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Conflict is normal, even in stepfamily dynamics

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  Kailey Foster: Navigating stepfamily dynamics can be difficult and you will probably run into conflict along the way. Nicole Brouwer with Healthy Relationships Utah helps families navigate these conflicts. She joins me today to discuss dealing with conflict within the family dynamic.

What can be some causes of conflict and stepfamilies?

Nicole Brouwer: When a stepfamily is created, it means we're bringing together people with unique personalities and varied past experiences, and different ways of living. And with this goal, right, of creating a new cohesive family unit, and conflict is just going to be a natural part of this coming together.

There are logistical challenges when introducing children and step-siblings like deciding which children will share rooms or figuring out this new household who will do which chore. And the adult forming a stepfamily bring in their specific parenting styles, which can mean different sets of rules and different ideas around discipline.

And some things may need to be negotiated, like how holidays are going to be celebrated, how the money will be managed, how to navigate the ins and outs of children splitting their time between living in your home and living with their other parents.

KF: How can we navigate situations that could lead to conflict?

NB: Research has shown that one thing that we can do to reduce conflict is choose healthy expectations. Forming a stepfamily is often challenging and creating a new family culture, building these meaningful relationships takes time. And so, if we can hold on to those realities, it can help us remember that conflict is just part of the process.

Another thing we can do is cultivate patterns of helpful communication. We can model for children that it's okay to talk about the challenges that your family is experiencing, that it's safe to talk through their fears and frustrations. And oftentimes, children just really need to know that what they're feeling is normal and that your family is going to work together to get through the hard stuff.

KF: And can conflict be a good thing in these situations?

NB: You know, that's a great question because oftentimes, we tend to think of conflict as a negative experience. But conflict, when handled well, can provide a wonderful opportunity to learn about each other and to grow closer together as a family, which can lead to really meaningful growth.