Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high nurturance stepfamily

Stepfamily Courtship
Danger Signs

Avoid Probable Re/divorce!

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member, NSRC Expert Council

colorbar.gif (1095 bytes)

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/sf/date/danger.htm

Updated 08/01/2015

This article is for single parents and partners who are considering long-term commitment. If you and your beloved have no prior kids, go here.  

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of Lesson-7 articles on how to evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both biological parents, or any of the three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home nuclear stepfamily. .

      This YouTube video previews key parts of this article: The video mentions eight lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.

      This worksheet assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it    

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6

  • Q&A about divorce and divorce recovery

  • stepfamily basics and Q&A, and...

  • this example of a real stepfamily



      Millions of average stepfamily couples re/divorce psychologically or legally despite their maturity, love, and earnest commitment vows. Few (none?) of them know about these widespread hazards or expect to re/divorce. Divorce begins by making unwise courtship (commitment) choices. Lessons 1-7 here can help loved-dazed couples choose the right people to commit to, for the right reasons, at the right time.

       From 36 years clinical study, this worksheet summarizes 21 common danger signs that courting couples with prior kids should heed to avoid making unwise commitment choices.

      Choose an undistracted place and time and an open mind to get the most from this checklist. Then see if your true Self is guiding you. If not, well-meaning "false selves" may distort your responses. I suggest each mate fill out this worksheet separately to avoid biasing each other. Then compare and discuss your results. As you do this, notice your emotions - they're reliable pointers to what you need.

  Stepfamily-courtship Danger Signs

      The more of these 21 things that seem true about you and/or your partner, the more likely you'll make up to three unwise courtship commitment choices. Each danger sign suggests one or both of you may be psychologically wounded and unaware. Circle "me," "you," or both of you if a sign applies. No circles means "this danger sign doesn't apply to either of us."

      1)  Unawareness + unrecognized or denied wounds are the two main causes of  divorce. One or both of us have not used online Lesson 1 to honestly assess for psychological wounds, or are denying or ignoring our findings. (True  / False) 

      2)  One or both of us - and/or an ex mate - has many of these behavioral traits. (Me  /  You  /  ex mate) 

      3)  One or both of us, and/or an ex-mate, has many of these traits in their family tree. These traits often indicate psychologically-wounded, unaware ancestors who unintentionally passed these on to their descendents. (Me  /  You  /  ex mate) 

      4)  One or both of us cannot "pass" this quiz on stepfamily knowledge. Unawareness is one five epidemic re/marital hazards. (Me  /  You) 

      5)  One or both of us has persistent thoughts like "Donít commit / to these people / now!" If you often have thoughts like these and/or significant relationship doubts or worries when you let your mind get quiet, something is wrong. If you ignore such thoughts or avoid quiet meditations (a sign of a disabled true Self), you risk years of significant future personal and stepfamily stress. (Me  /  You) 

       Option: get quiet and invite your inner voice to tell you specifically why itís warning you. Try journaling about these warnings without editing for logic or "common sense." Pay attention to your hunches, intuitions, "senses" and inner voices - your devoted personality subselves are trying to tell you something!

      6) One or both of us feels urgency or desperation to commit and/or cohabit, . A related warning symptom is believing "I canít live or be happy without you!" Such intense feelings and needs are a bright red light. They may be symptoms of psychological wounds and related codependence (relationship addiction). (Me  /  You) 

      Danger sign 7)  Seriously discussing relationship commitment within (roughly) 18 months since you met or since any prior primary-partner breakup. Stop and explore - perhaps with qualified professional help - which of your personality subselves is giving you this urgency. Expect to find needy inner kids and their dedicated Guardian subselves. (Me  /  You)   

      For more perspective and long-term safety, do at least this right-reasons worksheet!

      8)  If you and/or your partner say or think "My kids come first with me," STOP all re/marriage discussions!  (Me  /  You) 

The biggest surface reason for our tragic U.S. re/divorce epidemic is bitter, disillusioned stepparents saying "I got too tired of coming in second (or fifth) with my mate and feeling this wouldn't change." 

      If you doubt that...

  • re/married bioparents must often choose between their new mate and their biokids (or ex mate, or relatives), and that...

