The interview data are reviewed below for the descriptors of Change of Belief About the Partner. As the markers are discussed, their relationship to stepfamily life will be considered.
Respondent 1. T felt betrayed when, in disciplining her stepsons, her husband aligned with his sons rather than with her; her sense of fairness led her to observe, “We each do this.” They were polarized in their arguments about their “…parenting styles, then we…argue instead of resolve the real issue and the kids then either find themselves more hurt or another means of manipulation.” There was a strong biological alignment, a dichotomy sustained by T and her husband. They often declared biological loyalty, making choices that supported their children, which challenged their couple bond.
Children in traditional families drive emotional wedges between their parents, and pull outsiders into the dispute, such as a sympathetic grandparent; however, there is a better chance that the parents unite against the outsider, because that relative has less power than the biological parents. At least some of the wedges driven between T and her spouse were likely related to their step status, and these promoted T’s feeling that this couple could not depend on each other to form a united parental front.
T described the reactions she and her husband had when one partner disciplined the other’s biological children. “If he ‘sides’ with the middle child then I feel he did so in an attempt to remain honorable to his son. If I yell at [the] middle [child], then he feels I’m ‘picking on’ him and vice versa.” The perception of the partner criticizing their child led to arguments about their decisions as parents. They moved into a protective stance on behalf of their child and a self-protective posture about their parenting abilities. This described a change in T’s perception of her husband (and reportedly his view of her) from co-protector to attacking adult. Rather than a partnership, they now assumed a form of mutual watchfulness and preparation for defense of their offspring and their parenting skills. T perceived that their marital bond was challenged each time that she found she must “protect” her son from her husband. T’s descriptions indicated that this was an intermittent process for them. Her interview bore no signs of either parent overtly rejecting a stepchild, and few indications that the couple was entrenched in protection. Her interview was liberally sprinkled with hope, care and concern of her stepchildren, and doses of humor about their situation.
Respondent 2. J described her marriage as continually insecure. She was unable to depend on her spouse, as his moods changed frequently. He expressed little interest in discussing his anger. J speculated as to the source of his anger throughout the interview, but drew no conclusions other than he “…just simply refuses to accept any responsibility for any of our problems.” He tended to become “…really angry and tells me it is over and then before the next 24 hours is over he regrets what he says and acts as if he never said it.” She experienced betrayals of trust through her husband’s periodic threats to leave and his requests that she and her children leave.
This family did not typically share positive experiences. Their family’s dichotomous theme was apparent, as she plainly stated, “We seem to be 2 separate families that live in one house. Everything is a ‘yours and mine’ issue, not just the children. Separate bank accounts, separate car insurance, separate holidays because my children and I are not welcome with his family.” J’s ability to trust and depend on her