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Before combining families, think through how it will work

| Monday, May 30, 2011

Question: My boyfriend and I have been together for three years. We do not argue. The only tense subject we face is not seeing each other enough. I think he feels guilty for spending time with me when he doesn't see his kids as often as he would like. But shouldn't he realize that it isn't my fault he is divorced, and he can have me and his kids -- and it will be amazing• I'm afraid that we will never be able to live together. I do get it, though. I have kids, too.

Answer: Red flag! But, you might be surprised at what we think it is. Yes, you probably are correct that your guy feels guilty. But the red flag we see not only is his guilt, but your naivete when it comes to combining families. As "amazing" as this all potentially is, you already are walking into problems with a man who harbors guilt about his divorce and the amount of time he can spend with his kids. That sort of guilt often spills into arguments, especially if it results in his not disciplining his children. And, when they're together, if he openly favors his kids in front of yours, that could feed resentment and affect his relationship with your children -- not to mention the resentment you might feel if he treats your kids differently than he treats his own.

In your defense, seeing the potential for a relationship is a necessary component of making the relationship work. But don't let that cloud your ability to see you both have some serious work to do. When we work with couples with kids attempting to combine families, we always suggest they start by doing, "The Before Exercise" (which can be found on the Bonus Families website, , Key word: Before). The exercise begins by asking each partner to consider the kind of relationship he or she envisions with his or her kids -- and bonuskids -- now that they are a couple. But, more important, it asks each of you what you will do to foster that sort of relationship. The exercise is done separately. Each partner writes down his or her thoughts, then they come together to compare notes and discuss.

You can see how this sort of brainstorming can help new couples take a proactive approach to problem-solving the issues blended families face. While love is said to heal all wounds, it's not enough to keep a bonusfamily together. You also have to use logic -- and be proactive, anticipating problems and putting safeguards in place so that family members know what to do when they're faced with a troublesome issue. So, do the exercise, consider how you will approach the guilt/favoritism issue, and you have begun to lay the groundwork for a successful bonusfamily. Then, it will be amazing.

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