Lesson 7 of 7 - evolve a high-nurturance stepfamily

Courtship Worksheet

Am I Committing to
the Right People?

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

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The Web address of this worksheet is http://sfhelp.org/sf/date/people.htm

  Updated  09/03/2015

      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 (functional) 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. .

      My clinical experience suggests that five hazards cause typical Americans (and others?) to pick the wrong people to commit to, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.  It's widely estimated that over half of such couples with prior kids (stepfamilies) eventually separate or re/divorce psychologically or legally.

      This worksheet extends Part 1, which shows right-partner traits for all courting couples. This worksheet adds (a) traits if either partner has kids from a prior union, and (b) traits of the right co-parents and stepkids to commit to.

      This worksheet assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Website and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 6

  • this perspective on re/marriage (Lesson 4)

  • stepfamily Q&A, basics, and danger signs (Lesson 7), and...

  • this example of a real stepfamily.


        Check to see who's directing your personality. If it's a well-meaning false self, expect your results here to be misleading. To empower your true Self to guide you, see these options.

      Print the first part of this worksheet and fill it out. When you finish, take a break if you need one. Then print this page and take ~30" of undistracted time to fill it out. 

      Invite your partner to fill out both parts of this worksheet alone. When you're both done, each of you fill out the related right-time and right-reasons worksheets. Then discuss your findings together

      Check a trait as "true" ("__") only if you can check all sub-parts ("_"). The more items you check, the higher the odds you're committing to the right stepfamily partner + co-parents + stepkids. If you don't respond to these items honestly, you risk hurting yourself, your partner, and any dependent kids.

      Options: record your thoughts and feelings as you fill out both parts of this worksheet. Star or highlight any items you want to learn more about or discuss.

Am I  Committing to the Right Partner? Part 2 of 2

      Note - most links below will open an informational popup. If any open a new window, scan that page and return here. "S/He" means "She or He." Numbering continues from part-1 items

__  29)  S/He acknowledges that if we co-commit, _ we will be forming or joining a multi-home stepfamily, so _ we must learn how to manage these hazards together to guard against potential re/divorce.

__  30)  S/He has begun studying and discussing Lesson 7 with me, and _ s/he is self-motivated to learn and discuss...

_  typical stepfamily facts, myths, realities, and common problems;

_  minor kids' developmental and family-adjustment needs, and _ how to assess kids' status with them;.

requisites for effective co-parenting, and _ how stepparenting compares to traditional bioparenting;

_  how to recognize and manage loyalty, vales, and family-membership conflicts and divisive relationship triangles;

_  how to recognize and reduce common stressors with co-parenting ex mates and problematic relatives;

_  pros and cons of _ "ours-child" conception and _ legal stepchild adoption; and...

_  why and how to maintain a high-nurturance (functional) stepfamily.

__  31)  S/He agrees without ambivalence or major guilt that in significant partnership conflicts, her/his integrity (self-respect) will come first, our relationship will come second, and all else will come third, except in emergencies.

      If your partner is not a parent, skip to courtship trait #39.

If Your Partner Has Kids

__  32)  S/He has no major relationship or legal conflicts with the kids' _ other bioparent/s or _ relatives;

__  33)  S/He _ has clearly bonded with each child and _ consistently demonstrates unconditional love and affection for them;

__  34)  S/He _ has a realistic idea of effective parenting, and _ is a consistently-effective parent, in my opinion. That includes knowing how to...

_ communicate effectively with kids and teens; and how to...

_ set and enforce appropriate boundaries (discipline) without undue guilt or anxiety; and...

_  spot and resolve vales and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles, and how to _ teach her/his kids and relatives how to do this.

__  35)  S/He and I generally agree on _ what my stepparenting responsibilities should be, including _ how and when I should provide discipline for each stepchild.

__  36)  S/He consistently _ balances her/his own needs and those of her/his kids;  and s/he _  maintains healthy boundaries with each child;

__  37)  S/He has a stable, nourishing relationship with each of her kids' grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

__  38)  S/He is intentionally working to protect her kids from inheriting the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.

