This article continues
a series for professionals outlining characteristics of
of client families served by this clinical model. It focuses on the
third type: committed stepfamily couples who present common surface
problems (symptoms), and denying or minimizing significant
primary-relationship problems. The prior two types outlined are
divorcing biofamilies, and
courting stepfamilies. This article
Perspective on typical client-couples
in denial and their stepfamilies
of typical systemic problems and key intervention goals with these
To get the most from this
summary, first read:
The introduction to this
clinical series, and scan the series index;
If you have trouble viewing the slides, see
The key premises
underlying these articles for professionals.
This overview of the clinical
model on which this article and series is based, and this
glossary of terms used to describe working with it;
This refresher on human systems, and this overview of the three
levels of typical systemic "problems."
Clinical requisites for working
effectively with these complex multi-problem client families;
that typical mates seek to fill via their relationship.
These introductions to effective assessment and
interventions using this model.
Option - think of a committed couple who are denying, minimizing, or
ignoring serious relationship
problems, and keep them
and their family in mind as you read this. One way of learning from this article is to reflect as
you read on (a) how each premise here compares with what you now believe, and
(b) what it would mean to you and your co-workers if you
To benefit from the ideas here, your
"S") should be steadily guiding your
Perspective on These Couples and Their Families
Premise: normal (vs. "pathological") adults and kids
themselves from significant situational and chronic
with strategies like avoiding, blocking, repressing,
intellectualizing, idealizing, numbing, projecting, self-distracting, and
denying. Typical survivors of childhood neglect and trauma
- GWCs) use these strategies to excess, and deny or justify doing so to
themselves and others.
majority of the hundreds of divorcing and stepfamily couples and ex
mates I have worked with clinically are GWCs in major denial of their
unconscious pain-avoidance strategies. I suspect this is typical
of your clients too.
.One or both mates have usually
at least once before, and have at least one co-parenting ex mate. They may not have adjusted fully to a prior
divorce or mate death, and/or
(broken bonds) - and deny or minimize this. Their family's systemic
structure is usually significantly
dysfunctional (low nurturance), and the partners don't know this, what
it means, and how to improve it.
professional study and experience, this clinical model proposes that
average couples denying or ignoring significant relationship (and other)
problems (unmet needs) are often unusually wounded and
have made up to three unwise courtship-
specially couples founding or expanding a
co-parents in denial (and their supporters) know little or nothing about...
personality subselves and psychological wounds, and the lethal [wounds +
basics and realities, including the five
pro-grief families, and family grieving
family-adjustment needs of minor
and grown stepkids,
co-parents, kids, and relatives must
and stabilize, over several years;
current nurturance level of their
home and stepfamily, and...
unawareness and ignorance (lack of information) of all these topics
together mean to them and their family members - e.g.
unrealistic stepfamily expectations, significant frustration and
conflict, difficulty bonding, and potentially wounding minor kids
Typical co-parents and couples in denial who seek clinical
help will not include any of the above as presenting problems.
They rarely are aware of the vital difference between surface problems
and the unfilled
that cause them. Therefore, after empathically acknowledging the
clients' presenting (surface) problems, clinicians must proactively assess
client-adults' knowledge and key
attitudes about these topics, and
weave appropriate education into the work. .
Typical Presenting Problems
These committed couples usually seek
clinical help for a range of surface problems (symptoms).
often seek to (a) minimize or rationalize their own contributions to
their stressors, and (b) reduce family-role and (non-primary) relationship stresses with...
more minor or grown kids (e.g. "My son is acting out at school,
despite our attempts to help him"),
"other bioparent" and/or the ex-mate's new partner
(e.g. "My ex persists in badmouthing me and my new partner to our
genetic relatives or in-laws ("My ex mother-in-law keeps trying
to discourage our dating and reunite her daughter and me.").
many variations within these main
categories. Usually none
of them are the real problems.
Key Assessment Options
model proposes that the first priority in working with typical
stepfamily couples in denial is to
listen empathically to their presenting problems, using that to start
assessing them for significant (a)
and (b) related denials or discounting significant partnership
and other family problems. Recall that here, needs means
emotional, physical, and spiritual discomforts; and
problems and stress mean unfilled
Wound-assessment is a process over several clinical contacts watching
for (a) individual co-parent behaviors like
these, and (b)
The next step
is to assess the couple's self and mutual awareness, and their knowledge
of the key topics above and what they mean in their family's context.
findings from this assessment are significant wounding and unawareness,
manifesting as denials, minimizing, ambivalence, unrealistic stepfamily
expectations, avoidances, and unwarranted optimism ("Our love and
will conquer all these problems,") Minimally-wounded couples
are more apt to be genuinely interested in learning more, accepting
their partnership stressors and deficits, and working to reduce them as
committed, mutually-repsectful partners.
with these Clients
intervention targets with co-parent couples in denial is to (a) empathically
facilitate their hitting
and (b) honestly admitting their respective wounds, inner pains, and ineffective
or toxic false-self pain-management strategies. Secondary (concurrent)
targets are to raise co-parents' motivation to learn and apply the key
topics above to their stepfamily's structure
and dynamics - specially to learn how to do effective problem-solving.
this over time shifts into using a type-four
clinical assessment / intervention framework. A bonus is facilitating
one or more client adults to admit (break protective distortions) that
they're wounded GWCs often controlled by a false self. This makes
true personal wound-recovery possible if any active
are admitted and stabilized for at least a year (preliminary recovery).
This article is one of a
of clients served by this unique clinical
The article focuses on the third type -
committed, unaware stepfamily
couples ruled by
which protectively deny (a) current inner
pain and primary relationship problems and their (b) causes and
(c) relation to clients' typical presenting (surface) problems over
parenting, finances, ex mates and/or new partners, and blood
and legal relatives.
The article (a) identifies requisite background reading, (b)
offers experience-based perspective on these
clients compared to the other five types, and (c) outlines key
client-unique assessment and intervention goals for these clients.
next article in this series focuses on
effective clinical work with type-4 clients - stepfamily couples who
admit significant primary-relationship problems (as well as other