Press Through the Struggle
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Ron DealRon L. Deal is one of the most widely read and viewed experts on blended families in the country. He is Director of FamilyLife Blended® for FamilyLife®, founder of Smart Stepfamilies™, and the author and Consulting Editor of the Smart Stepfamily Series
Ron Deal explains that marriage, while typically a two-person dance, gets complicated as couples try to manage all the lives around them. He encourages couples to hold onto God’s hand and never give up.
Press Through the Struggle
Bob: Whenever he is talking to stepdads in blended families, Ron Deal says there is one question that most of them are still trying to answer.
Ron: “Who am I in this family? I don’t know what my role is as stepdad to these kids. I’m trying to bond with them; I’m trying to join with them, but they’re teenagers and they’re kind of going”—you know, as teenagers do—“following their own way and living their life. I’m not even sure I feel like I have a place to step in.” He’s just feeling lost and disconnected and like: “I’m on the outside, looking in. I desperately want to get in, but I don’t really know how to get in,” and “They won’t let me in.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, June 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Navigating your way through the maze of the blended family is hard, but it’s not impossible. As Ron Deal says, the rewards can be incredible. We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You guys had the experience awhile back—you went to one of the Blended & Blessed® events that Ron Deal puts together—where we’re talking to blended families all around the country via simulcast/actually, all around the world via simulcast.
Bob: What was that day like for you guys?
Dave: Well, we were the “blessed” part of the day. [Laughter] I’m just kidding.
Ron: Actually, Ann was.
Dave: Yes, she was. [Laughter] I’ve heard that; man, it was true.
No, actually, we had never been to one; and we got to speak at it with Ron in Minneapolis. I’m telling you what—it was really powerful—because you have, in a room, and then simulcast—so people are watching it, all over the world—and able to watch it even later.
Ann: People were watching it from our church, even.
Dave: Yes. We came home; and people just couldn’t stop talking about how helpful it was for them, and our whole blended ministry at our church, and how they are using the videos later.
It was a chance to be with common-like people, who are struggling with the same thing, and pointing them to the right place—obviously, Jesus—but sharing common—I mean, you don’t hear this; you just don’t. When I preach on Sundays, I’m not always thinking like I should about the blended families sitting there; and this is like, “We’re going right there.”
Bob: Ron Deal is joining us this week on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back.
Ron: Thank you. It’s always good to be with you.
Bob: You just had another Blended & Blessed event. We do this every spring; it’s something that is growing. People are catching onto it; people are seeing the value and the benefit from these events. But this is just a small part of what you do, here at FamilyLife Blended®: books and resources, your podcast/FamilyLife Blended podcast that’s out now.
You’ve just recently updated The Smart Stepfamily® DVD series/the video series. Ten years ago, it was clips from you speaking to an audience on blended family issues. Now you’ve come in and brought testimonies from other couples and really freshened up the material. You’re dealing with what couples have told you over the last decade are the key issues that they’re facing.
Ron: It’s really fun to get feedback from people about this series. I mean, the bottom line is, as we talked about this week, is we’re getting people together/God’s people together, and finding friends/people from the community, who maybe don’t know Jesus, but they have a felt need around their family. We’re just inviting them to digest some good material: to talk, and to share, and encourage each other. I believe it’s a great way of bringing people to the Lord.
Bob: One of the things that couples, who are forming a blended family, are hoping is going to be the reality in their blended relationship—this is true for a first marriage—we are hoping that some of the loneliness we’re feeling/some of the isolation we’re feeling is going to be solved, because we have a companion joining us. Yet, you’ve talked to enough blended families, who get into it and go, “I feel lonelier now than I did when I was single.”
Ron: What’s insidious about this is that we often think of marriage as a two-person dance. In fact, it really is; at the end of the day, it really comes down to what happens between you and me. But there are things that happen around you and me that influence our relationship. There are stressors in life: if you lose your job, all of a sudden, you have financial pressure; and that puts pressure within your marriage.
