Key Clinical Targets
Three main clinical goals should shape assessment and intervention strategies with average courting-stepfamily clients...
breaking protective discounts and denials of false-self
motivating couples to want to make three
providing appropriate verbal and printed education and referrals.
accomplish this, clinicians and supervisors, consultants, and/or case managers need these
Then they need to make these...
Clinicians need to learn several basic things about these client couples in
order to help them achieve the goals above. This learning begins in the
intake process, and continues across
several clinical sessions:
Do all co-parents and key relatives and
accept (a) their stepfamily
now, and (b) what that identity
comprises their multi-generation
stepfamilies, and do the partners fully agree on this?
wounded is each partner and each co-parenting ex mate (low - moderate
- high), and (b) how aware is each of these adults of these wounds and
aware is each client co-parent of...
basics and realities, including the
they face, and these common related
- specially with
conflicts and associated
including how and why to assess for incomplete or
in their family members;
and family-adjustment needs, and
how to identify and reduce any significant
between co-parenting ex mates and/or relatives,
each partner's (a) main relationship
and (b) real (vs. ideal)
couple and stepfamily
The results of this multi-topic assessment will determine...
with courting co-parents and supporters
aim to motivate them to (a) raise their family
and (b) reduce the
long-term risk of eventual re/divorce by honestly assessing
whether they're committing
to the right
for the right
Restated: effective interventions will motivate client couples to
commit to working patiently together on these self-improvement
before exchanging vows.
keystone intervention with all these clients is to (a) inform them of psychological wounds and the wounds' personal and family consequences, and then
to (b) motivate each co-parent to
themselves, their partner, and other family
co-parents and key supporters for significant wounds.
The second most important
assessment is each partner's current real (vs. "proper") priorities.
needy courting couples' don't realize (or admit) the stepfamily conflicts and stress
that they're heading towards, initial clinical goals
"custom education" or a "pre-re/marriage
checkup." Custom means learn this unique family's needs and
circumstances, and tailor educational information and suggestions to fit them. This intervention summarizes
four key points,
perhaps augmented with related handouts: (a) the five common remarital
(b) the 7 self-improvement
(c) basic stepfamily
and (d) a sample stepfamily genogram.
core intervention should include some
version of these points:
"One (or both) of you has one or more
existing kids with a prior partner. By dating each other exclusively," you're considering
whether to co-create a normal stepfamily together.
"Paradoxically, typical stepfamilies like yours are
the same as intact biofamilies
and different from them in over 60 ways. These differences
always cause complex role and relationship stress-ors that most co-parents have little or
no experience with - like loyalty, family membership, and biofamily-merger conflicts.
Also, typical stepkids like yours can have over 50 concurrent
develop-mental and adjustment needs they need
informed adult help with.
Many researchers estimate that
over half of American couples just like you
ultimately re/divorce legally or psychologically. The impact
of divorcing a second time on
typical kids and adults is profound.
Would you be interested in a few educational
sessions to learn whether you're at risk of this and how to guard against
If the answer nets out to "no," then offer selected educational
handouts and stepfamily resources, and
suggest meeting later. If the partners say "yes we're interested," then agree on one or more
meetings for the couple.
Better: invite all
related co-parents. If the other
can't or won't attend, suggest the attending clients inform the other adults
what they're doing and why, and offer them copies of handouts - as co-parenting
not adversaries or critics.
partners to expect their custom education will probably evoke some confusion,
anxieties, and disagreements. Affirm your intention to keep everyone focused on
learning (a) key stepfamily
realities and protections, and (b) effective problem resolution. Option: metaphorically describe the custom education as a
"safari" into new stepfamily territory.
Motivate the couple to adopt and keep
(a) a long-range viewpoint (e.g. the next 20 years),
and (b) the open mind and curiosity of a
student. Emphasize that typical stepfamilies take over five years to
multi-generational biofamilies after co-commitment, and how different
stepfamilies are from typical "traditional" biofamilies.
couples to accept that despite prior experience and knowledge, (a)
much to learn, and
(b) self-education should be a high ongoing, shared priority among
all their stepfamily adults and kids.
interventions may include...
Overviewing the five stepfamily
stressors ("the problem"), and the related 7
("the solu-tion"). Ask the couple's reaction, emphasizing
that their biofamily experience is often not a reliable guide
deciding if these hazards apply to them or to solving unique stepfamily
Before or during the first education
meeting, ask the couple to review
and discuss (a) these 16
self-improvement marriage-evaluation course. Discuss their reactions - specially which factors brought up
the most concern or "interest" (anxiety). Affirm and normalize their courtship idealism
Invite the couple to review some version of these
minor kids' typical developmental and family-adjustment needs. Expect partners
to be startled and perhaps anxious or skeptical, irritated, and
"resistant" (scared). Reassure them that once informed of these
needs, co-parents and family supporters can patiently help each other and their kids fill these
(and related adult) needs over
a span of years.
Option - define (a) needs as normal emotional and
physical discomforts, and (b) nur-turance as
"filling someone's needs." Then propose that co-parent knowledge and efforts
to identify and fill everyone's needs will determine the nurturance level
of their homes and family.
As you teach these things, be alert for the bioparent
feeling significant divorce-related
and the potential stepparent/s feeling anxious
- e.g. "Now that you've reviewed these many
topics, how do you (each) feel? Where do your minds go?" Normalize
any disbelief, guilt, and anxiety as healthy reactions. If you sense
significant unresolved guilt, see this for
Other ways of motivating
co-parent clients towards ongoing self-education, greater stepfamily awareness,
and making wise co-commitment decisions are...
Ask each partner to review a copy of this quiz
of life skills and knowledge needed for long-term relationship and stepfamily success.
Then discuss and relate their reactions to the purpose of the
custom-education meetings; and/or...
partners to review this summary of ~ 30
stepfamily-adjustment tasks that they'll need to patiently help
their family members with; and/or...
these 16 things that their stepfamily members will have to patiently merge
and stabilize over several years, noting that this process causes many
confusions and conflicts;
typical stepfamily members encounter, and ask if couples are confident of
how to handle their version of the problems effectively; and...
Invite each co-parent to read this
example of a real multi-home stepfamily.
Note that while the details are different, the
probably the same ones the client couple and their relatives will encounter - like loyalty and values conflicts
and relationship triangles.
building the clients' interest in long-term stepfamily self-education, the
intervention focus shifts to
selectively providing, discussing, and implementing needed knowledge.
this overview of using this clinical model with
courting stepfamily (type 2) co-parents. Do you need a stretch break first?