Tips for Blending a Family
About the Guest
Ron Deal, director of FamilyLife Blended, joins authors Steve and Misty Arterburn to talk about the complexities of a second marriage. Steve and Misty both experienced divorce in their first marriages. They met and married a few years later, bringing three children into the new marriage. Then they had two more children. The Arterburns share what they have done to make their marriage work.
Ron Deal joins Steve and Misty Arterburn to talk about the complexities of a second marriage. Steve and Misty both experienced divorce in their first marriages. The Arterburns share what they have done to make their marriage work.
Bob: When Steve and Misty Arterburn married, they brought children into the newly-formed blended family, but Steve says they wanted to make sure that the children knew what their relationship with their new mom and dad was all about.
Steve: We did not want to be step-parents—step-parents get stepped on. We wanted to be a bonus into their lives, so we claim ourselves as bonus parents and kind of come at it as a benevolent aunt or uncle would, in the very beginning, and earn their respect and ask permission, really, to be in their lives.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, April 5th. Our host is Dennis Rainey; I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll hear from Steve and Misty Arterburn today about some of the things they learned as they blended a family together—some of the challenges they faced along the way. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to tackle a subject today that can be a little difficult to navigate. Our listeners know that we urge couples to keep their covenant / to stay married. Sometimes couples, for reasons that are beyond themselves, their marriages don’t survive. That puts them in a position to go, “Okay; what do I do now?” We have some friends who are going to help have that conversation with us today.
Dennis: We do. Steve and Misty Arterburn join us on FamilyLife Today. Misty/Steve, welcome back.
Misty: Thank you so much.
Steve: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Dennis: You guys both experienced divorce separately; and then began to date and, ultimately, got married. The thing that really resonates with Bob and me is that you brought your church into your relationship—
Dennis: —to bring a sense of biblical judgment, and sound advice, and counsel as you established this relationship.
Bob: Well, and as you guys start to talk about this, we should acknowledge, as well, that our friend, Ron Deal, is joining us today.
Dennis: I wasn’t ignoring him. [Laughter]
Bob: I know you weren’t, but I wanted our listeners to know he’s in the studio with us. Ron gives leadership to the blended family initiative, here, at FamilyLife. We thought this is a conversation you need to be in on with us—nice to have you here.
Ron: Glad to be here. Certainly glad to be with the Arterburns.
Steve: Yes; we hope we represent a smart stepfamily for you. [Laughter]
Dennis: Well said—well said.
Ron: I think you do.
Steve: No; we really did, from the beginning, work with our pastors on overcoming some obstacles. Both of us felt like we met the biblical criteria for divorce and for remarriage, and that was kind of the foundation first.
Misty: We had a lot of people speaking into our lives—we invited a lot of people into our relationship—but also each of our own individual healing paths that we were on.
When you start dating someone, you don’t know if this is going to end up in a marriage. The main goal was just for me to continue being healthy, and healing, and growing, and raising my boys to be healthy, and strong, and healing as well. Steve was on a path like that.
Bob: Well, here’s the way I think about the kind of situation both of you were in. I follow pro sports. I know, sometimes, a guy will sustain an injury that knocks him out for the season. He has to go to the doctors; he has to get bones reset; he has a lot of work that has to happen / there’s some rehab that has to happen. The doctors want to make sure that, before they even think about him being back in the game, he’s not going to tear something fresh.
Misty: Right; yes.
Bob: So, when your first marriages ended, you were where all people are in that moment—you were hurting and out of the game for a while.
Bob: What was the process of beginning rehab and realignment for you during those first few months after the divorce happened?
Misty: Well, it was a bit like walking off of a cliff. I mean, I didn’t know if I’d survive it either. I cried every day, for about four years, during the process and after the divorce—a lot of pain / a lot of pain.
I had a mentor—a female mentor in the church—and we met regularly. She, not only covered me in prayer, but just gave me daily practical advice and encouragement. The elders of my church were involved—they were looking out for me. I went two cycles through the divorce care recovery material, which was phenomenal and very, very healing. I just got into a community of people that are: everybody healing—and we’re all looking at our wounds, and we’re getting input, and we’re humbling down. It was a time when, actually, spiritually, it’s a really precious time in my life.
You know, going through it was horrific; but it is a treasure to me now. I lived in the Psalms, and I just prayed those prayers, and I had experienced God in a new way. I couldn’t know Him as a comforter at the level that I met Him during that very, very dark season. Those were some of the things I did.
Steve: Yes; and when I met Misty—I just met her one time. I didn’t ever talk with her for a long time after that; but as we did get to know each other, a year or so later, I was so impressed by her connection in church, and with her pastors, and mentors. We swapped counselors before we decided we could get married.
But for me, you know, I was surrounded by all these—the best Christian counselors—like Henry Cloud, John Townsend, and all these other folks—and then I went to see a counselor.
I had an assistant who said: “By the way, you need to get some help. You look really bad,”—and I did. It was the darkest time of my life—the pain.
I discovered something so strange—that my pain was fear—I just never associated fear and pain. I just thought fear was anxiety—fear—but it was so painful. I went to see this guy, Milan Yerkovich, who wrote a book called How We Love. He said to me, “I’m going to help you get your life back.” I just burst into tears, because I didn’t have a life. I would say my life was absolutely, totally, completely black for six months before I could even see any ray of hope or sunshine. It’s been a very, very difficult process.
I would want to just say this, as a disclaimer—that we’ve been married almost 13 years, but we’re not a poster child for remarriage—it’s hard.
I was so fortunate to meet her. She wasn’t desperate—she decided to marry me—desperation didn’t decide to marry me. So often, it’s desperation that makes that decision.
Ron: You know, I’m sitting here, listening to them talk, guys—and Dennis, I just have to say—we’re hearing from them how it should be. I mean, they did it right. Misty, I wrote it down—you said you were dedicated to healing, you were walking with God, [and] you threw yourself into a community. Steve, you got counsel / multiple counsel—you know, allowed others to speak into your life. It was dark; you endured the darkness.
You know, I think one of the big mistakes people make is—they run from their pain; and they run into a new relationship, because that makes you feel good—so then that sets you up for making poor decisions. But you endured the pain—you listened to God / you saw Him in it—you—and still, even then, that doesn’t necessarily make you the poster child for an easy transition into a stepfamily life; right?
Ron: And that’s the thing that I would want our listeners to catch—is that, even when we do this the right way and you seek God in it, it doesn’t just necessarily turn on all the lights in your life and everything is perfect; but there is a better way to go through the process and a way that makes things even harder.
Dennis: You both have five children.
Dennis: Misty, you brought two children in; Steve, you one; and then you had two together.
Dennis: What did your children that you had prior to your marriage together—what did they think when you started dating?
Misty: Well, we waited quite awhile before we introduced each other, because we don’t want to introduce our children to people that they may attach to and then not stick around.
Steve: Not a good thing.
Misty: So we were very, very careful about that.
Steve: And so often, when people get married, they’re all excited about getting married; and the kids view it as a hostile takeover—they don’t want any part of it.
Misty: Or they may idealize that, “Oh, this is going to be great—this new person coming in,” and that doesn’t happen a lot.
Dennis: And I wonder, too, if maybe the parent is hoping that the child will help make the selection of a new spouse for them.
Misty: Yes; sure.
Steve: Oh, it’s so true; and of course, often, the child—especially the younger children—they’re wanting to cling onto anything that looks like something more than what they have. You really have to avoid that.
To answer your question about my daughter—what she felt about Misty was: “Hey, she comes to my soccer games,”—at that time, soccer was everything—“…not only comes, but she yells / she’s engaged”; and “She plays volleyball with me outside,” and “She takes me on trips.”