The blended family story that is all too common, that leads to isolation in marriage and ultimately divorce, is the story of: “Wow, you and I are great; but we don’t know how to manage the stuff around us—kids, parenting, step-parenting, former spouses, new in-laws, old in-laws, multitude of kids, different parenting styles. We have financial pressures…All of that is weighing heavily on us.”
I contend that, to do marriage ministry well with blended family couples, we have to address all the stuff. That’s what we try to do in this series.
Bob: In the series, we hear from couples who are living out some of the challenges that you’re going to talk about; and in fact, there was a couple who shared this whole issue of how they started to feel isolated after they got married. Listen to what they shared.
[The Smart Stepfamily DVD Series]
Wife: My first marriage—I was really young—I was 19 when I got married.
Husband: This is my first marriage, and it’s my wife’s second marriage. What made us a blend—we also had two children. At the time that we were married, they were 13 and 10; and I felt like I was joining a family versus becoming a family. I think that’s when our turmoil started; because at that age, they’re not little kids; they’re fully-developed kids. There’s no time for me to nurture them into who they were at that point. I didn’t know how to be a dad to a teenager.
Wife: I’m sure the children were thinking, “What do we do with him?” I don’t know what to do with him, either! It was just so complex and so stressful. I think it started to show on all of us.
Husband: It was always easy for things to go off-kilter; because it was like, “Okay, it’s me and them.” It was never us. I didn’t really feel like I was appreciated as a stepdad; I didn’t really feel like I had a place. So I started to find my place outside the home; and oddly enough, I found that place in ministry and in doing church stuff. People praised me for doing stuff, so I felt like they appreciated me more than my family did.
One day, there was not a big argument; it just kind of a came to a head.
Wife: He wasn’t paying attention to the family and other things going on in the church were more important. I felt neglected, so I was ready to throw in the towel. We were on the verge of divorce.
Husband: I had taken out a suitcase. I was going to pack, and I kicked it; and suitcase hit the wall and put a little hole in the wall. I said: “When I get back home from church, I’m packing this bag and I’m leaving. I’m out of here.”
I work in a media ministry; I kind of zombied my way down the hall; and a family deacon says, “Hey, how’s it going?” I said, “It’s going fine.” He said, “No, it’s not.” He said, “Come here. You need to go home.” He said, “Your wife is your first ministry.” I went home that day; I was like: “I’m going to do whatever I can to make this work. Divorce is not going to be an option.”
Wife: There was something about him saying that to me that signaled to me that he cared, and he wanted me to care.
Husband: We decided we were going to be a married couple first. The kids were going to be the kids; they are getting older, and at some point they’re going to leave the house. “If we’re going to be fighting the whole time they’re in the house, until they leave, what are we going to have when they leave?” It took time; and it was definitely worth the time, and we just kept working it.
My relationship with the kids now is great. My son—he’s married now—he calls me all the time now about husband tips and how to be a dad. I would never have imagined the 13-year-old that he was, when I married his mother—the now, 33-year-old—would be calling me to ask me advice about how to be a better husband.
Wife: Just to see the love and compassion that they have for my husband, who they didn’t know 20 years ago—if I had known then what I know now—“It’ll be okay.”
Bob: You know, listening to them share about their journey, it just drove home the point that you made: “If all they had to worry about was just their relationship, they could have made that work okay.”
Bob: But that’s not all you have to worry about—whether it’s kids, or finances, or in-laws, or the other complexities—you throw that into the mix, and all of a sudden, now our relationship is challenged because of the external factors that are putting pressure on it.
Ron: Yes; and one of the pressures for this guy was simply: “Who am I in this family? I don’t know what my role is as stepdad to these kids. I’m trying to bond with them; I’m trying to join with them, but they’re teenagers, and they’re kind of going”—you know, as teenagers do—“following their own way and living their life. I’m not even sure I feel like I have a place to step in.” So he’s just feeling lost, and disconnected, and an outsider.
Ann: His words were, “I never felt a part of the family.”
Ron: Yes; “It felt like I was joining a family rather than building a family.” That is a very common experience for step-parents: “I’m on the outside, looking in. I desperately want to get in, but I don’t really know how to get in,” and “They won’t let me in. So what do I do?”