If I Have Kids

__  39)  S/He is comfortable being around children and teens in general, and around my kids in particular.

__  40)  S/He is _ comfortable with the way I parent, including the way I discipline my child/ren; or _ s/he knows how to manage any significant values conflicts with me.

__  41)  S/He respects my needs to have some alone times with my child/ren, and _ seeks to balance our adult time and my parent-child time.

__  42)  S/He and my kids' grandparents and other relatives _ are getting to know each other, and _ they all get along well enough;

__  43)  S/He has studied these Q&A articles on stepparenting and stepkids, and has discussed them thoroughly with me.

__  44)  S/He and I have begun to _ define her responsibilities as a stepparent and _ to discuss these with relevant adults and kids.

__  45)  S/He seems to get along with my parents and relatives well enough.

+ + +

      As I finish this part of the right-partner worksheet, I feel...

_ calm and relaxed;

_ that my true Self responded answered each of these items thoughtfully and honestly; and that...

_  I have no major anxiety or reservations about discussing my answers here with my partner and selected others.

+ + +

Am I Committing to the Right Co-parents?

       Many stepfamilies experience conflictual relations among ex mates and/or with their new partner ("the other stepparent"). This section of the right-people worksheet provides a way to identify significant problems among up to four other co-parents beside your partner.    


If either of you partners balk at including each of your stepkids' other bioparents and any new partners of theirs in your stepfamily, discuss this.

  Check to see who's directing your personality. If it's a well-meaning false self, your results here may be distorted. To empower your true Self to guide you, see these options.

Print this worksheet and put initials or a name in each open column below for an ex-mate’s new partner, if any.

Don’t check a main item as true unless all "_" subparts are checked. Use "?" if you’re unsure. Fudging your answers here puts you and any minor kids at risk of future heartache and painful re/divorce trauma.

If any item is inappropriate, skip it or mark it "N/A"

Fill this checklist out by yourself to avoid your partner's presence biasing your answers. When you've both filled out copies, then compare and discuss your results honestly after you each have read the boxed articles above.

To guard against your answering what you want rather then what is, consider using knowledgeable, unbiased help in reality-checking your assessments below

Check each co-parent who fits each item.

My Ex

___ Your Ex ___ Right-co-parent Traits
        1)  S/He _ understands the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle and _ is open to discussing if and how it affects us all.
        2)  S/He has begun studying Lessons 1 thru 7 in this Web site, and _ is open to discussing them with me/us as a parenting partner.
        3 S/He is _ now willing to clearly evaluate whether s/he has significant psychological wounds from a low-nurturance (traumatic) childhood. If s/he has already evaluated this, _ I solidly agree with her/his conclusion.
        4 If I think s/he is significantly wounded, _ s/he is clearly in a self-motivated recovery program now that I trust is effective enough; or if not recovering yet, _ s/he’s willing to talk openly and seriously about wound-reduction with me/us.
        5)  S/He now clearly accepts that _ if my partner and I commit, we’ll all form or expand a multi-home nuclear stepfamily together which will be _ very different from a typical one-home intact biofamily.
        6)  S/He clearly accepts now that it’s in our minor kids’ best interest that all of the adults in our kids' two or more related homes co-operate as a team on most child-care matters.
        7 S/He _ wants to learn about the 60+ major differences between typical stepfamilies and intact biofamilies and _ has begun doing so; or _ s/he says s/he will, soon enough for me.
        8 S/He seems to be independent enough emotionally and financially from her or his parents and other key kin.
        9 S/He wants to learn about healthy grieving by studying and discussing Lesson 3 with us all.
        10 S/He _ seems to have mourned the losses (broken bonds) from any former breakups and family endings well enough, and _ clearly seems to be motivated to move on with life.
        11 His/Her relationship with each minor and grown child in our stepfamily seems balanced enough _ to me _ and my partner - i.e. s/he's neither emotionally enmeshed nor too distant and "indifferent."

