Marriage and Step-living: How do Love Birds Become Birds of Prey?

I know I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and posted it, but I have no idea what happened. Perhaps the message needed to be rewritten! As I pass over and through stepfamilies and their stories, their ups and downs….(and some serious downs!!), a thought came to my mind about my own experiences with an ex-husband as well as other stepfamilies dealing with ex-spouses.

My question: At one time didn’t we love our spouse passionately and completely, professing to be with them forever, loving, wanting, and needing them? Understanding the phrase “…til death do us part…” in a literal sense? Did we not have family and friends as witnesses, participating in the ceremony…its love, laughter, music, food? We planned for months, thought hard about the bridal party, dress colors, themes, bridal gown, matching tuxes,  invitations, reserved halls and music……it was going to be OUR day, forever and ever, Amen.

Ooooooops. Then somehow something happens. The wheels begin to shake and shimmy and finally fall off. The eyes that once looked at us in tenderness and love and affection are now hardened with brows furrowed and lips snarled. The arms that held us warmly are now crossed or pointing at us… or worse, swinging at us. The lips that merged with ours in sensitive and affirming or desirous touch are now curled back, tense lips that become angry vehicles spewing painful words that cut and wound us. I know that it isn’t always this obvious and harsh, but too often it is.

How does this HAPPEN??? For me, I was too young for marriage and thought I was doing the right thing and assuring my dad that I would be “taken care of”, so he didn’t have to worry about me. I was coming off the cusp of a generation that thought the place for women was in the home, having children. Sure some of my classmates went on to college, but I didn’t believe I was smart enough or “good enough” to approach the collegiate life. I certainly didn’t have the money nor did I dream that I could get it through scholarships or loans. My family frowned on loans and debts. I did what I knew I had to do…get a job. The next best thing was to say “yes” to the first one that asked me to get married. Nice guy, nice family.

Now please, do not get the wrong idea. I was not deliberate and sought to “trap” someone. I was 19 and was not aware that I was moving in the marital direction with the above precepts. I was happy that someone wanted me, that I would have my own home, and eventually have children. But did I love my first husband with unconditional forever “can’t live without him” love? No, I was naïve and gullible. Not his fault. Not my fault. But because we didn’t have GOD first and foremost in our lives and in our marriage, because in our singleness we were not best friends who took plenty of time to talk, “become”, bond, grow into marital mode…the wheels eventually loosened and fell off. I hung on as long as I could, I even moved back after our divorce to try life with him again. There are certain situations when a woman and her children must leave, and that is all I will say. I now protect my family and avoid harmful words or memories because my ex and I finally CAN be in the same place at the same time and enjoy our sons and their families…our grandchildren. Praise God!!

But this is not the case for the rest of you. Some of you really did get married purposefully, loving each other out loud, being faithful and loyal, being friends.  But then your marital wheels fell off too. Now stepfamilies lob issues and emotions at each other because the ex has become the enemy…the bird of prey!  This has been weighing on my mind for some time as I am exposed to stories of medicating kids, fighting over sports schedules, loyalty mud-slinging, ugly words back and forth and more. So after pondering and considering my own beliefs, I did a bit of research.

Here are some reasons I found:  Poor communication, selfishness, pride, stubbornness, people change, not enough sex, secrets and deceptions prior to marriage, false expectations, the in-laws, adultery, alcoholism, abuse.  These seem to be among the most-mentioned and I’ve experienced quite a few of these myself.

 I’ve also read some of John Gottman’s books and totally believe in these four behaviors as nasty evils in any relationship:

John Gottman’s FOUR HORSEMEN OF THE APOCALYPSE (website under my Resource page)

1. Criticism:

Attacking your partner’s personality or character, usually with the intent of making

someone right and someone wrong:

Generalizations: “you always…” “you never…”“you’re the type of person who …” “why

are you so …”

2. Contempt:

Attacking your partner’s sense of self with the intention to insult or psychologically

abuse him/her:

– Insults and name-calling: “bitch, bastard, wimp, fat, stupid, ugly, slob, lazy…”

– Hostile humor, sarcasm or mockery

– Body language & tone of voice: sneering, rolling your eyes, curling your upper lip

3. Defensiveness:

Seeing self as the victim, warding off a perceived attack:

– Making excuses (e.g., external circumstances beyond your control forced you to act in

a certain way) “It’s not my fault…”, “I didn’t…”

– Cross-complaining: meeting your partner’s complaint, or criticism with a complaint of

your own, ignoring what your partner said

– Disagreeing and then cross-complaining “That’s not true, you’re the one who …” “I did

this because you did that…”

– Yes-butting: start off agreeing but end up disagreeing

– Repeating yourself without paying attention to what the other person is saying

– Whining “It’s not fair.”

