, Sarah threatened divorce, and Trevor hardly came out of his room. Jim couldn’t believe how quickly their marriage broke down and how fast and far Sarah went to defend her son.
Problem 3: Kids cope with their emotions by acting out
Child behavior problems are nothing new in families. But when kids act out in a remarriage, much more is at stake. Admittedly, remarriage means there is no hope for parents to get back together.
And as children, moving back and forth between homes gets stressful. Going through constant change can put an unbearable strain on a marriage.
Paul and Kristi
Kristi has a 6-year-old and Paul has two sons, ages 9 and 11, all from their previous marriages.
Kristi and Paul have been married less than two years, and it has been rocky from the start. Paul’s two boys wrestled and fought with each other daily and sometimes broke things and hurt each other.
On the other hand, Kristi’s daughter was afraid, often clung to her, and cried. Kristi spent a lot of time trying to manage her daughter’s intense and emotional behavior.
Kristi was also very concerned about the boys’ rough behavior. After all, Paul did not discipline the boys and said their rough housing was natural and they didn’t mean any real harm to each other. Kristi told Paul in doing so that many times her daughter was in danger around the boys.
As time progressed, Paul became more frustrated with Kristi’s daughter. He said she was acting like a baby and needed to grow up and thought Kristi coddled her too much.
After almost two years, both Kristi and Paul became critical of each other’s parenting and somewhat blind to their own kids’ emotional problems.
Tips for Dealing With Difficult Stepchildren Relationships
A stepchild’s age plays a big part in how you approach your relationship. No matter how old they are, your best move is to be kind and respectful. As the newcomer to the family, it can take a while for you to get comfortable.
Generally, it’s important that you approach this situation gently and sympathize with their feelings whenever possible.
Dealing with Young Stepchildren (Children and Preteens)
Young kids still need plenty of time with both biological parents. Unfortunately, they may not understand why their parents live in different places now.
Do your best to create a positive relationship with their other parent. This may not be easy or feel genuine at first. However, your cooperation sends a reassuring message to the kids. Life is different, but the adults are a team.
Be friendly and invite them to play with you. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t want to. It may take them a while to warm up. Let their trust in you develop at their own pace.
Be patient with their emotional reactions. Little kids have a lot of big feelings, and they rarely know what to do with them. Rejecting you might be one action they feel they can control.
Dealing with Teenage Stepchildren
Remember that a teenager’s main job is to learn how to become independent. They do this in the most annoying ways and can often seem moody or easily get upset.
Your teen stepchild might warm up to you, but don’t be surprised if they start by brushing you off or testing your patience. Take it slow.
You want a teen stepchild to see you all as a family unit, even if it’s unfamiliar at first. Create a fun family night once a week or two where everyone spends time together. Expect some resistance, but invite them to have a say in what you do as a group.
If your teen stepchild acts rudely or tries to fight with you, let your spouse handle it. Build that relationship before you act as an authority figure.
Dealing with Adult Stepchildren
Adult stepchildren are not immune to emotional conflict and bad behavior. Nonetheless, some adult stepchildren have open hearts and will have a relationship with a stepparent. On the contrary, others hold on to a lot of emotional baggage and have trouble getting past old conflicts.
Start by being polite. As adults, they have their own lives and households. You aren’t an authority figure to them, so begin by being friendly. This could grow into a warm parent-child type of relationship. Or it might at least be a friendly connection.
At worst, you will be ignored or pulled into drama. This can be emotionally draining, especially if you’re trying hard to get along with everyone. Have your spouse handle any upsetting incidents, and remember, pull together as a team.
If your adult stepchildren are rude and childish, that behavior is on them. Try your best to not take this personally. That behavior is for them to work out and you to avoid.
How to Build a Relationship With Stepchildren Who Don’t Like You
Living with a stepchild who doesn’t like you can be rough, but it may not be that way forever. These tips can help you handle the ride when it gets bumpy.
Continue being kind and respectful
You may not reap the rewards for a while, but keep being kind and respectful. Be prepared to hear “You aren’t my mom/dad,” or “I hate you.”
This is not unusual, plus it can hurt and feel frustrating. Know that your positive behavior will stick with them. Until then, they need to see that before they trust you. They need to test the waters with you before they open up and express their feelings.
Read up and educate yourself on the dynamics of stepfamilies
It takes more than one informative article to guide a person through step parenthood. It’s important that you do your own homework like finding highly recommended books and podcasts.
