Chat with us, powered by LiveChat Of the 5 challenges you read about in Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships, what do you believe is/was the most difficult challenge based on your - Writingforyou

Of the 5 challenges you read about in Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships, what do you believe is/was the most difficult challenge based on your

  must be  400 words APA FORMAT WITH   with at least 3 scholarly citation ONE BEING A BIBLICAL REFERENCE THE OTHER TWO FROM THE READINGS ATTACHED.  

Of the 5 challenges you read about in Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships, what do you believe is/was the most difficult challenge based on your own experience (either as a child of divorce, divorced parent, remarried parent, or someone who had a friend or counselee experience divorce and remarriage)? How can you help families through this challenge in the future? Be practical.


 Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships. Taylor & Francis. 

Papernow Chapter 14-18

Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and Thriving in Stepfamily Relationships. Taylor & Francis.

Chapter 14 Level I

A Toolbox for Psychoeducation

DOI: 10.4324/9780203813645-14

Psychoeducation, so key to stepfamily success, is much more than simply dispensing information. This chapter describes some ofthe critical skills involved. It concludes with a summary of the key strategies that support stepfamily success. I hope that this chapter will be useful to a wide range of practitioners involved in helping stepfamilies to meet their challenges.1

Critical Skills for Effective Psychoeducation

Normalize the Intensity

Bringing language to felt, but unnamed, experience can bring considerable relief. “Insiders and outsiders! Click! Finally someone put words on it!” Normalizing intense feelings can also go a long way to lifting shame, lowering anxiety, and restoring optimal arousal. However, simple pronouncements (“Being an outsider is normal in a stepfamily”) leave stepfamily members alone in their pain. Leading with empathic attunement, grounded in specific details of daily living, will be much more comforting: “In a stepfamily, every time a child walks into the room, you, Jane, feel invisible and pushed to the side, and you, John, feel pulled in and engaged. It happens a thousand times day, doesn't it?”

Stay “Low, Slow, and Simple”

New information delivered at a fast clip or at a high pitch will get lost. The receiver needs time to fully chew, swallow, and digest each morsel. “Low and slow” is an invaluable prompt from Sue Johnson, along with “soft and simple” (2012). For me, simply dropping into a lower voice register can slow my own internal engine, and help me to shift my attention from figuring out what to say next, to tracking my clients’ subtle nonverbal responses.

“What's That Like to Hear from Me?”

Accurate information about stepfamily challenges can be profoundly disappointing. I always ask, “What was that like to hear from me?” Both relief and despair need to be voiced and heard, by me, and by other stepfamily members who are present in the room. I closely track nonverbal clues: A stepparent leans forward. Her eyes brighten. Her partner's shoulders slump slightly. His energy goes flat. “It looks like this was a relief for you, Jane, but maybe hard to hear for you, John. Am I right?” Ignoring or rushing by these cues leaves our clients sitting alone with their feelings. It also increases the likelihood of apparent “noncompliance.”

Check for “Do-ableness”

Receiving “expert advice” that you cannot use is both frustrating and shaming. I often ask, “On a scale of one to ten, ten is hardest, one is a cinch. Let's check just how hard would it be to make that request of your partner?” If what I am suggesting is above a four or five, we need to carefully explore the obstacles and either address them, or scale down the suggestion.

Practice the Discipline of “Joining”

Corrective information, even when offered with the best intentions, easily evokes defensiveness. Before I correct, differ, or offer a new piece of information, I take a breath. I look for what I do understand about where this person is coming from. When a client has a “wrong idea,” especially one that will get them into trouble, it is all too easy for most of us to begin insistently hammering home the “right” information. When clients object to, argue with, or refuse to believe our good advice, it is also tempting to simply drop an important but frustrating topic. Neither arguing nor avoiding is helpful.

Compassionate affective connection opens the way to change. Especially if I sense any resistance or shame, and whenever I find myself feeling critical or judgmental, I do not open my mouth, until I can say what I do genuinely understand about where my client is coming from.

Practice “Heart Flips”

This kind of compassionate joining in the face of “wrong ideas” and “resistance” requires what my colleague Mona Barbera (2008) calls a “heart flip”—finding a way to open your heart at moments when you would really rather argue, be judgmental, or give up. Challenge yourself to find a genuinely empathic connection with each of the “wrong ideas” in the left hand column below. The right hand column offers some suggestions.

Table 14.1 Heart flips

Wrong Idea Heart Flip

1. Recoupled dad: My wife is still not close to my kids. What is wrong with her? What parent wouldn't want other adults to love your kids the same way you do?