  • divisive values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles are very frequent in normal stepfamilies, then...

reality-check these ideas with several co-parents who have been re/married at least five years, and discuss this article with your partner.

      9)  One or both of us are reluctant to study and discuss these online Lessons. A related danger sign is rejecting or minimizing your stepfamily identity and/or discounting or ignoring what it means. If either of you repeatedly avoids working at Lessons 1-7 your relationship is probably based more on Inner Kids' neediness, fears, unawareness, and reality distortion than on adult wholistic love. (Me  /  You) 

      More warning signs of unwise stepfamily-courtship decisions...

      10)  Ongoing ex-mate hostility and/or conflicts with one or both of us over divorce settlements, parenting agreements, and/or child visitations, custody, and financial support. If a stepchild's other bioparent is often angry, combative, uncooperative, dishonest, disrespectful, explosive, or secretive, s/he's probably wounded and unaware - not bad. (Me  /  You) 

      Your children's living or dead "other parent/s" will be full psychological members of your multi-home stepfamily system until they or your children die. Accept the validity of stepfamily author Joy Connolly's book: "I Married a Family."

      My clinical experience since 1981 suggests that chronic conflict between divorcing bioparents - including legal battles - comes from some mix of these relationship barriers. Do not expect that if you or they re/marry, the "other parent" will become more rational and cooperative!

      11)  We partners have not honestly discussed if we should conceive children together or not. Childless stepparents may assume their mate will want to have one or more babies with them only to find out after re/marriage that isn't true. (Me  /  You) 

      12)  One or both of us expects that our partner, a child, a parent, an ex mate, or a relative will change significantly-unpleasant traits "somehow" after you re/marry and/or cohabit. (Me  /  You) 

      They probably wonít, no matter how loving, patient, pious, and reasonable you are. If theyíre not going to change, do you still want you and any dependent kids to commit "ítil death us do part"?

      Danger 13)  One or both of us and/or your kids have experienced many recent major life changes or traumas (e.g. in the last 4-6 months).

      Examples: firings or new jobs; changing homes, schools, or churches; separations and/or divorce, sudden financial losses or gains; deaths or major health impairments; pregnancies and births; graduations or flunk-outs; legal suits or judgments; natural disasters; bankruptcy; home break-ins or muggings; rape or murder; and sudden family-membership-shifts; Ö(Me  /  You) 

      Events like these may cause disorienting losses (broken emotional/spiritual bonds) which require time, support, and solitude to grieve well. When many losses occur in a short time, their immediate and secondary impacts can distort adultsí and kidsí thinking, and hinder forming new bonds - specially if they are wounded and unaware. This seems to be the current (global?) norm.

      Reacting to recent major personal and family changes and losses is not a good time to make courtship commitments! Invest in your future by taking many months to sort everything out, grieve well, (Lesson 3) and rebalance your lives first. Help each other keep a long-range view!

      Another courtship danger sign in either mate or an ex mate, child, or parent; is...

      14) Suspected or certain past or present addiction/s to...

  • substances (including sugar, fats, carbohydrates, nicotine, caffeine, and prescription or street drugs);

  • activities, including work, sex, shopping, gambling, cleaning, exercising, Web-surfing, and social causes;

  • moods, like rage, excitement, "depression," sexual arousal, or ("drama"); and/or...

  • relationships (codependence).

(Me  /  You) 

      If you or your partner believe anyone in your stepfamily-to-be is or was addicted, yellow light. Addictions are clear signs of major inner pain, childhood neglect and trauma, and psychologically-wounded  ancestors. Hitting personal bottom and a demonstrated commitment to a 12-step addiction-control program are essential first steps in effective addiction management. See this for more perspective.

      Danger 15)  Chronically ill, depressed, and/or "acting-out" minor or adult children. (Me  /  You) 

      Do you and/or your beloved partner have one or more kids with traits like these?.