Both of us came at this—we did not want to be step-parents. We wanted to be a bonus to them; so we claim ourselves as bonus parents. Step-parents get stepped on; so we wanted to be a bonus into their life and kind of come at it as a benevolent aunt or uncle would, in the very beginning, and earn their respect and ask permission, really, to be in their lives versus:
[Step-parent speaking to child] “Hey, I’m going to marry your mother,” or “…your father. You will respect me. I will be the disciplinarian.” That is the absolute worst scenario; and as you know, Ron, it’s so common.
Bob: I want to pull back from the parenting angle for just a second and go back to your relationship with one another.
Bob: What was the gap for you, Misty, between when the divorce was final and when you started dating again?—how long?
Misty: I can’t remember—I think it was close to a year / somewhere in there. In fact, the moment I took my ring off I started getting requests. My mentor suggested, “Why don’t you put one of those purity rings on your finger and just keep the flies away?”—she said. [Laughter]
That was really wise counsel, and I did it. I had several months just to focus on myself. I did—I made mistakes.
I don’t want it to sound like, “Oh, I did it right.” Dating was kind of messy, and you do—your heart is gaping open—and it just takes time to heal. But I had so much support.
Bob: And Steve, how long for you—from the time you were divorced and you started dating?
Steve: It was about a year. I had this—I made commitment to John Townsend and Henry Cloud that I would not marry the first person that was nice to me, because they knew I was hurting and they felt like I could just fall into a trap. They said, “You must commit to date 20 people before you ever decide that you’ve found…”
Ron: What did you think when you first heard them say that?
Steve: “Oh, okay. Let’s see—that ought to take about five years to do that.” [Laughter]
Dennis: Yes; because you had a life with your children.
Steve: Yes; I did.
Ron: And did you do it?
Steve: I did; absolutely.
Ron: And looking back, was there wisdom in it?
Steve: Oh, it was so smart. And of course, I’ve recommended it to other people.
Misty was the third person I went out with.
Bob: She had to wait through 17 more?
Misty: I was not a fan of that season. [Laughter]
Steve: But she said, “I don’t want to be a part of this, so I’m going to…”
Misty: I did. I stepped out; and I said, “I know you have to do what you have to do. I can’t be a part of that, so I’m just going to hang back. You go do what you have to do, and we’ll see.”
Steve: But what it did—and it will do for anybody—is I have no question that there is nobody out there that would ever be better for me—I’ve resolved all of that. I didn’t rush into anything; and it provided some security for me, where I could fully, fully commit and not have one question mark in the back of my mind.
Misty: And to add to that, it’s not 20 romantic relationships.
Steve: No, no, no.
Misty: It was 20 dates—meet 20 different people—just interact and get yourself having conversations again.
Bob: That didn’t include a speed dating night, where you got seven out of the way; did you? [Laughter]
Steve: No; but—don’t tell John and Henry—but it did include standing next to somebody in Starbucks and saying, “Hey, how are you doing?” and all of that. [Laughter]
So it wasn’t a full 20—
Dennis: Sixty-second rule!
Steve: Yes; it wasn’t 20 dinners, you know.
Ron: You know, the brilliance to me of that little strategy is—I don’t think there’s anything special about the number 20. The point is—when you were going on one, two…five…ten…fifteen…—you told yourself: “This is not going to be the one. I’m not throwing all of myself and my eggs into that basket. I have to have some discipline to measure how much I invest in this person and this relationship, because there are some other things that I have to do.”
Steve: And it provided time—to do that exercise provided time.
And here was the thing—Misty is absolutely beautiful and has a great smile, and that’s what I was attracted to—first time that I met her. I kind of, a year later, thought, “That’d be great if we had a date.” Then, when we dated, there was this wisdom—she’s been in recovery for all this [time] / she had been in a process, and I was blown away by what was inside.
All these other people would just be other people, and I had something to compare them to—there was never any question.
But again, when somebody goes and marries—well, you know this—they have an affair with somebody, and they marry the person they have the affair with—I mean, it’s just a disaster waiting to happen.
Ron: —a disaster; yes.
Bob: One of the things I appreciate about both of you guys is—you’re authentic and transparent, and you’re open about who you are. I want to know—in the time following your divorce, before you started dating, you had to come, face to face, with some parts of your own self that maybe you hadn’t seen before that had to be addressed / had to be confronted.
Bob: What were those—I’m asking what those—I’m getting nosy! What were the ugly parts you found in there?
Misty: [Laughter] Well, yes; it wasn’t pretty.
I was married, and addiction was part of our marriage before. I was very righteous about the way that I handled that and eager to put him down—very, very hurtful. I was going through trauma. Co-dependency and trauma mirror each other a lot. My counselor suggested that maybe I’d want to go to a recovery meeting. I stepped into a 12-step group for the first time and began to see that I really do contribute to the darkness—that I am capable of great darkness. I started the process of humbling down.
I would say, before I got into recovery, I lived a life very much in reaction to what someone else was doing. My whole life was defined about the other person, and where they are, and how their actions and behaviors are. I didn’t have a sense of myself.
When I got into recovery, and therapy, and those things, I started to just discover “Who am I?” apart from all this chaos. I started to define what I believe / what I think about things: “What’s my favorite movie?”—I couldn’t even answer simple questions like that; it was all defined through what another person was doing.
Steve: She did some hard work. When my therapist met with her, and then I met with her therapist, then it was revealed, “She hasn’t just been sitting around, blaming all of this on this other guy.”
For me, Bob, I set out on a mission to let everybody know that I wasn’t the bad guy. I talked to Dennis, Dobson—I mean, anybody I could talk to, “Yes; you know, I’m not the bad guy here.” It was in counseling that I was confronted about that. I had to come to grips with: “I was a donor here. I mean, I had contributed; and here’s how—out of my insecurity, my fear, out of my disconnection—
—and, really, no experience at heart-to-heart relationship.” Boy, that was—that was tough. And then I had to begin a forgiveness process, and my pride did not want that to happen. It was a tough battle in the beginning.
Ron: What’s really important here is that the process of recovering well through the divorce meant looking in the mirror for you guys, which had to come to your aid when you started dating and looking forward into the future.
In fact, I have a specific question for you, Misty—that may or may not be related to what you just said / I’m not sure—but in the book that you guys wrote together, The Mediterranean Love Plan, you talk about the importance of attunement with one another, as husband and wife. You say in the book that, in the face of fear, you have a tendency to lean back towards self-protection. Do you mind talking about that a little bit?
Misty: Sure. Yes; I wall up. I’m very good at barricading my heart.
As a little girl, what I learned to do, when threatened, I would get bigger—I would escalate, and I would just get louder and bigger. What that earned me, with my father—whom I love and adore / he passed away about five years ago—but when I did that, what I got in return was his respect. I was one who would go, toe to toe, with him. In other relationships in my life, though, it didn’t earn respect—it just kept this cycle of escalation, and I wasn’t finding resolve.
Ron: With your first husband, you got righteous in the light of his addiction—
Misty: I got angry; I got loud; I put him down; I criticized him.
Ron: Yes; you got bigger.
Misty: It wasn’t my problem: “I’m not the one with an addiction,”—you know—“Why do I have to go to meetings?”—just arrogant/arrogant.
Ron: Yes; so that pattern continued into that relationship. Had you not done some really hard work, and been open and humble, you might have just carried that right into this marriage relationship.
Misty: Right; right—yes.
It’s been a good humbling down / a good practice for me to look at my own darkness. In dating / in that single-mom zone dating, I did things that I was shocked about myself. I had to start coming to grips with, “I have my own sicknesses.”