2. Stepmother: His daughter is the problem. All the other kids are completely cooperative. She is being self-centered and resistant. You are so wanting this new family to work. It's so disappointing when you want something so badly, and someone isn't cooperating. Did I get that right?

3. Stepmother: I don't see what is so hard about following my rules. It's my house. I’m just asking for a few simple things. It's tough to have kids in your house who don't follow your rules. It makes it feel like it's not your home, doesn't it?

4. Stepfather: We can't even celebrate a holiday together. Christmas was a disaster. What's wrong with us? It is so hard when holidays don't go well. Just when you’re hoping for a nice celebration, all heck breaks loose, right?

5. Recoupled mom: My ex was late again picking up the kids. I let him have it, right then and there at the door. He has walked on me long enough! I’m betting it felt great to finally stand up to him. It's been a long haul, hasn't it? Can I ask you something. Were the kids there?

Use Bits of Psychoeducation to Help Stepcouples Connect

Here are Kevin and Claire in an early session, processing information I have just shared with them about their stuck insider and outsider positions:

PP What's it like to hear me say all this, about insiders and outsiders?

KEVIN I guess I’m relieved. I think I’ve been really scared.

PP Would it be OK to turn to Claire and tell her that?

KEVIN TO CLAIRE Finding you was so wonderful. Then it got so hard. I guess I was really scared. Scared it wouldn't work and I’d lose you!

PP TO CLAIRE What's happening inside, Claire, as you listen to Kevin say this? Can you tell him?

CLAIRE I didn't know! I just saw you being so defensive. I really didn't know how scared you were.

A Summary of Key Moves That Support Stepfamily Development

Ease Stuck Insider/Outsider Positions

Expect them!

Support all relationships in the stepfamily with lots of one-to-one time.

Support Children

Establish regular, reliable one-to-one parent–child time.

Actively loosen loyalty binds. Children with very tight loyalty binds will need more distance from stepparents.

Build the adults’ empathic connection with kids.

For kids (of all ages), the adjustment to a stepfamily is often more challenging, and requires more time, than the adjustment to divorce. Moving slowly is often hard for the adults but reaps benefits for all.

Children over nine, girls, and especially adolescent girls will very likely need more time and patience.

Meet Parenting Challenges

Expect parenting polarizations.

Parents retain the disciplinary role. Stepparents have input, parents have final say.

Authoritative, loving, and moderately firm parenting is key to children's wellbeing. Permissive, authoritarian, and unpredictable parenting styles do not serve children well.

Stepparents need to begin by making connections with their stepchildren, not by correcting them. After forming trusting, caring relationships with their stepchildren, some stepparents can move slowly into authoritative parenting.

Authoritarian stepparenting is almost always destructive.

Honor Differences While Building a New Family Culture

Becoming a stepfamily is a process, not an event!

Make only a few changes at a time. Rules for safety and respect come first.

Holidays can expose a surprising number of differences. Celebrating separately for a while may actually best support stepfamily development.

Try to replace arguing over right and wrong with learning about each other.

Maintain Low-Conflict Relationships with Ex-spouses

Highly collaborative co-parenting relationships are best for children. Low-conflict “parallel parenting” is next best.

Protect children from adult tension. Monitor conflict like doctors monitor blood pressure.

Differences between houses are normal. The key is for the adults to be respectful and neutral about them.

Children need basic information (“Christmas Day will be at Dad's this year”). They do not need sordid details (“Making holiday arrangements with your dad was so difficult”). Watch for inadvertent “leaking” about the other parent.

Young children do best with co-parenting plans that provide a consistent predictable week-day schedule. (Weekends can be more flexible.)

High-conflict ex-spouse relationships benefit from extremely specific, structured parenting plans. Make use of court-appointed neutral decisionmakers. Make sure that communication between co-parents is brief, fact-based, and focused on children.

Help ex-spouses to use their best skills, not their worst, with each other.

Chapter 15 Level II

A Toolbox for Interpersonal Skills

DOI: 10.4324/9780203813645-15

It is how stepfamilies communicate about disagreements, rather than the mere presence of disagreements that is important to mental health in stepfamilies.

(Stanley, Blumberg, & Markman, 1999)

Good interpersonal skills invite optimal arousal. They open channels of connection across the divides created by insider/outsider positions, parenting polarities, and cultural differences. They are vital to forming new stepparent–stepchild relationships, and crucial in maintaining cooperative low-conflict relationships with ex-spouses. Chapter 15 begins with some basic principles for teaching interpersonal skills. It gives step-by-step directions for the two tools that I use most: Joining and Soft/Hard/Soft. Shorter descriptions of a number of my other favorites follow. The chapter ends with some key research findings that I often share with clients about behaviors that create satisfying, long-term relationships, and those that predict distress.