  • serious academic or social school problems, including few or no friends, or preferring "toxic" or troubled (wounded) friends;

  • Repeated trouble with truancy, gangs, cults, and/or the law;

  • Non-experimental drug use, or clear chemical dependence, including fats and sugars;

  • Threatened or actual running away from home;

  • Excessive stealing, defiance, lying, and/or secrecy;

  • Frequent emotional outbursts and/or mood swings;

  • Paranoias, toxic illusions, and/or hallucinations;

  • Suspected or clinically-diagnosed ADD/HD syndrome (attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder); "Asperger's Syndrome," and/or a "learning disability";

  • Self-mutilation and/or writing or talking about suicide;

  • Preoccupation with fantasy, death, violence, sex, and/or the occult; and/orÖ

  • Chronic depression and/or sleep, digestive, or eating problems like anorexia, bulimia, and obesity?

      These are often high-alert symptoms of prior nurturance deprivation and significantly-wounded parents and kids. Ongoing or escalating symptoms like these are courtship red lights. Stop any plans to form or join a stepfamily until you find the real causes for these symptoms, and the person/s make clear progress towards reducing them. Stepfamily stresses will probably make things worse.

      Danger 16)  A series of prior break-ups (including divorces), approach-avoid relationships, or no prior intimate adult relationships. (Me  /  You). The answer to these is education + commitment to wound-reduction ( Lesson 1),not forming a stepfamily!

      17)  One or both of us keeps major secrets. If you, your partner, and/or any prospective co-parenting partners often need to distort or withhold key truths ("lying by omission"), defer any re/wedding plans! (Me  /  You)  

      18)  One or both of us has past or present romantic or sexual affairs. (Me  /  You) 

      19)  Repeated delays, denials, and/or avoidances. If you or your partner consistently avoid serious, intimate discussions and conflicts on any topic in this worksheet, red light!  Such avoiders - and people who "always want to have fun!" or "focus on the bright side!" - fear and/or distrust something or someone. Their ruling subselves are likely to deny that these dominate your relationshipís growth and evolution. 

      Some classic avoidances and denials to watch for...

  • "We are not now, and will not be, a stepfamily"

  • I am not a "stepparent!"

  • "Stepparenting is basically no different than bioparenting."

  • "This [wounds + unawareness] cycle is no threat to us and our kids.

  • "We can and should handle our own problems (vs. using qualified outside help)"

  • "A familyís just a family. Stepfamilies arenít all that different. Our life experience as grown adults, spouses and veteran parents is enough!" I / we do not need to study whatís normal and real in a stepfamily now"

  • "Weíve all courted / lived together for ___ months without big problems, so eventual re/divorce? Not us!"

  • "Thereís no point in learning about psychological wounds. Thatís just psycho-babble and a waste of time. The past is done, over, finito - donít you get it?"; (Flashing red light!)

  • "Our (co-parenting) ex-mates are not, and never will be, part of our new family!";

  • "Iíll never have to choose my kids over you. You all come first with me!"

      These common stepfamily misconceptions promote unrealistic (biofamily) expectations, conflict, and potential re/divorce. For more myths (and realities), see this article after you finish here.

      20)  One or both of us says proudly "We never fight!" This may signal that you two are avoiding inevitable disagreements, and don't know how to assert and problem-solve effectively a teammates.  (Me  /  You) 

      A last common stepfamily-courtship warning sign is...

      21)  Choosing to cohabit before - or instead of - formal marriage. This can mean reluctance to really commit - which is often a sign of psychological wounds like distrust and fear. For perspective, see this summary of a 2005 research report suggesting that unmarried families break up more often than married ones.

      Pause and notice what you're feeling and thinking.


      After 36 years' clinical research with over 1,000 average divorcing and stepfamily adults, I propose that these 21 traits reliably predict serious stepfamily relationshipmarital stress. The more of these traits that apply to a courting couple, the higher the odds of major future stress, heartache, and loss.

      Needy, unaware, wounded partners in the bliss of new romantic love will often deny, minimize, or rationalize (distort) these warning signs. In America, over half of them eventually re/divorce psychologically or legally.

       Minor kids depend on their courting bioparent to heed these warnings! For their sakes and yours, work hard together over many months doing these self-improvement Lessons before committing you and your kids to stepfamily life!

       my practical guidebook Stepfamily Courtship can help you make three wise courtship-commitment decisions and avoid eventual re/divorce. 

+ + +

       Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not - what do you need? Who is answering these questions - your Self, or ''someone else''?

  This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful     

Share/Bookmark   Prior page  Lesson 7  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact