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Should We Seek Counseling Before Remarrying?

QUESTION: I am 38 years old and have four children, ages 12 to 21. They are all still at home. My boyfriend is 57 and both of his daughters live on their own. He is very concerned about raising children again at his age and worried that he might disappoint me. Do you think it is wise to seek family counseling before marriage?

ANSWER: You and your boyfriend are off to a good start through such honest and open communication! His concerns are valid and need your in-depth consideration. At age 57, your boyfriend may feel reticent to return to the demands of teenagers. You are almost a generation apart! These are different places on the life cycle, which may mean that you have very different needs. He may also have specific experience in his first marriage that may impact his anxiety about balancing the couples' relationship with the role of stepfather/parent. Counseling would be an excellent opportunity to explore what expectations each of you would bring to remarriage. And, in fact, whether remarriage is the right option for the two of you.

Because 50 percent of remarriages do end in divorce, it is wise to examine what becoming a stepfamily would feel like to everyone involved. All of you have suffered through the loss of a previous family unit. There needs to be a place for mourning these losses. Counseling may help you get in touch with the past which inevitably comes up for review. Stepping into a stepparent role may cause conflict if there are unrealistic expectations. Some of the common myths that haunt stepfamilies include the myth of "instant family" and "instant love."

Stepfamily formation takes time, and stepparents are often set up to disappoint their partners when expected to take on the role of an authority or discipline figure, rather than accept a friendship role. Over time, young children can develop a strong parental quality relationship with a stepparent, however teenagers are less likely to accept your boyfriend as a parental figure. "Take it slow" is the recommendation of experienced stepparents who have found that forging a friendship is the first order of business with their stepchildren.

Keep in mind that the strongest predictor for stepfamily success is the quality of the relationship that exists and develops between stepparent and stepchildren. The next strongest predictor is the quality of the couples' bond.

Keep in mind that in the case of your boyfriend, age may mean wisdom! His extra 19 years of living may have offered him insight into the pitfalls ahead. Perhaps he is specializing in feeling the anxiety of the situation at this time, and you are focused on the positive possibilities. It may be the case that talking together in and out of counseling will bring you to the understanding of each other's needs that will make it work!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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