This chapter is not about how to do couples therapy. It is my own compilation of skills that can make a difference. In fact, none of the tools in my toolbox are particularly complicated. However, I am constantly struck by how little most people know about positive communication practices, from the most sophisticated to the least.

Some Principles for Working on Level II

Keep Your Offi ce a Safe Place

I firmly, but compassionately, interrupt defensive, dismissive, critical, or demeaning exchanges. “Can I call a time-out here? I promised I would stop you if I saw anything that feels unsafe.”

Skills Require Practice and Feedback

Skills must be practiced, many times. Simply talking about a new skill is not sufficient, whether we are working with a couple or an individual. “Let's try it.” “Let's put it to work. I’ll help.”

Stepfamily members already feel inadequate and lost. I always try to lead with a piece of specific positive feedback. “You’re each coming through really clearly. But I’m kind of betting neither of you feels very heard. Am I right?” “John, you got part of what Jane said. I think there was some more about how all this feels to her. Would you like her to repeat that part?”

Working on Interpersonal Skills Is as Vital with Individuals as It Is with Couples

A stepmother says to me, “I try to tell him, but he always gets defensive.” I say, “Tell me more about how the conversation goes.” She replies, “I tell him his kids are slobs and he needs to teach them good manners.” I say, “I know you really want him to hear you. Want some help?”

Some Common Objections to Learning Interpersonal Skills

The amount of effort required to learn new skills can feel arduous, irritating, and, to some, quite unnecessary. Here are some common objections and my responses to them:

“But isn't it important to be honest?”

Yes, honesty is important. However, the choice is not between remaining silent and saying it like it is. The challenge is to say hard things, but in a way that builds connection and caring, not disconnection and tension.

“But it's the truth!”

Truth without compassion is a weapon, not a form of communication.

“Why should I have to be so careful? It's not natural.”

We all wish to be natural, especially with those closest to us. One of my early mentors, the Gestalt therapist, Sonia Nevis, used to say, “Sharp elbows hurt more up close.” When you are upset, saying something kindly can indeed require a significant amount of emotional muscle. What is lost in spontaneity is gained in intimacy.

“My partner (child/ex-spouse) is just over-sensitive.”

“I believe that you don't intend to hurt your partner/child/stepchild. However, it turns out that critical comments are painful for most humans. In response to pain, most humans strike back, shut down, or flee. If you want to be heard, understood, or cared about, it is in your best self-interest to learn how to say hard things tenderly.”

Some Lead-Ins for Teaching Interpersonal Skills

I especially use these when I want to teach joining.

Time out. Can I stop you a moment?

I have the sense that you’ve had this conversation before, am I right? Can I help you have it differently?

I sense that both of you are longing to be understood. I’m guessing neither is feeling heard. Is that right? (Nobody has ever said no to this!) Would you like some help?

It sounds like this is an important conversation, right? I’d like to help you have it better. Interested? (Thanks to Toni Herbine–Blank for this one.)

Like we’ve been saying, this family structure divides you constantly. It's happening again. Can you feel it? I’d like to teach you something that might help you feel connected to each other. Even though you stand in different places and see different things. Interested?

Two Favorite Tools: Joining and Soft/Hard/Soft Joining

Joining is a kind of heart-led mirroring that interrupts the “but, but, but” responses that leave couples (and kids) progressively less heard and understood. It is my favorite fall-back pathway to bringing the emotional temperature of a relationship back into the optimal zone and jump starting the flow of understanding and caring. I use it often to keep things from getting wild and wooly when I have a high conflict pair in my office.1

The Structure Is Simple

Jane and John are butting heads.

THERAPIST TO BOTH Can I stop you a moment? I am kind of guessing that both of you are longing to be understood. Right? And I have a sense neither of you is feeling heard? Want some help?

THERAPIST TO BOTH I want to teach you something called joining. It's kind of simple. But maybe a little harder than it looks. I’ll help. Who wants to start? (John volunteers.)

THERAPIST TO JOHN I would like you to say just one or two sentences about what you most want Jane to know. (John speaks.) (If John goes beyond one or two sentences, I make a time-out sign, and say something like, “I know there is so much more to say. It turns out, listening is like eating. Your partner can only take in so much at a time. If you want her to hear, you have to keep it short!” He tries it again.)

