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STEP 3: Strengthen Your Connections

Every stepfamily is a complex network of relationships. When our emotions get turned up, this precious network can feel more like a giant boulder rolling over us.

Often, taking a clear stand on our convictions leads to friction in our family relations, which can add to the pressure. But when we observe, work to understand, and build our connections one-on-one with each member of our family, these relationships become more manageable and less threatening.

Future stepmom, Dana, was concerned about some distance she was feeling from her 24-year-old soon-to-be-stepdaughter, Stephanie. She decided to check it out by arranging a lunch date with Stephanie. The two women had a lively hour-long conversation, and Stephanie shared several important things that were going on in her life. Dana felt relieved, and decided that perhaps nothing was wrong. As they were hugging good-bye, Stephanie asked, “Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?” “Oh, no,” Dana said, “I just missed you and wanted to know how you were.” Stephanie said, “Well, it was fun. Let’s do it again soon!”

Connections are our relationships, interactions, and automatic patterns with significant others. When we make a habit of going after relationships instead of problems with the people we care about, we build stronger, more durable bridges to one another. 

Dana was able to relax about her relationship with Stephanie by bolstering the connection between them, and by building on her one-to-one relationship with her future stepdaughter. This doesn't guarantee that there will never be conflict or strife, but it does increase the odds that these two women will be able to work things out between them if the going does get rough.

Here are a few elements of strong, healthy connections:
  • Direct, 1:1 contact
  • Willingness to compromise on preferences, but not on principles (convictions)
  • Focused first on one’s own inputs to the relationship or interaction, each taking responsibility for his or her part
  • Not trying to change the other or adjusting for the sake of the other
  • Working to resolve tension or disagreement directly rather than involving others (e.g., gossip, bullying, manipulation)
  • Words and actions match: “say what you do and do what you say”
  • Ability to lead or follow, help or be helped, disagree or agree based on the demands of the situation

Healthy connections in our family require work, but when we can be present and accounted for in every important relationship, we find ourselves enjoying the people we love more, and struggling with them less.

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