4. Stonewalling:

Withdrawing from the relationship as a way to avoid conflict. Partners may think they

are trying to be “neutral” but stonewalling conveys disapproval, icy distance, separation,

disconnection, and/or smugness:

– Stony silence

– Monosyllabic mutterings

– Changing the subject

– Removing yourself physically

– Silent Treatment

I believe the largest component of a failed relationship, especially marriage…is not enough GOD. Couples are not equally yoked in their faith and relationship with Jesus Christ. They do not put God as Head of their household. Instead, daily living and ups and downs begin to cause each person to jockey for position, power, and control. Pretty soon the cute little things that were so funny become hugely annoying.  Soon one begins to feel they are doing “everything” around the house: “…can’t you at least pick up your own socks??”  Some people stuff emotions, some whine, some nag. Emerson Eggerich wrote the book, “Love and Respect”. Men respond to and need respect. Women respond to and need love. Yes, men and women need a little of each, but primarily….men are hunters/providers and women are caretakers/nurturers. We need each other. God designed us for relationship…with Him and with each other.  Ladies…your husband will thrive with sincere words of respect and admiration. Men…your wives will thrive to a loving touch that doesn’t involve sex, will thrive in love and kindness. Oh by the way, a little tip…..foreplay really does begin with the little things like taking out the garbage…. 🙂

Sometimes silence is such a beautiful thing. I have learned to seriously THINK before I speak. I have learned that I need to encourage my husband as well as lovingly hold him accountable. I need the same…both encouragement and accountability. Why do we begin to slough off everything we believed in? Whatever made us think saying the words during our marriage ceremony  would magically cause them to “do, maintain, and grow” the marriage? As if saying the words was all we had to do. Ugh!

When couples marry, they have a bad habit of thinking they no longer have to attract each other. By that I mean not only maintain, but step-up the romance, kindness, attention, graciousness, and little things. Touch, eye contact, sweet whispered words. Couples begin to take each other for granted, expectations set in. Couples begin to forget that there is a critical importance for each of them in the marriage. The marriage is ALIVE and cannot live without both husband and wife contributing. Marriage is work. Period. It has farming principles: plant good seeds, fertilize regularly, and enjoy a great harvest! How about planting huge amounts of forgiveness along with a sense of humor? Marriage must be paid attention to each and every day and if we set the standards and habits right away to put the marriage first and foremost under God….then perhaps we will remain more love birds than birds of prey.

“..AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH; so they are no longer two, but one flesh.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”  Mark 10:8,9.  I seriously believe “let no man separate” also pertains to each of us husbands and wives. We are not to be a part of harming our marriage and causing it to “separate”.  Now, may God bless each and every one of us…to practice what Galatians 5:22,23 tells us: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control….”   Amen.

Step-living: Cheer Up, the Holidays ARE Coming!

(Below post actually written October 9th for an article in “Five for Women” magazine. I apologize for not being here and posting. I’ve had several issues in my family, including my mom-in-law passing through heaven’s door on November 4th…my birthday.)               

True enough…. as I make my way through various retail establishments this past week, Halloween has not yet arrived and Christmas lights and fixtures sparkle in the aisles.  I guess the Thanksgiving holiday is displayed in the meat aisles at your local grocery store. Why are we all in such a rush, reaching out, extending past what we have for today?

                Holidays are stressful for many people; what to buy, how many to buy for, will they like it, and then January’s credit card statements roll in and we stress over how we are going to pay for it all. There is tangible “electricity” in the air that begins about mid-November and dissipates after the first of the year. Most everyone feels it. For some it is part of the experience of the year, but for others, it is a time of heart-squeezing stress, isolation, loneliness, regret…. while pulling, pushing, and juggling schedules.