This guy—what he did/the way he coped was found something to do—threw himself into ministry, and it became a mistress to him. It became a place where he belonged, and could contribute, and found some significance. In the meantime, he’s just getting further and further and drifting further from his family.
Dave: Think about the first words we heard and then where we ended. What an amazing journey! Again, we’re hearing just a synopsis of probably years; but it sounds like this is going to end in divorce and tragedy—that’s where they’re headed—and yet, there’s a guy at church that won’t take, “I’m good,” for an answer. “No, you’re not; you need to go home.” It was the catalytic moment that said, “He’s right; I have to save this marriage.”
In some senses, watching that in a family room, or in a restaurant, or wherever you’re sitting to watch it in a DVD series—that’s life-changing—because I’m going to sit there and go, “I feel what he’s feeling; I haven’t told anybody.” Yet now, I’m sitting in a room, like: “I can share that,” and “There’s hope?” That’s the beauty of what’s going on.
Ron: The hope there that I want people to get from this series is: “Yes, today you’re in a struggle. Stick with it; keep going. There is reward.” Now, I can’t guarantee when, or where, or how quickly; but you have to stay with it. Press through those awkward, difficult I-don’t-know-what-to-do moments; and don’t give up.
Bob: That’s the beauty of what this couple shared as they’re looking, now, back and saying: “I have my bio son calling his stepfather for parenting tips,” and “There’s bonding, and there’s love there,” and “I didn’t believe it could happen, back 20 years ago; and yet it’s happening.” That’s where you go, “Couples—who persevere, who figure it out, who get help, who find hope—they wind up, five years later, going, ‘This is better than I thought it could be.’”
Ron: Yes; here’s a little perspective as we think about this. We’re a marriage ministry, here, at FamilyLife®. There are definitely some things that are very different about blended family living and blended marriages, but there are some things that are exactly the same. Here’s one thing that’s the same: “When the going gets tough, hold onto God’s hand, and press in, and don’t give up”; because there are often rewards on the other side, right? “You’re in the middle of the wilderness, Moses; it’s a long way into the Promised Land, but keep on going, because there is a promise to hold onto.”
At the end of the day, this couple—their stressor was him being an outsider—“My stepdad role: don’t know what to do; how do I make this work?” The bio mom’s going, “You’re not invested; I don’t respect you for that…” The blended family dynamics were the catalyst to their isolation; but the repair is the same, at the end of the day, as with any marriage: “Don’t quit! Hold onto commitment. Trust God in the hard.”
Yes, look for some answers; find some support. The deacon, who stepped into his life, played a marvelous role. What a role the church can play in helping blended families keep going! But they had to just stay committed to the process.
Ann: I remember, when our boys were all getting married, and we have daughter-in-laws now in the picture. There’s a shift in the family/in the family dynamics. I was trying to get my head around that and “What do these relationships look like now?”
I remember sitting down with Barbara Rainey—I didn’t see her all the time—but I sat down with her and I said, “Barbara, why didn’t you tell me this is complicated?! [Laughter] I thought it would be so easy and smooth, because I had expectations.” She said: “Oh, Ann, I should have told you; and I’m glad you asked, because this can take between three and seven years of figuring it out!”
But just her words—of somebody that’s walked that path/somebody that’s been there—as soon as she said that, I was like, “Oh, okay; this is normal.” That helped me so much, just talking to someone else that’s been there; because I was going out of my mind myself. I just helps to have somebody sitting with you, saying, “Oh, yes; hang on.” That can really help.
Ron: I love the way the woman ended the clip; she said, “If I’d only known then what I know now, I would tell myself and what I would tell other people is: ‘It’ll be okay.’” Sometimes you just need to hear that so that you can find the courage to keep dealing with whatever the hard is of the moment and press through.
Dave: I’ll tell you—it means a lot, though, to hear it from somebody that’s been where you’ve been.
Dave: Like if I say it—[from] a marriage that’s two people and it’s always been—they’re like, “Oh, yes, what do you know?” I can relate back to being a son in a stepfamily; but when you hear it from somebody that’s lived where you’ve lived, it’s like, “Oh my goodness…”
I can’t tell you, Ron, how many times people come up to me at my church, usually after a message—and it may not even be about marriage or relationships—but they’ll walk up, and they’re a blended family. It’s this simple; they’ll say, “Man, we’re really struggling; we’re trying to blend this.” I look at them and I go, “Yes, do you ever feel isolated?”