My Ex

___ Your Ex ___ Right-co-parent Traits
        12)  S/He seems content enough now with current _ child custody, _ visitation, and _ financial support arrangements, including insurance, taxes, and wills, for each of the kids in our stepfamily.
        13)  It seems highly unlikely now that _ s/he would legally sue us for changes in any of these, or that _ we would ever have to sue her/him.
        14)  S/He_ understands the 30+ special adjustment needs that aver-age minor stepkids must fill, or _ s/he is clearly self-motivated to learn about them now.
        15)  I really trust that s/he’ll help us assess each of our minor and grown kids, to learn where they need our help filling their developmental and family adjustment needs.
        16)  S/He _ clearly understands the difference between fighting, avoiding, or arguing, and win-win problem-solving; and _ s/he seems self-motivated to do the latter with us when we adults conflict on co-parenting matters.
        17)  S/He is (or they are) clearly and consistently in charge of their home, vs. strong-willed kids, kin, ancestors, or others.
        18)  I generally respect her/his parenting _ values, _ goals, _ judgment, and _ behavior; and _ I feel s/he usually respects mine enough.
        19) I trust that _ s/he is not currently addicted to _ a substance (including food, nicotine, caffeine, alcohol, prescription drugs, and street drugs); _ an activity (including work; working out; worship; a hobby; earning, spending, or saving money; etc.) or _ a relationship (including a parent, a child, or ex mate); or _ I trusst that s/he’s solidly committed to a self-motivated addiction-control program that seems effective enough to me now.
        20 S/He _ knows what values and loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles are, and _ what to do about each of them.
        21 I’m comfortable enough with the _ frequency and the _ ways s/he and my partner communicate and relate now.
        22)  S/He seems open enough to evolving a clear division of child-care responsibilities among all of us co-parents.
        23)  S/he’s seems comfortable enough with my providing part-time or full-time discipline, guidance, and support for our minor and grown stepchildren.
        24)  I fully trust this person to be honest and direct in all verbal and written co-parenting communications with _ me, _ us, _ related kin, _ all our stepfamily children, and _ any key supporters.
        25)  S/He seems open enough to _ all of us adults evolving an effective mission statement for our multi-home stepfamily, and to _ use it with us to help make healthy long-range stepfamily decisions.
        26)  I’m usually comfortable enough with each of our minor and grown kids’ relationships with this person now.
        27)  Overall, I feel s/he is an asset (vs. a liability, big problem, or stressor) to our multi-home stepfamily now.
        28)  As I finish this courtship-inventory section, I am _ calm and relaxed and I’m _ genuinely looking forward to discussing my answers with my partner and key others in our stepfamily. I _ feel my true Self filled out this worksheet.

      Pause and notice what you're thinking and feeling now. If you just identified significant problems among any of you co-parents, see this perspective, and this and this for options.

      A third wasy of assessing whether you're choosing the right co-parent partner to commit to is by evaluating key factors about her or his kids - your potential stepkids.

Am I Committing to the Right Stepkids?

      Tension between you and a stepchild and/or between stepsiblings will add to inevitable stepfamily loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles. These will come from your mate feeling s/he must choose between supporting a beloved child or you. Ask veteran stepfamily co-parents and counselors about these loyalty conflicts - they're a major contributor to stepfamily stress and breakups.

      In a significant minority of U.S. stepfamilies, one or more noncustodial stepkids eventually come to live with their other bioparent - often as a teen. In other stepfamilies, a grown stepchild may ask to move in with their parent and stepparent. So in making courtship decisions, don't discount the importance of your relationship with any geographically-distant minor or grown stepkids!

       Have you and your prospective stepchild/ren been unrealistically polite and tolerant of irritants so far to avoid courtship conflicts? A harsh stepfamily reality is that courtship relationships may change significantly after committing and cohabiting.  


       For useful perspective, before doing this worksheet. read the 30+ special adjustment tasks that typical minor and grown stepchildren face  Then...

    Put each stepchild's first name or initials at the top of the columns on the left below. Include any adult stepkids. If you have more than four stepkids, make a second sheet to rate each of them on the items below.

    Put a check in the column for a given stepchild if you feel the item is clearly true of him or her now. Don't check a column unless all "_" subparts are true. Ignoring this may significantly reduce the value of the worksheet. Use "?" if you're unsure of a subpart or item. Fill out this worksheet one child at a time, or rate several kids on each trait.