                Couples and their children that are experiencing separation or divorce feel the weight and magnitude of the holidays, broadened higher and wider than they’ve ever known before. They find themselves staring at a dark tunnel of 6-8 weeks, rather than the joy of family eating and laughing during Thanksgiving (ok and a few family fights over the yams on the dinner table), and the lights, toys, and trees announcing the Christmas season becomes a taunting reminder of what once was…. family was together and routines were familiar.

                If we allow what I call our “personal recorders” to run rampant in our minds, ruminating over past conversations, arguments, packing up and leaving….or the future “what if, who will, when will…”, we will build up towers of expectations in our mind, exclusive of anything that will really actually happen, and become stressed and despondent over what we’ve created. We have full control over what we think, speak, and do. We cannot control others, we can only control ourselves. We have complete authority over our minds to not allow others the power to affect our emotional well-being and contentment. Can we find calm, joy, peace, contentment during the holidays when things are falling apart for us? Yes we can. We embrace that we only have the moment at hand, with no promises for the rest of the day, or any of the future. We cherish and give thanks for what we do have now.

                Thanksgiving:  Be with family, bring a new recipe to pass, draw a hand-made card with all that you are thankful for, made a centerpiece, take a plate to a lonely or elderly neighbor, call your church or school or Human Resource center to help families needing a home-cooked meal. If family is too far away, invite friends for a potluck meal, volunteer all day to prepare and help serve meals at a community kitchen, visit a shelter for men or women (homeless, abused, or domestic violence individuals), visit a nursing home. I find when I feel most down, I volunteer and serve others less fortunate than me and I leave feeling full of gratitude, and fulfilled that I helped someone. Have a “call buddy” to contact and give you encouragement and support.

                Christmas: Plan a month ahead if possible with your spouse/ex-spouse to share expectations and plans. Waiting until the last minute will only cause issues to become more stressful and disappointing. Try to keep traditional time with the family and the in-laws the same. For example, the paternal side may be on Christmas Eve and the maternal side on Christmas Day. Try to involve the children to see what they would like to do, if they are age appropriate. Buy a new board game to play with the kids, make cookies with them, get fun paper and crayons/markers and make cards for grammas and grampas and both mom and dad…this helps relieve the children and gives them “permission” to continue loving their family as they always have. Make a homemade pizza together, get a small Christmas tree and decorate it and take pictures.  Love each moment with your precious ones.

                Stepfamilies:  The extended family that stepfamilies have to accommodate along with biological family can indeed stretch anyone’s patience and endurance. Again….the spirit of Christmas is not held hostage by one or two days. A personal Christmas with one’s children can occur the week before, the week after, days before or after. I personally learned to let go of the “day” and accepted the pleasure and beauty of having my sons with me to eat, share, exchange gifts. I taught myself to think of those that have sick children fighting for their lives, or parents that have suffered the death of a child, parents of children kidnapped and missing. The world wants us to become immersed in days and hours and material things. I choose to become immersed in my God-given blessings; my children and family, joyfully grateful they want to spend time with me and my husband.

                In my book, I speak of three important areas within stepfamilies to assist with the daily ebb and flow of the necessary interactions: Forgiveness, Flexibility, and Fun. The proper association for forgiveness is with “freedom”, not acceptance or agreement with any inflicted hurt or pain. I release any bitterness, revenge, animosity, anger to Jesus. He is much better at handling it than I am. I choose to be free to enjoy my family and friends in any way I can. I can be flexible. I can discuss and share schedules to accommodate my children. Families love each other and we can work together to share. Fun? Yes, sometimes you just have to laugh it off. I have stewed and stomped and growled enough in my life about things that were completely out of my control.  Now, I am more apt to shake my head and have a good laugh…thanking God I am who I am and have what I have.

Bio: Dori Pulse and her husband, Bob, live in Eau Claire. She is a speaker, free-lance writer, and her book “Everything Changed When I Said ‘I Do’” is in the publishing process. She has been married, divorced, and remarried, becoming a stepmom in 1998. Dori developed Stepfamily Rx “Prescriptions for Stepliving” seminars and blogs at