In today's world, more families are becoming blended. Here, integrative counsellor, Jodie McCormack talks about what a blended family means and the importance of good communication to navigate change

The term blended families means something different to everyone. To me, it means more people to love and to be loved by. But at times in my life, it has meant wondering where my place is and how I fit into it. I think a lot of people living within a blended family can probably resonate with both of those statements.

Blended families often have so much more to navigate through; there are usually more family members involved which means more feelings to consider and more conflicts to manage.

The flip side to this is that it can also mean more people to play with when you’re younger and more people to turn to for support as you get older.

What is a blended family?

A blended family (or stepfamily) is when two people make a life together with children from their previous relationships. They may go on to have more children together.

Many people live within blended families without giving too much thought to the emotional impact this might have upon them. However, there can be a real rollercoaster of challenges and rewards as both adults and children try to sync into their new roles.

Getting used to living with new people, who to begin with are unfamiliar and may even seem strange, isn’t easy. Having to get used to their routines, expectations, and ways of doing things can be a real challenge.

Suddenly, in your own home, you might get a feeling of walking on eggshells as you try to make these new puzzle pieces fit. But the beauty of a blended family is choice — blended families choose to be together. And although so much of it might be difficult at first, I think there is something so special about that.

Making sense of emotions

Blended families can present challenges when one or both partners have come from a difficult previous relationship and are still dealing with its aftermath. This can be especially complicated when children are involved and co-parenting is necessary as it can bring up a range of emotions and challenges. This is normal but it can make navigating through a new relationship harder.

Having a space to work through those emotions and learn ways to let go of them instead of carrying them into your new relationship can make a world of difference. And although your new partner, friends and family might be super supportive, sometimes you just need to talk things through with someone who is completely unattached to your situation – that’s where therapy can be so useful.

How can therapy help a blended family?

With any new relationship, we want to make a good impression. But with a blended family, there usually feels like a lot is at stake if it doesn’t work out. This might mean that we tend to ‘let things slide’ or keep our feelings bottled up. Although it might feel like we’re keeping the peace at the time, in the long run, this only leads to resentment, sadness, anger and a whole heap of other difficult-to-manage emotions.

After so long of keeping things bottled up, eventually, we’re going to snap or erupt, and this is where arguments begin, or tension is created within the family unit.

This is why good communication is so important.

Mastering effective communication is no easy feat, especially when you're grappling with your role in a new family dynamic and trying to set new boundaries and routines. It can all feel quite daunting. Seeking therapy can provide a secure and private environment where you can express emotions that you may not feel comfortable sharing at home. This way, you can unload, digest, and comprehend your thoughts and feelings.

Learning how to communicate your feelings to your family effectively can make uncomfortable conversations less overwhelming and prevent the eruptions or tension from upsetting the family life you’re trying to create.

The blended family I grew up in isn’t the same as the blended family I’m still working hard to create today because I’ve learned the value of good communication as a result of the lack of it in my childhood. Being clear, open, and honest with everyone in the family can help to encourage a sense of safety and security.

Therapy can help to strengthen your communication skills so that you can voice your thoughts and emotions, and set boundaries in order to understand each other and find a way through that uncertainty while showing support and compassion for one another.

7 ways therapy can help a blended family

  1. A safe and confidential space to talk through and process thoughts and feelings.
  2. A space to be heard; this can be invaluable when you don’t always feel heard in your home life.
  3. Conflict resolution.
  4. Support with processing what a blended family means for you.
  5. Coming to terms with family changes.
  6. Helping with the loss of past family dynamics.
  7. Learning how to create and maintain boundaries.
Boundaries help us to draw a clear line for what we are and aren’t willing to accept. If you haven’t made clear what your individual boundaries are and what your relationship/family boundaries are then nobody else will respect them.

Living in a blended family isn’t without its challenges, but having a supportive environment to navigate any issues that may arise within your family unit can help you overcome hurdles without feeling judged or pressured.

If you would like more information about blended families or would like to access support from individuals who can understand you and your blended family. You might find it useful to visit the blended family Counselling Directory page.

How do you overcome blended family issues?

Here are some practical tips to take away when it comes to adjusting to your blended family.

  • Set and maintain boundaries.
  • Keep all parents involved.
  • Let children know that your ex-partner will continue to love and be there for them.
  • Talk to each other.
  • Know that it’s normal to feel frustrated sometimes.
  • Discuss everything, even the difficult topics.
  • Spend quality time together.
  • Set clear parenting responsibilities.
  • Express your wants and needs.
  • Listen to each other.
  • Try to see things from each other’s perspectives.
  • Be prepared to compromise.

Learn more about integrative counsellor Jodie on the Counselling Directory