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L’s problem topics and irresolvable issue all seemed related to stepfamily formation and maintenance. She viewed her in-laws’ lack of respect for both herself and her children as related to their “step” status. Prior to marrying her husband, L became aware he was considering reconciliation with his ex-wife “for the children.” L noted a history of her mother-in-law’s assertions that she “wanted [her son] and his ex back together,” and of asking L’s stepchildren “…when I was going to divorce their dad.”

L stated her family’s finances were constantly challenged by their stepfamily formation. She noted the drain on the family finances due to her husband’s child support payments and his “foolish” spending on his children, because “buying them things buys their love.” Both of these financial challenges were directly related to their “step” status.

L reported spending holidays alone. She attributed this to disrespect, and outright rejection from her in-laws, particularly her mother-in-law. L perceived this disrespect and rejection as directed both at her and her own children. This feeling of being ostracized from her in-laws was exacerbated by her husband’s expressed helplessness in his alliance with them. He would ask, “What am I supposed to do?” and declared “You could go to the family gatherings if you wanted to…But you just don’t want to.” L strongly expressed her refusal to expose either her own children or herself “…to verbal abuse by his mother,” and that her husband, “…feels it’s not fair to his children…not [to] go to family gatherings.” Clearly she has spent holidays alone due to unresolved stepfamily problems, remaining an outsider to her husband’s family, who has seen no recourse but to leave her “outside”. Sadly, this breach has echoed in her marital relationship, as she continued questioning and being hurt by his helpless loyalty to his


Three problem topics

5 (“B”)

Her son*

Her stepdaughter*

family of origin.

Irresolvables “Kid” issues*

Her dog (husband’s “step dog”)* B noted that their “kid” issues were the most challenging to her and her husband. B believed that her husband did not treat her son as nicely as he did his own daughter. She observed that she and her husband both were “defensive,” in the sense of aligning themselves protectively along biological parental lines. She also noted that the negative way they tended to handle this issue was directly related to feeling defensive, suggesting that the defensiveness had become a problem with a life of its own.

B’s stepdaughter lived in her home half of the time, as her parents shared custody. B felt that when her stepdaughter was in their home, “…she rises to the top ‘like cream.’ My husband is more interested in the quality of her daily [interactions] at the expense of everyone else.” She was uncomfortable with her husband’s priorities. She felt expendable, and was activated to a sense of protectiveness toward her son.

Ironically, B believed her husband was jealous of her dog’s attention. She noted, “My husband thinks my dog’s desire to be near me is unhealthy,” and she did “…honestly wonder if it would be different if [her dog] weren’t mine first.” Therefore, although she herself was not entirely certain her dog’s “step” status promoted her husband’s jealousy, she strongly suspected it might be the case.

In summary, most of the irresolvable problems observed by the respondents were


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