“Yes, how do you know that?” I said, “You know how long it typically takes for a blended family to blend?” They look at me like, “How do you know this?” I say, “Ron Deal says, typically, seven years; and it’s based on the kids.” That comment—I’m not kidding—they’re like: “Somebody knows this?! Where did you get that?”
I don’t know it; I haven’t done it, but that material is right there. I can see they’re leaning into me, like: “Where do I get it? How do I find this?” Then to sit in a room with other people, and hear stories like that, it is literally life-changing; because they can hear it.
Ron: And you’re giving them hope with just a simple little perspective. The bottom line—what you’re saying to them—is: “You’re not crazy; you’re kind of normal,” and “You know what? I think there’s hope in the normal.”
Ron: I just love, Dave—you as a pastor—to even have those words to be able to share. I mean, one of my greatest desires is that, at least, one pastor in every church in the world knows enough about this to even offer a simple little message of hope like that; because so many people I think perish under these blended family dynamics unnecessarily. I’m just a firm believer in that—that it doesn’t have to be because of all this complexity—that if blended family couples stay married five years, the divorce rate goes in half: “Just keep going!” But often people succumb to the challenge, and they don’t know what else to do.
In our story, when things got tough, what did this guy say? He went to his wife. He’s a stepdad; he’s the outsider. He’s not sure he even has a place in the home; and he says to her, “Divorce is not an option.” She needed to hear that; because inside her mind, she’s thinking, “He doesn’t value us; he’s left; he’s moving on.” She needed to hear him say, “No, I’m in.”
To anybody, who’s listening right now, who’s struggling, that’s where it starts. You have to declare, “I’m in, and I’m not going anywhere; and we are going to figure this out, because I love and value you so much.” That statement is the beginning of possibilities.
Bob: I’m thinking about what you talked about—if you get to five years, the divorce rate’s cut in half—you said an average of seven years for a family to blend. So I’m thinking about the person—
Ron: You’re doing the math!
Bob: —well, they’re in year eight; and they’re going, “So this is still hard for me, so is there something wrong with us?”
I’m going: “Okay, we said ‘average.’ There are some families that blend in three, and you just happen to be one of those families that’s taking longer to blend. There may be more complexity that you brought into the situation that makes the blending harder.”
Ron: We need to define what “blend” means; because there are lots of blended family situations, where most of the relationships are pretty good or really good; but there’s one or two that isn’t. Sometimes, maybe, you have a difficult relationship with one stepchild—great with two; not so great with one—you would say, “We haven’t blended yet. We’re at year eight, and we’re still struggling with some stuff.”
“Okay, wait a minute. Let’s count your blessings for a minute. Your marriage is doing good; you have two kids where that relationship is pretty solid, and you just have one that you’re struggling with. Okay, that is still a healthy blended family”; right? Sometimes the expectations people put on themselves are so high that they’re constantly feeling like they’re not getting there. You really are.
Bob: Well, and let’s add to this. It’s not like you get to year seven, or year six, or year eight, and it’s like now everything runs smoothly.
Ron: —it’s perfect; no!
Bob: I’ve been married 40 years, and it doesn’t always run smoothly for us; right?
Ron: That’s right.
Bob: The natural drift—how often have we said this?—
Dave: Oh, boy.
Bob: —“The natural drift in every relationship is a drift towards isolation. Unless couples, in a first marriage/in a blended family, are intentionally working toward oneness, the momentum is going to push you in the other direction. You have to be constantly vigilant to be pressing your marriage/your family toward blending—toward oneness—toward the biblical design for marriage.”
Ron: That’s when both people in the marriage are motivated to press in. Imagine, again, if you have five, or seven, or multiple households—and varying levels of motivation to press in—sometimes, you’re carrying more weight because another person won’t carry their weight.
