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The Web address of this
page is http://sfhelp.org/basics/2_courting.htm
This Web page continues a six-page article on first clinical contacts with typical
divorced- family and stepfamily clients. Initial contacts differ from those with other client types in a number of ways. The first page outlines
premises about first meetings, and contrasts three types of initial
The second page outlines 19 intake questions relevant to all
client-types. Question numbering here continues from that page.
seven more questions specially
suited to typical pre-legal (courting) stepfamily clients. "Client" here means all adults and kids
living regularly in
rela-ted co-parent's home.
Co-parents who court after divorcing or mate-death have a special set of needs.
Most don't seem to know what they are. That opinion comes from my ...
co-leading an interactive remarriage preparation workshop with over 35 groups of
engaged couples since 1988,
taking well over 1,000 phone calls for
stepfamily information from re/courting and neo-
stepparents since 1981, and ...
thousands of hours consulting
scores of divorced and widowed co-parents who were dating another partner.
Thus my "research sample" for designing the questions below is a mix of
hundreds of 25
to 60 year-old, clinical and non-clinical, mostly
middle-class Anglo, adults in a pre-re/wedding courtship relationship.
Over two-thirds had custodial or non-custodial kids from prior unions. A few
were homosexual couples considering mutual commitments and co-habiting, where
one partner was a divorced parent.
From this experience and related studies, I believe the following to be
true of such typical American post-divorce and mate-death couples ...
they don't know what they
don't know about typical stepfamily basics,
realities, and risks,
so most don't know what to ask. Most are either ambivalent about, or don't
want to identify as an emotional
(pre-legal) stepfamily ["No, we're just a regular (bio)family!"];
Conservatively, over 75% of
typical courting co-parents are often controlled by a protective
self. They don't know this about themselves or their partner, and they
don't want to know; and ...
Most of these men and women are
a delicious distorted mind-state
(romantic love), flavored by hope, optimism,
idealism, lust, relief, excitement, tolerance, politeness, and anxiety. These
client co-parents are often trying to reduce
or end some conflicts with ex mates, the court system, or occasionally
relatives. Most are legally divorced. Some Catholics are still negotiating the
trying process of church annulment; and ...
Few courting co-parents have known each other
longer than several years. This means that _ the couple has few
common "old" friends, and that _ potential stepparents and
stepkids don't know each other very well. Contacts between them have
been Disneylandish, where everyone's on their best behavior. Exceptions occur when
the other divorced bioparent/s, and/or a minor (or grown)
child, hasn't grieved their family separation losses well, and isn't ready to relate
to the new
co-parent; and ..
One result of the these factors
is that many of these couples say (proudly) "We rarely disagree,"
or "We never
fight!" and "We just talk about everything together!" Implication: so far, their combined needinesses and
romance-distortions have blocked learning _ whether their
styles of conflict-resolution are compatible, and _ who's going to have to flex on what, to accommodate
style-differences. Finally ...
I've never met a courting
pre-re/marriage couple who has ever seriously _ reviewed
the theme of pre-re/marriage Project 7, or _
knowledgably evaluated "Am I (and any
dependent kids) re/ marrying the right
(plural), for the right reasons, at the
right time?" Virtually none
of the hundreds of courting and remarried couples I've worked with had any
idea of the long-term relevance of these courtship questions, or how
to answer them objectively.
With this brief perspective, what are key intake questions to ask average
courting stepfamily couples? Because the number of stepfamily members,
relationships, and concurrent stressors are usually much higher than courting first-marriage couples, there are more relevant intake
questions to choose among.
After first assessing whether any crisis interventions are needed, key intake
topics to explore with these clients beyond these basic
What degree of protective
_ denial and _
unawareness (lack of information) does this
courting couple seem to be in now - low, medium, or high?
Which service would
best suit this client family's composite (guesstimated) needs first:
(e.g. on splitting, communication, grieving, and stepfamily basics);
What's the apparent nurturance level of this pre-legal stepfamily - low to high? and ...
Should this couple re/marry? Restated: "How likely is it that this couple and all their
kids and related co-parents can master their version of the five stepfamily stressors, and avoid ultimate emotional and/or
Before examining each of these questions, note
that ideally, intake with courting co-parents is
best done with both partners. High stepfamily complexity, plus the
high odds of co-parent perception-distor-tions, raises the probability that
interviewing one only partner will yield skewed and incomplete intake
in-formation. As usual, the chance to experience a
couple interacting adds rich information to verbal intake exchanges.
1) "Assess What?"
About Courting Co-parents and
their Kids (Pre-legal Stepfamilies)
Clergy and pre-re/marriage counselors have a priceless chance to assess
co-parent couples and their kids and ex mates before they re/wed.
