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November 2010

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  Ask Our Coaches:
When kids stand in the way of future happiness

"I really don't like these kids and the feeling is mutual."

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.

Dear Coaches,

I've been dating the love of my life for three years and he's hinting at engagement at the holidays. Naturally I'm excited. I find myself dreaming about our wedding and spending the rest of our lives together. I don't have children, but he has 2 of them and, frankly, they're brats. We spend time with them every other weekend as well as at other non-scheduled times. I really don't like these kids and the feeling is mutual.

My question is … do I allow them to stand in the way of my happiness or should I just be satisfied with the time I do have with my boyfriend when they're not around? I love him and don't want to lose him, yet at the same time, I know these kids aren't going off to college any time soon. I've talked to him a little bit about this, but I'm careful because these are his kids and of course they always come first. He says they'll grow out of it and I have nothing to worry about.

What should I do? Is our married future in jeopardy? I'm just not happy being unhappy around his kids. Any thoughts on what to do, or do I need to move on?

Cindy from Chicago

Bill responds …

Do you want to be reserved and not fully expressed about what you want in your life and in this relationship? You ask if your future marriage is in jeopardy, or if you need to move on. Before you consider whether to move on, I suggest that you first "move up."

Move yourself up in ranking regarding your own status with your boyfriend. Move yourself up in your ability to know and clearly express what you desire for your life and relationship. Move up in your stand for having the life that you want with the man that you want, and being clear about how that will actually work.

Move up into a clear understanding of how you will easily and powerfully interact with his kids and him in a way that works for all of you-- since they are not going away. Move up into an agreement with the man of your dreams in regard to how it will be between you and him, in relationship to his children and all life's domains. Only then will you be able to see and choose a life together.

Bill Paglia-Scheff | | 860.209.9254

Jenna responds …

As a coach and a step-mom, I understand your ambivalence. Being a stepparent is often described as "the hardest thing I've ever done." There is no easy answer as to whether or not you should move forward with this relationship, but there are a few things to keep in mind.

Second marriages that involve children from a previous marriage have a failure rate estimated around 70%. The majority of marriages that succeed do so because the partner with the children is fully supportive of his/her spouse. This means that your spouse must be able to balance caring for the children and nurturing the marriage. He also needs to be able to hear your concerns without getting defensive or shutting down. Has your boyfriend shown this ability?

His response of "don't worry, they'll grow out of it" is worrisome; it's dismissive. It shows he doesn't understand the magnitude of the situation and he's not taking your feelings and concerns seriously. This could be devastating to a marriage. He may simply need some education around your experience, but if it persists I would highly suggest couples coaching with a coach specializing in blended families and their unique challenges.

Jenna Korf | | 408.470.9743

Annette responds …

How lovely to become engaged to the love of your life! Since his children will always be a part of your life with him, what if you delay your wedding planning until you can bring about a change of heart between you and his children? What if he said he could only marry you if you found a way to love and respect his children, and they for you? Would you find a way?

You speak about his children as brats, as if that were a factual truth, rather than your judgment of them. They have lived through their parents' divorce and all the raw emotions that came before it, as well as its aftermath, shuttling back and forth, many confusing emotions, and now you, as a rival for their dad's love and attention. They could probably benefit from empathy and caring from you, and emotional coaching or therapy.

Step-parenting, under the best of circumstances is hugely challenging; many second marriages don't make it. Step-parent training as well as couples coaching for you two, or personal relationship coaching might be a saving grace for all four of you, to help you build a strong, loving family.

Annette Carpien | | 610.428.2755

Denise responds …

Your dilemma with your boyfriend's children is a common situation with blended families. Often the fantasy that we will all be "one big happy family" is interrupted by reality. Ask your partner for a designated time to discuss the matter when he is relaxed and attentive. Approach the issue as a request, not a criticism of the kids.

Make a suggestion that if you were to become engaged you would like to sit down with him and create some ground rules for the "new" home that the two of you will create together. Keep in mind these guidelines must fit the needs of the children as well as you and your partner. This ensures harmony in the home and mutual respect between the step parent and his/her step children.

The kids do not have to like you, but they do have to respect you. That said it may be beneficial for you and your partner to participate in couples coaching together where you both can set up your non-negotiable requirements. This will lay some of the foundation for the relationship and possibly the new family unit, so no one will feel blindsided or disappointed.

Denise Wade | 610.639.6627

Lisa responds …

Congratulations for carefully evaluating this potential hazard that could run serious interference in your relationship. Just saying kids will outgrow bratty behavior offers no guarantee it'll happen. Sure, it's natural for kids to go through periods of unruliness. But when they persist, it's important to figure out what's causing the trouble. Is there a problem at school? Is the former spouse tainting the kids' perception of you? Are hormones running wild? Is there jealousy over someone else sharing dad's time?

Whatever the case, your partner's relaxed parenting approach is not agreeable to you. His dismissiveness can cause resentment to develop. With heightened excitement about an impending engagement, it can be tempting to minimize the impact a contentious relationship with someday stepchildren can have. But once the thrill levels off, this real life dynamic might loom larger than you'd like.

It's best that you and your partner decide together how to handle the kids' misbehaving, and then follow through as a team. Divisiveness now can compromise you later. Fostering open communication as a family might help clear the air, or maybe spending one-on-one time with each of the kids will enable you to cultivate better rapport.

Lisa Manyoky | | 609.890.6645

Randy responds …

No relationship is perfect, and you always have to evaluate the "total package." The kids are obviously a detractor, but you say this man is the love of your life, so it seems "every other weekend" is not too bad. All relationships have challenges, and this appears to be yours. So you can use the challenge as a topic for ongoing communication with your partner.

Raising kids is difficult, especially for the non-custodial parent. But maybe you can help your (future) husband work on bringing these children along into the world of mature adults. There are many approaches, and you should seriously think about "out of the box" solutions. It is not necessary to live together to be married. It is not necessary for you to spend your entire weekend every time with the kids. Therapists can help kids cope with a divorce (and reduce their acting out).

I suggest working through ideas with your partner and testing the solutions, prior to getting married. This will be good not only for you and the kids, but for determining the problem solving capability of the relationship.

Randy Hurlburt |

Lori responds …

Time to face reality. Second marriages fail 70% of the time. Most of these people think they have a fabulous relationship. You already KNOW you and the children don't like each other. What happens when they are teenagers and want to live with their father?

You are saying that after 3 years together he doesn't really know how you feel and he is not putting you first. Is that happiness? NO! In healthy marriages, the spouse comes first. Children come through you and you raise them and they leave. You and your spouse will still be there. There will not be any happiness in a family where you and your spouse's children can't get along.

How about telling him how you feel, that you can NOT marry him unless the situation with the children gets resolved, get the whole family to a counselor or coach and work this out before saying "I do." Otherwise, before long, you'll be asking an attorney "where do I sign?"

Lori Rubenstein | | 928.634.0252

Feature Article:
If You Love Me, You Would Trust Me:
Marriage and Pre-nuptial agreements

by Lori S. Rubenstein, JD, CPC

You've met Mr. or Ms. Right. You've been dating for quite a while, and you have decided to take the leap into this wondrous world we call marriage. You are both so excited, thrilled, dreaming and talking about the wedding, the dress, the honeymoon.

Every once in a while, a "hot" topic comes up, like how many children will you have, what about religion, will one person work or will both have careers. You are navigating through all these big issues just fine and then BOOM! Your mate, your love, the father/mother of your future children, the person you want to spend the rest of your life with, asks you to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. (1)

Shock, confusion, panic sets in. If we do a pre-nup, doesn't that mean we are already planning out divorce? Does that mean there are doubts? Does that mean you don't trust me? How can we go forward in our marriage if you are thinking about our divorce? If the foundation of a good relationship is trust, then aren't we already in trouble?