    Option - rate your own kids as well as your stepchild/ren.

    The more undistracted time you take to consider each item honestly, the higher your odds of making wise stepfamily-commitment decisions.

    Star or hilight items that evoke significant emotions for later thought and discussion. Your emotions often indicate unfilled needs.

    If you have kids too, ask your courtship partner to fill out a copy of this worksheet separately. Then discuss your results and see what you learn.

    Draw no firm conclusions until you've filled out all six courtship-commitment worksheets .

    Option - write down your thoughts and feelings as you fill this out. You can learn as much from the process of considering these items as you can from your responses.

      These items check for symptoms of a child being raised in a dysfunctional family by psychologically-wounded, unaware adults. More checkmarks = better.

___ ___ ___


Right Stepchild Traits

        1)  This child _ can describe clearly and accurately enough - in age appropriate terms - why their bioparents divorced or why their bioparent died. If not, _ s/he is clearly open to learning and talking about that now.
        2)  S/He's clearly grieving the tangible and invisible losses (broken bonds) from _ her/his biofamily's breakup, and from _ our adult partnership and/or cohabiting, well enough._ My partner agrees with my opinion on this now.
        3)  On a self-esteem scale of 1 to 10 (10 = high), _ I believe this child usually feels "six or more." _ My partner agrees with this now.
        4)  Growing up, s/he's been consistently encouraged to be a child - i.e. this child hasn't felt (or doesn't now feel) overly responsible for home management or for a younger or disadvantaged sibling's or a troubled bioparent's welfare.
        5)  This child seems to have a healthy-enough attitude about her/his _ gender, _ sensuality, and _ sexuality (if appropriate).
        6)  This child seems _ motivated enough and _ successful enough now with her/his _ schoolwork, _ activities, and/or _ job/s.
        7)  To my knowledge, this child has never thought seriously about or tried _ suicide, _ running away, or _ seriously harming someone or something.
        8)  I have no reason to believe that this child is now, or ever has been, in significant trouble with _ the law; _ school, church, or community officials; _ gangs; _ cults; and/or _ harmful chemicals (including food).
        9)  I'm comfortable enough now with the quality and number of this child's _ social relationships, _ hobbies, and _ interests.
        10)  I've _ never had any major concern about this child's behaviors, psychological stability, or mental health. S/He _ is not depending now on any medication for a chronic mood, behavioral, or sleep disorder.
        11)  I have no reason to suspect that this child has ever been significantly _ abused physically, sexually, verbally, or spiritually; or _ neglected psychologically and/or physically.
        12)  This child seems genuinely accepting enough about (vs. indifferent or hostile to) her/his parent's relationship with me now.
        13)  S/He _ understands and _ accepts that we're considering forming or joining a normal multi-home stepfamily,  and _ s/he is able to talk honestly enough with us about her/his related feelings and needs.
        14)  This child understands clearly enough that _ s/he doesn't have to love me or her potential step-relatives, stepsibs, or half-sibs. S/He also understands that _ we all do need to earn mutual respect and trust.
           15)  This child is usually _ clear enough on what their/our household rules and related consequences are, or _ s/he usually asks promptly for - and listens to - clarification on those.
            16)  I _ don't feel any significant urge now to rescue, save, or fix this child now. I _ freely choose to nurture this child, rather than feeling I must do so to please my partner and/or someone else.
___ ___ ___


Right Stepchild Traits (continued)