In short, learn as much as you can about stepfamily relationships and family dynamics.
You can accomplish this by joining a social or support group to hear how other real-life stepparents work through problems. Your knowledge base will evolve as your stepchildren grow older and your relationships change.
Avoid badmouthing the other parent
Your spouse’s ex may have a lot of personal problems. They may also be a large source of conflict in your family.
While it may indeed be tempting, never spell out the details to your stepchildren. They might look for something like this so they can pit your spouse against you so beware.
If you need to tell your stepchildren any negative news about their other parent, do it intentionally. Say it as a couple or let your spouse handle it themselves. Never blurt it out as an emotional comment.
Step back from discipline
There may be a time when you can successfully discipline your stepchildren. But if you are facing a lot of conflict with them, let your spouse handle it. Be a friend and get to know them first.
A heavy hand with discipline will put you in the wicked stepparent role pretty quickly so have patience.
Encourage your spouse to have alone time with their kids
Your spouse has a lifelong connection with their children and the bond between them is undoubtedly incredibly strong.
The kids may be worried about you taking up all their parent’s time. They might also feel a longing to have things like they used to be without you.
So, it would be in everyone’s best interest if you openly encourage this private time. Ultimately, your spouse needs to continue developing relationships with his or her children.
Keep your marriage strong
Your marriage is the bedrock of your family, and, consequently, your stepchildren are wary of the disruption in their family. And lo and behold, you are the face of all that change.
As you continue to have a stable and solid marriage with their parent, they may eventually feel more at ease with you.
Things to Never Say to Your Stepchildren
If the number one tip is being kind and respectful, the next best tip is this: don’t say something you will regret or hurtful.
The comments below may seem harmless at first, but as you will soon discover, you’ll see just how hurtful they are to a stepchild’s heart.
You can call me Mom/Dad.
Most stepchildren already have both a mom and a dad. They aren’t looking for a replacement parent or multiple moms and dads. To a stepchild, this comment is disrespectful and feels intrusive.
Instead, suggest they use your first name. If the child is young, they may feel like calling you Mom or Dad if their other biological parent is deceased or out of the picture. At any rate, let the child decide.
Why are you always upset?
This comment puts the child on the defensive. In doing so, they may feel exposed, and as if their emotions are obvious. At the end of the day, their parents are divorced and there are new people in the family. Can you really blame them?
Instead, be patient with the child’s emotional state. Understand they are in upheaval and they may not know how to cope with their emotions.
Nonetheless, don’t tolerate disrespect or violent behavior. Loop your spouse in right away if that happens and get on the same page quickly.
Why don’t you like me?
Like the previous comment, you represent the destruction of their parents’ marriage. You wouldn’t be in the family if their parents were still together. In fact, you are easy to dislike, no matter how nice you are.
No stepchildren are exactly alike. One may enjoy spending time with you while another does not. Know that at some point they may say they hate you. This can be tough to hear, but it’s crucial that you remain patient and let each relationship develop at its own pace.
Why can’t you be more grateful?
Nobody enjoys being told to be grateful. It’s a mindset that has to come from the heart. So don’t say this to your stepchild, your own child, your spouse, or to anyone. You don’t promote gratitude by being pushy about it.
Gratitude grows best when you show it yourself. Instead, tell your stepchild how grateful you are to know them. Show them how to be thankful for the sunshine and every new day. Teach them to be thankful for other people’s kindness.
Does your mom/dad let you get away with that?
There are a few things majorly wrong with this statement that as a step-parent you must be aware of.
First, you’re putting the child on the defense without explaining what’s wrong. Second, you disrespect one or both of their parents by making them sound like the bad guy.
At the very least, both you and your spouse need to communicate well about the children’s behavior. Besides, it’s normal for kids to cover up their mistakes or say they have permission from their parents.
If you see a problem behavior, stay calm, and keep your tone neutral. Just make sure the child isn’t doing something unsafe where they could harm themselves.
Saving Your Marriage and Family Ties
Stepfamily relationships can be tense, but they don’t have to spell the end for you and your spouse.
Use the suggestions from this guide to help your family work together. And if it doesn’t go well on your own, you might find family counseling helpful.
Don’t lose hope. Know that many other stepparents are working through these issues one day at a time. What you are experiencing is normal.