The main assessment question is "Is this couple effectively
evaluating whether they should co-commit and form a stepfamily?" If the
answer is "No" or "Probably not," then the next question is
"Why - what's in the way?" Toward both goals,
regardless of the
person's or couple's
presenting request or problem, assess:
_ A) Does each mate genuinely (vs. intellectually) acknowledge
now that they're
considering forming a stepfamily (or equivalent term)? If
"No", "I'm not sure", or "I don't think it matters" -
they and any minor kids are at major risk of
eventual re/divorce. See Lesson 7.
_ B) If "Yes, I do" - does each partner clearly _ understand
and _ accept that each of their kids' living and dead other
parent/s and key relatives will be emotionally-important members of
their potential nuclear stepfamily - even if they don't want to be? If
"No", _ the odds for combinations of psychological wounds,
ineffective communications, blocked grief, and role conflicts, rise steeply, and
therefore _ so do the chances for one to three wrong
choices. See Project 7.
_ C) Does each partner _ know and _ accept
their version of these stepfamily basics? If
not, are they motivated to learn them? If "No", the couple will
very likely underestimate their risks and many complex
tasks, and provide inadequate guidance to their minor dependent kids with
their unique adjustment
tasks. Both factors, combined with
powerfully promote eventual re/divorce.
D) Does each courting
co-parent really accept that every re/married bioparent must
choose - over and over again - between "who honestly comes first with
me - my mate and re/marriage, or my kids?"
If one or both
adults minimizes this, or says "So what?" - assertively advise
them to rethink their marriage decision. If you don't feel this is
particularly likely or important, check with any re/divorced parents
you know. Option: read some representative posts on any Web stepparent "chat
The most widely cited (surface) reason for stepfamily redivorce is a stepparent saying
"I got tired of coming in fourth in my home, and I ran out of hope that
my mate would change." Weary bioparents say "I got too tired of having
to choose between my kids and my spouse". The rosy courtship vision that
happen to us" is a widespread, tragic delusion. Specially if
vehement and defensive, it usually signals excessive co-parental neediness and
psychological wounds. See
| _ E)
Does _ each partner accept that these five
hazards fully apply to them and any dependent kids, and that
they're at real risk of eventual re/divorce? If
"Yes," then _ are each of the partners genuinely
motivated to learn, tailor, and study these safeguard
before committing to re/marriage? If
"No" or "I'm not sure" -
Use education (e.g. copies* of selected site pages) and some version of the
multi-part "three right choices" worksheets
in Project 7 to help _ assess
such couples, and _ help them learn enough to wisely decide if they (and
their kid/s and other c-parents) should re/marry, when, and why.
For motivation and credibility, you need to be pretty familiar with
why each of the seven courtship projects is important, and how to do them.
degree of protective denial and benign ignorance is the courting
couple in now?
Here "denial" means one or both partners don't want to acknowledge
_ we're forming a
complex, multi-home stepfamily,
_ we are at high risk of unrealistic expectations, major stress, and eventual re/divorce because of
_ these five factors.
Further common denials sound like
"We've already evaluated the special
5-6 re/marital questions,
and all is well";
_ "Our minor kids don't have any unusual
stressors that we can't handle"; and ...
_ "(any co-parenting ex mates involved) are
not co-equal adult members of our new family."
often other related denials and delusions.
This set of intake questions can be brief and revealing - specially if both
courtship partners participate. Each of the links leads to an educational handout that
can be a post-intake intervention.[ ]
you each comfortable with your identity as
a pre-legal (courtship) stepfamily?" Alternative: "Are
you both comfortable now using your new family role titles as
'stepparent' and 'stepchild(ren)'?"
[ ] 21) "What do you
feel will be different for you and your kids by forming a stepfamily,
instead of a traditional biofamily?" Alternative: "Are you
aware yet of the ~60 common myths that
couples like you have about stepfamily life, that can cause stressful,
[ ] 22) "Do you each
accept that the kids' other bioparent/s - and any new partners
and stepkids of theirs - will be full co-parenting
of your stepfamily even well after the youngest child is living
independently?"; and ...
[ ] 23) "Are you aware
of _ your minor kids' set of the four
common groups of concurrent tasks, and _ each child's
status with their set of tasks?"; and ...
] 24) "Do you know the reasons
behind the Stepfamily Association of America's estimate that ~60% of
couples like you ultimately re/divorce?"
Interviewees' responses to each of these verbal or written questions will
suggest further assessment/ intervention questions, if time and
circumstances permit. Their non-verbal reactions to each question and all
together will guide a trained interviewer to conclude whether their respective
true Selves or false selves are answering.
The second special intake focus here is how motivated this couple is to
learn both stepfamily basics, and this group of
skills that they'll need fluency in to co-manage their
succes-sfully, long term. Most courting couples are unaware of both the value of
learning, and what to learn together. Representative intake questions: