the ex-wife. This landed repeated and resounding blows to the stepcouple bond. They had learned never to fight in front of the children, to protect their relationship from the detouring effect: T stated, “We have to be a stronger united front than biocouples.”
T observed the challenges of discipline as a stepparent: “Whatever decision he makes will never be as good as any one would expect of a bio parent, still married to the bio mother;” and she noted, “we never really agree about how we need to go about correcting bad behavior from day to day. We find ourselves feeling guilty and then when we actually carry through we argue with each other as to whether or not either of us made the correct decision.” She noted that they both behaved “protectively” toward their own children. This couple struggled to be fair in treating the children equally, rather than allowing their couple bond to be challenged by interfering biological loyalties.
T was emotionally challenged by the research question of irresolvable issues. It took her one hour to fully answer the question. She initially listed five issues; however, once she was asked for more detail about the effect on her marriage by her husband’s ex- wife, “old hurts” and their lack of closure, she wrote, “This one really requires deep emotional effort, please bear with me.” She had been forced to access extremely difficult memories of the time, three years ago, when her husband filed for divorce, leading to a six-month separation. Further, although she was clearly able to articulate the reasons for their separation, she noted that she still had questions about her husband’s motives for reconciliation: “I want to know his real take on everything…I never understood;” and this remained a continued problem in their relationship, in that, “…he won’t allow a discussion over this matter and disregards my inquiries…” T wanted to know why her husband returned to their relationship. She clarified for him that she did not know, and repeatedly told him she needed to know, requests he disregarded.
J, 38 years old, and her husband, age 39, had been married for six years, after knowing each other for 9 months. This was J’s fourth marriage. Together, they brought eight children to the relationship; they had none together. J’s five children ranged in age from 14 to 20, and her spouse had three children, from ages 13 to 16. J’s two oldest children were no longer in residence, and her stepchildren visited four times each year.
The most salient problem reflected in J’s interview was the rejection she felt of herself and her children by her husband and his family. J viewed this problem as irresolvable, in that her husband refused to discuss his feelings with her: “…nothing is resolved…he doesn’t want to talk about anything.” His rejection of her children overwhelmed her. In one of several examples, she observed that, “They live here with him full-time and he rarely ever does anything with them, takes them anywhere, buys them anything…he doesn’t feel like he should have to do anything for or with them.” She noted, “…in six years he has bought my children Christmas gifts one time...no birthday gifts at all.” This affected her perceptions of him, and she clearly no longer depended on him as a co-parent. J continued, however, to help her husband co-parent his children when they visited; her descriptions of the differences in their stepparenting duties highlighted her perception of the imbalance between her co-parenting role and her