“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” – George Bernard Shaw
Have you ever had a conversation only to find out what you thought was said and what the other person thought was said were completely two different things – as if the conversation never happened? How often has that other person been your spouse?
Two of the most nerve wracking and uncomfortable conversations remarried couples can have are about kids and money. Many couples dance around, avoid, and deny these very important conversations. Stepmoms complain that they walk on eggshells if their stepchildren are brought up because their husband has a serious case of divorce guilt or Disneyland Dad Syndrome. Money conversations are avoided like the plague until the couple is faced with out of control debt, possible foreclosure, or worse: bankruptcy.
Necessary Conversation #1: The Kids
Whether you’re about to marry a man with kids or tied the knot years ago, your “love” won’t fix your stepkids. Love goggles have a wonderful way of making stepmoms think they can swoop in and fix what’s broken. Instead of swooping in and taking over, relax. Before the next crisis involving the kids happens, talk with your husband. Schedule a meeting in a neutral, non-threatening location. Take him to your local coffee hangout or your favorite sandwich shop. Topics for discussion might include:
- Co-Parenting with the Ex-Wife
- The Fantasy of the Instant Family
- House Rules
- Yours, Mine, and Ours
- Role Expectations
- Parenting Styles
- How to Become a Unified Front
Donna Ferber (www.donnaferber.com), licensed professional counselor, reminds us that the rules are different in blended families. In an interview with I had with her, Donna suggests that stepparents back off for 2-3 years and allow the children to “settle in.” She also strongly recommends that the parent do the actual parenting of his or her children. As Donna said in our interview, “discipline without trust is going to be disrespected.” As stepparents, it takes time to build trust with our stepchildren.
Necessary Conversation #2: Money, Money, Money
As my good friend and money coach, Maureen Campiaola says, “how you do money is how you do everything.” Before my husband, Richard, and I got married, we had a series of “kitchen table conversations.” The last one we had was the dreaded financial conversation. No joke, we showed each other our previous years tax returns, disclosed our assets and total debt.
Good, right? Full financial disclosure is certainly a necessary money conversation, but it doesn’t end there.
Other financial topics to cover with the one you love:
- Spending habits
- Saving habits
- Attitude / Relationship towards money
- Estate Planning (wills, trusts, life insurance, etc)
- Child Support
In our marriage, Richard and I approach money from opposite ends of the Universe. He has a horrible relationship with it. I don’t. Even knowing this about each other hasn’t made us immune to the inevitable blind spots but it has helped us move through them.
Kids and money are two of the leading causes of divorce in first marriages and remarriages. Isn’t it time you started talking?
Pick a topic in the Kids category and schedule a time to meet your husband and have the conversation. This is not a conversation to have on date night, in front of the kids, or if you are already fighting.
Pick a topic in the Money category and schedule a time to meet your husband and have the conversation. This is not a conversation to have on date night, if you are already fighting, or if you just got an unexpected bill from the IRS.
Listen to Peggy’s interview with Donna Ferber
Listen to Peggy’s interview with Maureen Campiaola
This article first appeared in the May 2011 issue of Stepmom Magazine