It just gave me so much compassion. In my heart—what I noticed happening—was that judgment began to really decrease. I have very little judgment for any person, because I know they are wounded / that person is suffering. They’re doing the best they can in a very messy world, and it takes us however long it takes us before we find answers. For some of us, it’s a really long, messy process.
Bob: You’ve used the phrase three times——you’ve talked about “humbling down.” Instead of hunkering down, it’s a humbling down.
Bob: And Dennis, I think if somebody’s going to move to a place, where they can pursue a healthy relationship, humbling down is an essential element there.
Dennis: Yes; and really, at the heart of humbling down is being teachable—learning from God and admitting your faults, your fears, your inadequacies—and being teachable. That’s really at the heart of a great marriage—people who haven’t been divorced / people who are just trying to make their existing marriage go the distance.
I’m thinking of Romans, Chapter 12:1 and 2, where the Apostle Paul exhorts us to surrender our lives to make our lives a living sacrifice—
Dennis: —yielded to God. And that’s what you’re describing when you talk about humbling down.
And it [Romans 12:1, 2] also talks about not being conformed to this world. We didn’t get a chance to talk about it, but you guys didn’t sleep together when you dated.
Steve: No; we didn’t; no.
Dennis: I just have to say—I have a concern, within the Christian community, that our standards are more of a reflection of the world than they are of the Bible.
Dennis: We really need to protect one another in this dating relationship; and we have a lot to learn, I believe, in how Steve and Misty handled this relationship.
Bob: Yes; and I would hope everybody who’s listening today is either already planning to be a part of the Blended & Blessed® livestream event that’s coming up on Saturday, April 21st, or if you’re not planning to already, you make plans today. This is something you can do in your living room / in your local church; or if you live near Charlotte, North Carolina, you can come join us at the site where the Blended & Blessed livestream is going to be happening.
Ron Deal will be there; Steve and Misty Arterburn will be joining us—Bill Butterworth,
Dr. Rick Rigsby, Michele Cushatt. There’s more information at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can find out where a Blended & Blessed event is happening in a city near where you live; or you can sign up to host one of these events, again, in your home or your church.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and plan to be a part of the 2018 Blended & Blessed one-day livestream event, coming up on Saturday, April 21st.
And if you’re looking for help today, for yourself or for someone you know who is a part of a blended family, we have copies of resources that Ron Deal has created—books and articles—all available at FamilyLifeToday.com. You might want to check those out as well. Again, the website—FamilyLifeToday.com—or call 1-800-FL-TODAY if you’d like to order any of the books or if you have any questions about the upcoming Blended & Blessed one-day event.
Now, this weekend, we have eight FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening from coast to coast—from Washington, DC, all the way to Seattle. Among those who will be attending this weekend will be pastors and their spouses. For years, we have scholarshiped pastors and spouses to the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—
—we’ve made sure that the registration fees are covered. We’ve been able to do that because donors, like you, have contributed to the scholarship fund so that pastors and spouses could be at a Weekend to Remember, registration-free.
I wanted to make sure you knew that so you could invite your pastor to attend a getaway, knowing that the cost is covered; but I also wanted to let you know that our scholarship fund is starting to deplete. If you’d like to help send a pastor / a couple to a Weekend to Remember marriage getaway—if you’d like to help cover the cost, you can make a contribution today to the FamilyLife Pastors’ Scholarship Fund. Those funds will go directly toward covering the cost for pastors and spouses to be at a getaway. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate: 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make your contribution to the Pastors’ Scholarship Fund, and those funds will be designated for that.
Or, if you just want to contribute to the ongoing work of FamilyLife, and the cost of producing and syndicating this daily radio program, you can always donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to donate: 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” And we appreciate your generosity. Thanks for partnering with us in this ministry.
And we hope you’re back with us tomorrow. Ron Deal will be here, along with Steve and Misty Arterburn. We’ll continue talking about being a step-parent and the challenges that go along with that. I hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® Ministry.
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