Limerence. What is it? It’s that magical state you find yourself in when you meet the person you’ve fallen in love with. It’s the time when you feel like you’re floating on air and unbelievably excited.
In the state of limerence, which can last a few months or several years, you feel that everything is possible. It’s a beautiful time in a new relationship, when it’s you and your partner against the world, and you make plans together. If you or your partner has children, you believe everyone will fit together nicely. And you are off and running to becoming a couple.
Limerence, a term coined by Dr. Dorothy Tenov in the 1970s, can be found in most couples at the beginning of their relationships. But to maintain a satisfying, strong relationship, couples need certain skills that will sustain them once limerence has passed. Stepcouples, especially, need skills that allow them to have a realistic view of stepfamily life so that they can successfully navigate the many challenges that come with being in a stepfamily.
The Challenge of Stepcouples
It’s a sad statistic that 62% of second marriages and 72% of third marriages fail, yet we still go into remarriages with children blind. Limerence takes us into a realm of magical thinking. We are so sure the relationship will work that when the troubles of stepfamily life begin, as they inevitably will, the disappointment and the hurt by the very person who was supposed to be magical is exponentially more hurtful, and you feel even more alone.
But, if we know the minefield of stepfamily life and we mindfully approach good relationship skills, there is a very strong possibility that you will be one of the stepcouples that defies the odds.
Stepcouples often fail in the first 2-1/2 years. Why? Because it’s hard. Because that feeling of specialness when you are together is constantly being challenged by children, ex-spouses, changes in visitation schedules, and intrusions on your special time. The parent of the children must educate themselves about what really goes on in stepfamily life because living in the fantasy will be more hurtful to a new partner than anything else that happens.
As the bio parent, you are protective of your children and your children are the most important relationships you have. Children bring out a sense of love and protection in us that often surprises us in its intensity. If our children have suffered through our divorce, our guilt and desire to protect them intensifies. But when we ask someone to love us and take on our children, we set ourselves up to be more hurt and more disillusioned about love if we don’t take the time to really understand what a stepparent will go through, how to help them, and how to work together in stepfamily life.
The feeling of limerence will dissipate more quickly because of stepfamily issues. If you don’t know what’s coming, you won’t know how to deal with it as a stepcouple. If you don’t already possess good, quality relationship skills, you will fight and hurt one another, often to the point of no return.
Series on Maintaining a Strong Relationship
This is the first of several articles in a series on keeping your stepcouple relationship strong. Subsequent articles will discuss relationship skills from the standpoint of two landmark studies in couples relationships: Dr. Judith Wallerstein studied couples who mutually identified themselves as having a satisfying marriage of 10 years or more and revealed what those couples do that unhappy couples do not. Dr. John Gottman has studied thousands of couples at The Couples Institute in Seattle. He has identified not only what goes into good marriages, but what predictors of divorce are based on communication styles.
In another article, I will talk about the wonderful work of Susan Wisdom, who introduced the word “stepcouple.” The article will explain what every couple needs to know about maintaining a strong stepcouple relationship.
Read and share these articles with your partner. We rarely learn what it really takes to have good communication with our partners. When we learn and use these skills, we can increase the “we’re in it together” factor in our new stepcouple relationship.
Home should be our safe haven, where we love to go to feel loved, understood and cared about. Often, when children are visiting, it is the one place we don’t feel safe, loved, or understood. In fact, stepparents will often report that they feel like strangers in their own home.
While that is a fact of stepfamily life, if the couple both can understand this and unite as a strong stepcouple, they can begin to navigate and work together. It takes many years to adjust to stepfamily life and life as a stepcouple. Remember, you are not in this relationship just for the children. If you’re the bio parent, you must remember that your partner came into this to be with you, not to raise your children.
So, read these articles. Consider how you can improve your skills as a partner in a stepcouple. Very few of us learn ways to improve our ability to be a good partner, but the information is available. And learn to use these skills to talk about building your home and your partnership so that it is mutually satisfying. Then, when the challenges of stepfamily life come, your strong love and partnership will help you stay afloat.