THERAPIST TO JANE Before you respond, I’d like you to take a breath. Take a minute to feel that place inside where you do love John. See if you can find what you do understand about what he is saying. (We stay with it until John gives a nod that Jane “got” him. If necessary, add, “I’m not asking you to agree. In fact you may disagree completely! I’m just asking you to let him know what you do understand.”)

THERAPIST TO JANE Now it's your turn to say just a sentence or two to John. (Jane speaks a couple of sentences to John.)

BACK TO JOHN OK John, your turn. Before you respond to Jane, I’d like you to take a breath. Find the place where you do understand what Jane is saying. (Stay with it until Jane gives a nod.)

U se the Structure to Slow Things Down

Stop the action. Take things one bit at a time. Stay with it until the listener really does “get” what the speaker is saying. If necessary, elaborate and translate. “Jane, I think you were saying that you are longing for John to get what it's like to feel so invisible. Am I right? John, can you find the place inside where you do understand what that's like for Jane?”

A Lot of the Power of Joining Lies on the Nonverbal Level

You are reaching for not just the word package, but for a sense of vibrating resonance. I sometimes say, “It's like holding a cello note with your partner.” Sometimes the words are there, but the pace is too fast for intimate connection. Attend to small nonverbal cues: When clients remain tight or defensive, remember to lead from compassion (“It looks like maybe this one is hard for you?”), not criticism.

Deepen the Sense of Connection

If this goes well, slowing way down helps each person to take in the other's experience. Both partners start to feel heard and seen. I begin looking for tiny signs of increasing relaxation and opening. John takes a deep breath. Jane's face softens. Their shoulders begin to relax. They look fully at each other. Once this starts taking hold, I want to root this feeling of connection more firmly in their bodies and in their minds. I also want to highlight their knowledge of their power to recreate it.

THERAPIST TO JOHN I wonder, John, how that feels inside, that Jane is getting how it is for you to feel so torn between the people you love?

JOHN It touches me.

THERAPIST TO JOHN Can you tell Jane that? Can you tell her what it's like for you when she lets you know that she understands?

JOHN I don't feel so lonely when you get it! (We do a similar sequence with Jane.)

THERAPIST TO BOTH How about we just sit for a moment and let this sink in. (A few moments later, I say:) You might have noticed that this sense of closeness is not coming from agreeing with each other. It is coming from slowing down and fully hearing each other.

Using Joining to Deepen Empathy between Parents and Kids

Joining is a great structure for helping parents slow down and really take in their children's experience. I say to a dad, “I know you want your daughter to feel better. I know you love her. Could you take a moment and find that place in your heart where you do understand about what she just said?” Especially with younger children, I concentrate on increasing parents’ emotional attunement with their children. It is usually inappropriate to ask a child, especially a young one, to empathize with a parent.

With older adolescents and young adults, I begin with this fairly one-sided joining, until the child feels that the parent fully “gets it.” Once the child feels deeply understood, I may ask the parent, “Is there a sentence or two you would like your son/daughter to understand?” Then I will help teens or young adults to work on this important skill by asking them to slow down and “get” what their parents are trying to communicate.


Introducing Soft/Hard/Soft

“You have some important but hard things you need to say to each other. Most of us don't like to hear negative feedback. Soft/Hard/Soft is a way to say hard things in a loving way.” I often say, “It's like a reverse Oreo cookie. Or a layer cake.”

Start with something “soft.”

Then say the “hard” thing, but with that same soft energy.

Then add another soft.

The very act of looking for “soft” is often calming to the speaker. It often opens the way for compassion. For those who are allergic to confrontation, Soft/Hard/Soft provides a safe way to bring up tough subjects. Many of my clients cannot pull off joining on their own. However, most easily grasp Soft/Hard/Soft and can use it at home.

A Few Ways to Do “Soft” (I Usually Offer Two or Three Ways to Do “Soft”)

Express your caring: “I love you and I want us to be close.”

Give positive feedback: “I can see you’re working hard on getting your kids to pick up their things.”

Empathize: “I am getting how totally irritating my kids’ clutter is for you!”

Attribute positive intentions: “I know you wouldn't want me to feel left out and lonely.”

Own your part: “I have gotten a little loose on asking the kids to clean up.”

Express confidence: “I have confidence that we can work this out.”

Meeting the Challenges with Soft/Hard/Soft

The “soft” statements below are in italics. The “hard” statements are in regular font, followed by another soft statement.

Insiders and outsiders (an outsider stepmother asks for attention from an insider dad): “I realize you don't see your kids all week. But it gets lonely for me when they’re here. Could you just give me an extra hug in the morning before we get up? I love you and I know you don't want me to be lonely.” Not: “You obviously don't care at all about me.”