Again, I guess the message I want to give people is: “Okay, you have to relax, at some level, and notice what you have going well, or how things have improved, and know not every relationship is exactly what you want it to be. You’re still in process in some way, but you are coming together and things are improving. Enjoy that, rest in that, trust God with it.”
Ann: Well, and I’ll add one more application of: what if, at the dinner table, you sat down and talked about: “I know we’re a mess at times; I know things are complex. But these are the good things I see that are going on in our family...” Just doing that can make us feel like/gives you a breath, like, “Yes, I got lost in the mire there; but God really is doing some things.”
Ron: Not everybody at the table even has to agree with you. It’s okay if somebody’s sitting there, going, “Well, that’s a good thing for you; but not so good for me.” You can just acknowledge, “Yes, we have some differences; we see things differently.”
But Ann, what you’re saying is—when you make that observation—you are inviting people to see that you are invested/that you’re committed and that, from your point of view, there are some positive things that you’re holding onto. That’s very valuable.
Bob: We’ve mentioned this before; you are in your first marriage.
Ron: Yes, and I plan to stay there.
Bob: This has not ever been a part of your personal experience.
Bob: God has given you a heart for this and a broad ministry to blended families and stepfamilies. I’m just wondering how many people listening, who are in a first marriage, would say: “You know, I do have a heart for the people in my church. I mean, I’m thinking, ‘Okay, we’re probably not going to start a stepfamily small group at our home, because we don’t have a stepfamily’”; but what if a couple said: “We have a heart for stepfamilies. We could invite the people we know, who are in stepfamilies, even though we haven’t been in one, and come over and say, ‘Look, we don’t know all the challenges you guys are facing; we haven’t faced them, but we just wanted to be here to set the table for the conversation to happen’”?
Ron: Do what I did 27 years ago—and be bold enough, and courageous enough, and trusting God enough that, if you invite those couples to your living room or a small group at church, or wherever that meets, that good things will happen. I said then, and I still say now, “I don’t know”; people ask me questions: “I don’t know.”
What I considered my job, back then, was to simply facilitate the opportunity for people to be together and for us to explore together—and by the way, I had a co-leader couple, which was a wise thing to do, who was in a blended family—I had a skillset as a therapist that I brought to the table, but they brought life experience; so we played off of one another’s strengths.
You can do this! Let me just point out—we do this in the church all the time—people help people recover from abortions, and you’ve never had an abortion; right? You help people coming out of a drug-addicted lifestyle, and you’ve never been down that road before. We do this, all the time, in ministry; this is really not that different. But the power is in getting people together and, at least, beginning to use a tool like this. Let the tool do the teaching; you do the facilitating.
Bob: Well, the tool you’re talking about is an updated tool. It’s the video series that accompanies your book, The Smart Stepfamily. You’ve just revised the complete series. Our listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for information about The Smart Stepfamily video series. This is a great breakout class for churches to offer, or a small group to go through, or you could host this in your neighborhood. In fact, if you said, “My wife and I are going to be hosting a video series for blended couples,” and just put up door-hangers in your neighborhood, invited other couples to come join you, you’d be amazed how many people would be drawn to something like this.
Find out more about The Smart Stepfamily video series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us online. Look for information, as well, about the upcoming Summit on Stepfamily Ministry; that we’re holding this year as a livestream event on October 1st and 2nd. We’ve been doing these summits for years now, and people from all over the country/actually, all around the world have been coming in and spending a couple of days together to get trained, and equipped, and to better understand how to effectively minister to blended families in your church or in your community.
This year, we’re doing it all online/doing it all virtually. All of us have figured out, now in the last few months, how to connect and how to engage in one of these virtual events; so we’re making that happen October 1st and 2nd. There’s information, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com about the Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. Go to our website and check that out, and plan to be part of what we think is going to be the largest summit that’s ever been held, addressing this subject. Again, October 1st and 2nd; information is available online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call if you need information: 1-800-FL-TODAY is our number.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to share a story with you. Ron Deal will be here again. We’re going to talk about: what began as a challenging/a difficult blended family situation—and before it was all said and done—there were some sweet moments that came out of this. You’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can tune in. I think you’ll be encouraged by what you hear.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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