        17)  I've had _ no significant sexual thoughts, fantasies, behaviors, or tensions with this child; and _ I have no significant concern now about any sexual feelings or actions between this child and any other member of our (potential) multi-home stepfamily.
        18)  I now have no significant conflicts with _ my partner, _ this child, or _ any of our other co-parents about discipline issues with this child; or  _ I'm confident now we all have a way of resolving these conflicts effectively, and _ I feel we are making progress on this.
        19 I solidly accept that _ I'll feel a different kind of affection for this child than for my own biochild/ren (if any), and that it's OK for me to not "love them equally."  _ My partner and _ key others are genuinely comfortable enough with this normal stepfamily reality.
        20)  This child is usually co-operative enough in _ doing requested household chores and _ sharing appropriate family responsibilities.
        21)  As this child's (prospective) stepparent, _ I'm neither too detached nor too enmeshed with him or her._ My partner agrees with this now.
        22)  This child and I are each _ comfortable enough with our (potential) stepfamily role-titles: stepmother / stepfather, stepson / stepdaughter, and stepbrother / stepsister. _ I feel we use these titles appropriately enough. _ My partner and _ our other co-parents are _ comfortable enough with, and _ use these titles appropriately too.
        23)  I usually feel comfortable enough being genuine and honest (vs. "being nice") around this child.
        24) When I have a significant conflict with this child, I usually feel _ legitimate enough about each of our needs, values, and priorities, and _ I feel understood enough and _ supported enough by my partner.
        25)  (If applicable): I feel this child and each of my minor and grown biokids usually get along well enough or _ are moving toward mutual acceptance (vs. "love")  well enough.
        26)  I haven't felt significantly used or ignored by this child - i.e. I get enough respect, co-operation, and acknowledgement from him or her for the time, energy, and any money I choose to contribute for the child.
        27)  I've _ thoughtfully deliberated my estate plan, have _ discussed it thoroughly with my mate and relevant others (e.g. my biokids, and their other parent/s), and _ I'm clear enough now on any bequests I want to make to this (prospective) stepchild. _ No one is significantly upset about my choices now.
        28)  All our co-parents have _ thoroughly discussed and _ solidly agreed on who shall provide _ life, medical, dental, and car insurances, and _ any current and/or higher-education funding for this child.
___ ___ ___


Right Stepchild Traits (continued)

        29 For each late-teen custodial stepchild: I'm currently clear and comfortable enough with _ this child, _ my partner, and _ our other co-parent/s and kin about _ when s/he'll leave our home and about _ any circumstances that might justify her or his moving back in later.
        30)  For each minor custodial stepchild: if s/he ever goes to live with her/his other bioparent, I'm confidant that the resulting changes in and between our homes would not cause major ongoing _ psychological or _ financial stress for _ my partner and me, and/or _ other key people.
        31)  For each non-custodial minor or grown stepchild: If s/he came to live with us, I feel confidant enough that my partner and I would not experience any major new conflicts or tensions with _ them, _ each other, or _ with their other co-parents or kin.
        32)  I've thoughtfully _ considered the pros and cons of legally adopting this child, _ discussed this thoroughly with all our other co-parents and this child, and _  we all have reached a solid decision about this.
        33)  I usually _ like, _ trust, and _ respect this child, and _ often enjoy having her or him around; or if I don't, my partner and I _ have talked well about it, and _ are not seriously conflicted about this now.

          If you rated one of several stepchildren, go back and rate the next one.

           Notice how you feel now, and where your thoughts go. What did you learn from filling out this long right-people worksheet? Is there anything you need to do now? Does the proposal that one cause of widespread stepfamily stress is that needy, unaware co-parents impulsively commit to the wrong people seem more credible?

    As I finish this courtship worksheet I feel…

    and I'm aware of ... 


       Give a copy of this two-page worksheet to your partner, and compare and discuss results honestly with them after s/he fills them out.

      Show this courtship worksheet to a trusted mentor or counselor and ask them to help you reality-check your answers. Your need and love for your partner and possible psychological wounds may distort your results here if  your true Self is disabled.

      Fill out and discuss this worksheet on relationship strengths and stressors with your partner.

      Review this summary of healthy-relationship requisites with your partner.

+ + +

      There is no formal "scoring" formula for this worksheet. The more items you checked on part 1 and this page, the more likely you are to choose the right people to commit to.

      Even if you and your partner can check to most of these right-people  items as "true," you may still commit to each other for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time. Use the related worksheets to guard against this.


      This is the second of two worksheets to help courting co-parents choose the right people to commit to. The worksheet exists because a high percentage of average American (and other?) stepfamily mates eventually re/divorce psychologically or legally - i.e. they make unwise courtship choices. This online course provides a way to avoid re/divorce and end the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle that causes it. 

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