Children (a parent asks a child to use her words): “Sometimes this new family is an awful lot of changes coming awfully fast for you. But I think you’re old enough to come tell me, not throw a fit. I know I don't listen sometimes. I’ll really work on listening.” Not: “You are out of control.”

Parenting and stepparenting (a stepdad asks a mom for more clean-up action in the kitchen): “I’m guessing that it works fine for you guys to do the dishes every couple of days. But the pile in the sink is driving me nuts. Let's figure out a way through this together.” Not: “Your kids are slobs.”

Parenting (a recoupled mom asks her partner to be kinder): “It's got to be hard for you that we are all used to leaving our things everywhere. But I have a request. Would you to talk to me about it a bit more kindly? We’ll keep working on this together.” Not: “Why can't you calm down and be more flexible?”

Cultural differences (a stepmom initiates a conversation about money): “I know you adore your daughter and want to take good care of her. I actually think it would be a good thing for her to pay for her own car insurance. Can we talk? I know you have always taken care of her in this way, so this might be tough to even think about.” Not: “I can't believe you’re not making your daughter take some responsibility!”

Ex-spouses (a divorced mom says no to her ex-husband): “I’m sure it would be really fun to take Polly to Vermont next weekend. Since it's my weekend with her, I need to ask you to find another time to take her. I know you wouldn't want me to schedule anything on your time with her.” Not: “You always have been a self-absorbed bastard.”

A Few More Favorite Tools

Track Arousal Levels

Preeminent researcher and couples therapist John Gottman has stated that self-regulation, the ability to bring ourselves back into optimal arousal, is the most important interpersonal skill (2011). Many people are quite unaware of when they are moving toward “losing it” or shutting down. Gottman uses a fingertip oximeter that provides immediate in-session feedback about rising pulse rates. It also tracks efforts to bring the heart rate down. I use the simple Arousal Levels Chart introduced in Chapter 2. It is always visible in my office, along with the Parenting Styles chart.

Stop the action

When you sense that the intensity is starting to rise (or drop): “Oops. Can we stop and take a check inside? Notice where your arousal level is?” My client responds, “Getting tense.”

Help identify cues “What's the clue for you that your emotional temperature is rising (or that you are starting to shut down)?” “What are you aware of in your body?” (“My jaw gets tense.” “My stomach starts to hurt.”) “What do you find yourself thinking?” (“Here we go again!”) “That's great! How about we work on recognizing those clues and calling a time-out. I’ll help.”

When awareness is lacking “How about if I let you know when it looks from the outside like things might be heating up/shutting down inside. You can check and see.”

Make Requests Not Criticisms

Attacks require rebuttals. Requests are generally easier to hear than criticisms. Requests do not guarantee success. But, barring sainthood, criticism almost always guarantees defensiveness. Clients who come from a family where asking, or showing needs was unsafe may be unable to do this without some internal work.

Criticism Request

You never make time for me I would love some time alone with you

Can't you ever be nice? Would you try to use a softer voice with my kids?

You never ask your kids to do anything I’d love it if you’d ask Katie to set the table

Sentence Stems: I Would Love It If…

Sentence stems provide a structure for requesting rather than criticizing:

It would help me if …

Would you be willing to …

“I Messages” Rather Than “You Messages”

“I messages” are generally less triggering than “you messages.” You messages label the other person (i.e., selfish, uncaring, oversensitive). I messages communicate feelings. Feelings are: sad, mad, glad, I like it, I don't like it. I messages do not guarantee being heard, but they increase the chances significantly. You messages pretty much guarantee defensiveness.

You messages I messages

You don't care I miss you

Your kids are slobs I’m having a hard time with the mess

You are over-reacting I’m overwhelmed

Two Circles

“Two circles” is a concrete way to teach about boundaries. The goal is to “speak from inside your own circle” rather than “step into the other guy's circle.” Speaking from inside your own circle requires an “I message.” A “you message” puts you inside the other guy's intimate space.

Introducing “two circles” “Suppose I take a great big magic marker. We’ll draw a big circle around you, Jane, and another around you, John. ‘I messages’ are about your own feelings. They come from inside your circle. ‘You messages’ put you inside the other guy's circle.” “Talking from inside your own circle makes it much easier for the other guy to hear you without getting defensive. It's not a guarantee! But stepping into another person's circle, almost always guarantees that they will get defensive! I’m going to ask you each to stay in your own circle. I’ll help you.”

When one person steps into the other's circle, stop the action “John, can I interrupt for a second? I know you want to get heard. You might have noticed Jane