Stepfamily/Blended Family Issues

A stepfamily or blended family is formed when partners in a relationship bring together their children from previous relationships or adopt children, to create one family unit. As a new relationship grows stronger, couples may consider bringing their respective family members together to form this new family unit. In the U.S., over 40% of adults reported having at least one step-relative (stepparent, stepchild, step or half-sibling).

Building a blended family or stepfamily can be an exciting, but also stressful process, requiring adjustment for all family members. For example, the new family may involve the integration of children who do not feel comfortable with or like other family members; they may also carry traumas from parental separation or loss of a parent.

With preparation, effort, and time, blended families can realize harmonious family dynamics, just as any other family. Learn below for common stepfamily issues that individuals, couples and families may face, and how therapy can help ease the transition.

Types of stepfamily/blended family issues

Stepfamilies present their own unique challenges and adjustment to new circumstances can take time. Common stepfamily issues include:

As with any major life transition or stressor, it may take some time for all involved parties to adjust to the new arrangements. However, some family members may especially struggle with the adjustment and experience mental health challenges such as stress, anxiety, or low mood. It’s important to seek help for these kinds of difficulties.

Stepfamily statistics

Stepfamilies are a relatively common type of family unit in America, as the following data shows:

Treatment options for stepfamily/blended family issues

If your family needs help adjusting to the new arrangements and relationships, consider utilizing a combination of the following resources:

Therapy for stepfamily and blended family issues

Many types of therapy could be considered for yourself and your family for challenges with blended family issues. The type you select will depend on what your main concern is. For example, you may be worried about relationships, managing behavior problems, or helping resolve individual mental health challenges.

Therapy types to consider include:

What to look for in a therapist

The best-fitting type of therapist depends on individual factors, symptoms, location, and finances. You’ll want to consider whether you are seeking therapy for yourself, child/children, both, or with the whole family. Then consider the following factors:

Specialization: Look for a therapist who has experience and specialized training in stepfamily dynamics or family therapy. Many therapists offer couples or family therapy, especially but not limited to, those who are licensed as Marriage and Family Therapists. Therapists often include this information in their biography on their website or online profile.

If you are concerned about the wellbeing or behavior of a young child, look for a therapist specialized in working with children, such as a child psychologist. This means that the therapist will have an expert understanding of developmental and attachment issues, and how family changes can affect a child.

Qualifications: With so many different provider types available, it can be difficult to decide which type of mental health professional to see. The most important thing is to look for a currently licensed therapist.

Personal fit: The trusting relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. If you are seeking family or couples therapy, it’s important to select a therapist with whom all members attending therapy feel comfortable and trust.

The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also allows you to ask about their experience and what therapy with them will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding.

Find therapists specializing in family issues and therapy

Find therapists who specialize in family dynamics and therapy on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!

Sources and references