These are all valid questions. However, if you have been married before, or if you have an unequal amount of pre-marital assets, it is not unlikely that the thought, if not the conversation, has already been breached.

In fact, most people discussing pre-nuptial agreements are older, have already been married and divorced, have been around the block a few times, are wise, logical, and understand that pre-marital assets should remain pre-marital. Even though all this is true, the request for a pre-nuptial agreement is still so emotionally charged!

In the 21st century, with the nearly 40-50% divorce rate for first time marriages and near 70% for 2nd marriages, the logical part of us knows that it is possible we may be part of those statistics. Yet, the emotional in love forever side can't even fathom thinking about divorce.

If you find yourself spending more time planning your wedding day than discussing substantive issues about how to resolve issues in the marriage, you just might be in trouble. A pre-marital coaching or counseling program is a great prescription to help you develop a firmer foundation upon which to build your marriage.

In America today, financial problems are the number one cited reason for divorce, with sex following closely behind. However, while we understand that finances are the number one issue leading towards divorce, we do NOT fully discuss the painful reality of our differences, nor do we come up with agreements to deal with our differing attitudes towards money. I love the idea of having a Marital Agreement in which you discuss all your agreements and how you will deal with your differences DURING the marriage.

So, we are back to the question, if you do your work and understand each other's financial outlook, if you trust and love each other, why should you have a pre-nuptial agreement? BECAUSE you do trust and love each other! There is no better time in your relationship to plan for a fair, non-negotiable, less emotional divorce than when you are truly madly in love with each other.

I know this seems like such a paradox, but from a logical and legal point of view, the time, emotional and financial expense is greatly reduced if you take care of all of this on the front end. And if you do have children, you will not spend their college funds on divorce attorneys as so many people end up doing.

About 20% of previously married people are choosing to go with pre-nuptial agreements, precisely because of their past experience with divorce. These people recognize that marriage is just like a business partnership, you have an agreement to get into it, you should have an agreement about how to run the business, and an agreement to get out of it.

Look at it this way: healthy boundaries, clear and explicit boundaries make the BEST relationships. When you love your children, you set boundaries. Yet, you are scared to talk this honestly upfront. It is easier to stay in la la land. This is why I suggest getting a mediator involved. Here are eight guidelines for putting together your prenuptial agreement and saving your relationship.

1. Remember, you are in charge of the process. You must outline for the mediator that you WANT to stay together and have a good relationship at the end of the process. Ask the mediator to help you understand each other, not just get an agreement signed.

2. Before and after each negotiating session, remind each other why you love each other and do something fun and supportive.

3. Accept that this brings up strong feelings and support each other through the process. In other words, put yourself in your partner's shoes.

4. Know your partner now. Your money differences might be huge. Use this process to learn about why he/she wants to keep everything and give you nothing. What is behind this? Remind yourselves to be generous with each other. Be your best self also during this process. Treat your partner how you would want to be treated.

5. Use this as an opportunity to also come up with other agreements, such as wills, power of attorney, health care directives, and insurance policies. In other words, how will each of you be taken care of after death? This is not typically in a pre-nuptial agreement, but it is allowed and certainly can be in a "marital agreement" document.

6. Use a mediator who knows the system. For example, if one person wants all the assets, makes all the income, and wants to leave the other person dependent on the state, she will be able to tell you that the court will not uphold such an agreement as being against public policy. She can also tell you what the courts would see as fair.

7. Think outside the box and be creative. For example, a divorce after 5 years would look different than a divorce after 20 years. You may construct your agreement to increase proportions of the marital estate division with the length of your marriage.

8. Once the agreement is complete, notarize it and make sure you each have a copy; the mediator has a copy, and put it away and forget about it. Go about the business of having a great wedding, celebrating your love and future with family and friends, and trust each other knowing that your foundation is stronger than ever.

Can you see how just going through this process can make your marriage stronger, how setting boundaries and outcomes gives you a firmer foundation upon which to build that happy life together? You want a great relationship, don't go into it with a "la-la-la we're so in love so everything will be great" attitude.

