enjoying their children. B stated “Neither one of us are able to really enjoy our kids like ‘normal parents’ because of the unresolved issues.” B highlighted the depth and pervasiveness of the problem by noting, “It is not just the ‘kid issues,’ it is the way we have grown to respond to one another about the ‘kid issues.’” She made clear that their stepcouple problems were multi-layered, and that they needed to learn how to talk about their problems before they could begin to resolve them.
In review, these women all conveyed the sense that their problems felt chronic and pervasive, colored by hopelessness and anger, polarized in blame. Their seemingly irresolvable problems could be tied to stepfamily formation and were associated with perceived breaches in their stepcouple bond.
Extreme language. A salient keynote of irresolvable problems in these interviews was the “extreme” language used to describe problems, situations or feelings. These suggested polarity, using “all/nothing” or “always/never” terms, or where respondents’ feelings seemed to fall at one end of a continuum. The extreme language, written below in italics, might indicate the salient issues around which an attachment injury had occurred. These extreme descriptors tended to be related to stepfamily problems.
T (Respondent #1), for example, described the effects of stepparenting on her marriage in extreme terms: “…any problem my husband faces is also mine and that whatever decision he makes will never be as good as any one would expect of a bio parent, still married to bio mother.” This conveyed her hopelessness in ever receiving approval from her spouse as she attempted to co-parent his biological children.
T used extreme terms to discuss finances, “…we have the added problem of paying for everything instead of asking ex to do anything to avoid a conflict, but then it cuts into our plans…” and “We always have to keep a ‘court budget.’” “…we have no alternative than to succumb to the bleakness of the necessity of these monies because we’re fighting for our children and our family.” These statements illustrated that sometimes T viewed their financial strains as a “stepcouple against outsider” issue. On the other hand, T clarified their “step” status as an overall source of their financial woes, citing finances as one of the couple’s challenging and recurring problems. Her extreme descriptors were indicative of the sense of irresolvability about financial issues and these have negatively impacted their stepcouple relationship.
T mentioned, “we never really finish a conversation and find a solution because we know it will lead to bigger issues and therefore let things go unresolved.” She used extreme language to denote helplessness about the solvability of the problem. Later she stated that the couple “…never really agree about how we need to go about correcting bad behavior [in the children] from day to day…feeling guilty [about invoking consequences] and then when we actually carry through, we argue…” T conveyed a feeling of being locked into an eternal struggle, wherein this couple “never” truly agreed about discipline and then argued about disagreeing.
J (Respondent #2) was poignantly bleak in her extreme descriptors of “step”- related situations that felt irresolvable. For example, she described her sense of hopelessness about the possibility of partnership in her marriage: “Every aspect of my children’s lives and mine are his business…his kids are none of my business…” This described her sense of feeling controlled by her spouse, with no sense of partnership. She