& Visher, 1979).
Interventions with stepfamilies
The literature suggests that the way to best help stepfamilies with their struggles to blend is to begin work with the stepcouple. This is consistent with pervading sociocultural views of “family,” that the resident adult dyad is responsible for the tenor of the household. In therapeutic settings, the stepcouple undergoes interventions initially focused on strengthening their relational bond (Martin, et al., 1992; Papernow, 1993; Visher & Visher, 1979). It is suggested that the work begin with processing grief (Butler & Powers, 1996; Visher & Visher, 1979). Once the stepcouple processes grief and forges a strong sense of unity, the other areas of contention in the stepfamily are addressed with the stepcouple at the helm.
The purpose of this study is to explore the possibility that the couple may experience threats to their relational bond; and further, that their relational bond is threatened by the nature of the disputes inherent in creating their stepfamily. This study will focus particularly on problems that may be related to loss and loyalty conflicts in stepcouples, as these are the issues that resonate closely to the attachment model.
Significance of the Study
The obstacles to blending, maintaining and fostering ongoing stability in stepfamilies are enormously challenging. The formation of a stepfamily implies past losses for its family members (Martin, Martin & Jeffers, 1992). Over this foundation of loss, the couple’s relatively new attachment bond may be threatened by the necessary and difficult navigation of changes experienced by a stepfamily. The effects of change reverberate for the new family as they establish a hierarchy and explore their newly forming boundaries. They face possible boundary issues around sexuality, assumptions about family members’ new roles, as well as the rules of this newly blended family (Lawton & Sanders, 1994; Martin, Martin & Jeffers, 1992; Nicholson & Sanders, 1999; Papernow, 1993; Visher & Visher, 1979).
Typically, stepcouples experience these challenges as being “out of sync” when compared to the path followed by traditional couples. The traditional couple has time to adjust to the context of their relationship, and to each other’s idiosyncrasies, prior to adding additional family members. And those additional family members traditionally arrive after a period of adjusted expectations by the couple, either through pregnancy or a waiting period for an adoption. Stepcouples do not have the luxury of the adjustment phase. The new family is created in a comparative instant. Quite often, there are unresolved feelings of loss for at least one of the members: a sad, confused or angry child, or a partner who forges ahead but may not yet be ready to take on the necessary transitions. This may result in a challenge to the authority of a stepparent, and lead to profound questions and conflicts for the couple about meaningful roles and honoring values. They experience the pressure to resolve these relational conflicts in the context of watchful eyes, and perhaps wary hearts of the children.