Know that marriage is a business proposition, in fact, the most important deal you will ever make. So make it a sound, solid, secure one and then allow love to guide the way.

Note 1: A pre-nuptial agreement is a legally binding contract made before marriage that outlines your rights and responsibilities should there be a divorce. If it is fair and reasonable, it will be used as the basis for a divorce decree.

Copyright ©2010 by Lori S. Rubenstein. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.

Lori S. Rubenstein, JD CPC is well known for her ability to help clients tear down their walls to attract love into their lives. A divorce attorney, relationship coach, author, teacher and mediator give her a well-rounded perspective. She is the author of 3 transformational books and a CD/workbook set.

Bonus Article:
Strategies for Thriving as New Parents

by Shirley Vollett

The first year of parenting is the toughest, so be kind to yourselves.
~Tracy Hotcher

Big Changes

My favorite parenting cartoon is by one by Bizarro. It shows a mother and dad looking wide-eyed at their young baby. The balloon above the baby's head reads: "Have you been sleeping all night, going out after 7pm, eating in restaurants? Are you used to clean clothes and furniture that looks like new? I'm here to change all that."

Indeed -- a new baby will change your life as a couple like nothing else! And although these changes are common and natural, they may come as a surprise. Even the strongest and most stable of relationships can be tested by the birth of a baby.

New Roles

These changes may look different for the new Mom and Dad, as each adjusts to their new role within the relationship.

The new Dad may feel supplanted by their baby in his wife's affections. Even the most mature man may grieve the loss of the couple's pre-baby romantic relationship. His sexual desires may be unchanged, while his wife's responses may have changed dramatically.

The new Dad may also feel inept and awkward in his new role of caring for an infant. (In fact, recent research shows that a husband's involvement with his children will decline in relation to the amount of criticism he receives from his partner regarding his parenting.) He may feel like there isn't enough of him to go around, as he feels the pressure to continue to produce at work, while assuming added responsibilities at home.

The new Mom is experiencing a major physical and emotional transition. Although no longer pregnant, as long as she breastfeeds, her body still doesn't belong solely to her. Exhaustion and mood swings can result in some very ambivalent feelings about the "joys of motherhood". Being at home, rather than working, may result in feelings of lowered self worth, particularly for women whose identity is strongly work-related.

Without a pay check or workplace recognition, the new Mom must learn to generate her feelings of validation from within. She may experience little recognition for the myriad of repetitious tasks she does each day. Her fears and anxieties about being a good mother, as she is learning-on-the-fly, may make her sensitive to criticism and unsolicited advice. At times, her spouse (despite his best intentions) may show up as just one more demand on her dwindling energy.

Given these pressures, new parents can benefit from strategies designed to support and nurture their relationship. So here are some suggestions:

#1 Reach out for and accept help

Being a new parent is demanding, so take advantage of all possible perks! When friends or family ask what they can do to help – tell them. Let them know what you need. Meals for your freezer? Errands run? Babysitting? A night out? Some company? This is not a time for false pride and impression management. Let your loved ones express their caring by taking on some of the tasks that could free you up to nap or have some quality relationship time.

#2 Make time for the relationship

Go out on a date regularly. (Some parents make a weekly commitment. Monthly is a minimum.) Do something fun and relaxing that both of you would enjoy. There are many low-cost dates, so don't use money as an excuse not to go. The point is simply to do something enjoyable together.

Agree not to talk about the baby. Let this be a time to focus on the two of you and other interests you share. This is a time to remember what it's like to be a couple again. You'll be amazed at how quickly romance and fun return when you make space and time for it.

#3 Hire temporary help if you need it

This is a great time to invest in some household support, until you both feel you're on top of your new responsibilities. This could include such things as: babysitting, housecleaning, laundry, meal preparations, grocery delivery, etc.

Look for creative ways to get breaks and to reorganize household responsibilities. You won't need it forever, however if things become stressful, a little paid support might make the difference between surviving and thriving. If there is no budget for extra help, let your friends and family know these are ways they can help.

