Variability in Individual, Relational, and Familial Life Courses

Some of the reasons for elevated structural complexity has to do with the incongruences among individual, relational, and familial life courses of stepfamily members. This is because: (1) Stepfamily members have different family histories; (2) Parent- child bonds are older than adult partner (spousal) bonds; and (3) Individual, marital, and family life cycles are more likely to be incongruent. Divergent family histories mean that some events occur off-time for some family members (e.g., a childless stepparent suddenly has an adolescent in the house), stepparents are immediate outsiders to an entrenched parent-child system, and sometimes they get stuck as outsiders (Papernow, 2013), established family cultures must merge, but sometimes collide instead, and various interpersonal bonds (e.g., between the adult couple, stepparent-stepchild) are being developed within a context of older, more established connections. Besides helping stepfamily members become aware of these developmental disparities, clinicians try to facilitate the maintenance of parent-child ties while strengthening the couple bond and building stepparent-stepchild and other step-relationships.

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