#4 Reach outside the relationship for emotional support

Both of you will feel stretched, so don't expect to get all your needs met by each other. New mothers need to be with other mothers, who are also interested in the minutiae of baby care and development. If you don't have friends with young children, seek out parent and baby drop-ins, fitness classes and educational talks. These parents share your concerns and challenges and you can be an invaluable source of support to each other, both emotionally and practically. Many new parents form baby-sitting co-ops, to give each other breaks without cost.

If the at-home parent is a Dad, he will also benefit from these kinds of activities and social contact. The new Dad also needs hang-out time with other men with whom he can "de-pressurize" and blow off some frustrations. Other Dads have been there and know what it's like and can normalize (probably through humor!) what you're experiencing. Your family and friends can provide that additional energy, understanding and perspective that each of you may need.

#5 Educate yourselves regarding the changes affecting your sex life

Pregnancy and childbirth will disrupt and affect your sex life. It's not personal! Understanding these changes will help reassure you both that these changes are temporary.

For example:

• Women typically experience diminished arousal in the 4 to 8 weeks post-partum.
• Many nursing mothers don't experience a return to pre-pregnancy hormone levels until after their baby is weaned.
• Healing of episiotomies and caesarean incisions take time.
• Vaginal dryness is common for most new mothers because estrogen levels are low.

Couples will need to adjust and find creative ways of dealing with these physical changes, as well as the fatigue factor affecting their love life. Educating yourself regarding what to expect will help couples normalize and be able to talk about these sensitive issues. Enjoy finding those creative solutions!

#6 Respect your partner's parenting differences

You and your partner may come to parenting with different models, standards and experiences. Talk about them! Seek to understand how things were done in each of your respective families, so you can take the best from both. Taking a parenting course or sharing a good child development book can give you a common frame of reference, teach you some valuable skills and provide a forum for discussing what is important to both of you.

#7 Take time out to communicate feelings when tensions arise

Remember that when you are stressed, there is a tendency to turn your partner into the enemy and blame him/her for not doing more. Let your partner know what you're feeling and needing before you're ready to bite off his or her head.

Try to listen non-judgmentally to each other, by simply mirroring back the frustrations your partner is expressing. You may want to consider having a weekly meeting, to check-in and plan.

#8 Get help if you're struggling to resolve conflicts

According to research, married couples wait an average of 7 years from the onset of a problem before seeking marital help. How unfortunate! By this time, many problems have crystallized into major resentments.

The pressures and fatigue related to a new baby increases the likelihood of frayed tempers. So be proactive in getting help if you're unable to wade through conflict on your own. Many of us weren't taught good conflict resolution skills so there is no shame in seeking help. In fact, it's a sign of wisdom. Books, courses and good professionals abound.

A Time of Growth

The birth of your new baby heralds an unparalleled chapter of personal growth for you and your partner. So give yourselves the best possible chance of turning baby challenges into growth opportunities. Commit to strategies designed to nurture and grow your relationship. The payoff will be huge for you AND your baby. And your relationship will benefit long after your baby has grown up and left the two of you on your own again.

Invitation to Action

For new parents: Plan a date with your partner for the coming week. Even if it's only for an hour, do something together (that you'd both enjoy) and focus on being with each other -- no talking about the baby! Make a joint commitment to having regular ongoing dates and discuss how you'll support each other in making that happen.

For friends and family of new parents: Trustworthy and mature babysitters are critical for new parents, especially when their baby is very young. Offer if you can. Keep asking how you can help and what supports their changing needs. Let them know what a great job they're doing!

Copyright ©2010 by Shirley Vollett. All rights reserved in all media. Used with permission.

Shirley Vollett, BSW PCC is a Life and Relationship Coach, with over 20 years of combined experience in counseling and coaching. She delights in helping pro-active individuals make positive changes in their lives, their work/business and their relationships.

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Tara Kachaturoff | Editor, Couples News

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