Stepfamilies:  Trends, Social Implications & Sources of Support

Large FamilyA stepfamily is defined as a family unit in which there is an adult couple and at least one has a child from a previous relationship (Cherlin, 1992).  There are three major reasons to devote particular attention to stepfamilies.  First, remarriages are about half of the marriages in a year, and the majority of these are stepfamilies, since they involve children from a previous marriage or relationship (Cherlin, 2009).  Second, stepfamilies have unique characteristics that may put them at higher risk for dissolution than non-stepfamilies.  These challenges arise in part from complex relationships with stepchildren, former partners, and half- or stepsiblings (Prado & Markman, 1999).  Third, although children can do well in a variety of family forms, it appears that children living in a stepfamily may be at greater risk for a variety of negative outcomes than are children living with both biological/adoptive married parents (Amato & Booth, 1997). 

This Collection includes resources that summarize the various social trends and factors leading to greater formation of stepfamilies in the United States, and that describe the unique characteristics and challenges faced by stepfamilies.  The Collection also includes important resources for policymakers, practitioners, researchers, the media, and stepfamilies themselves.

This is not intended to be a comprehensive collection but it is a selection of relevant documents and materials that have informed the field and that are, for the most part, easily accessible.  Additional publications and resources will be posted periodically as they come to our attention.

The NHMRC would like to thank Stacey Bouchet, Jordan Kahn, Jane Koppelman, Joyce Webb, and Courtney Harrison of the Resource Center for their contributions to the development of this Collection by Topic.  We are also grateful to Ron Deal, author of the Stepfamily Resource Library, for his review of this Collection.  This is a product of the NHMRC, led by co-directors Mary Myrick, APR, and Jeanette Hercik, PhD, and project manager Rich Batten, ThM, MEd, CFLE.

Table of Contents:

I. Shifts in Family Structure and Trends in Stepfamily Formation

II. The Social Implications of Stepfamily Formation

III. Unique Challenges Facing Stepfamilies

a.      Financial Challenges

b.      Couple Relationships

c.      Parenting in Stepfamilies

d.      Former Spouses

IV.  Research and Resources for Practitioners and Therapists Working with Stepfamilies

V.   Stepfamily Marriage and Relationship Education Curricula

VI.  Resources for Blended Family Couples


I.  Shifts in Family Structure and Trends in Stepfamily Formation

Asian American FamilyCurrently, approximately half of all U. S. marriages annually are remarriages for one or both partners, and the majority (approximately 65%) of those adults have children from a previous relationship, thus forming stepfamilies (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham, 2004).  The formation of stepfamilies has increased as a result of rising rates of divorces, remarriages, and first marriages following non-marital births with a different partner (Robertson, Adler-Baeder, Collins, DeMarco, Fein, & Schramm, 2006).  The following resources provide background on demographic trends in remarriage and stepfamily formation.  They have been compiled in order to provide a contextual understanding of how marriage and family structure have changed over time.

Berger, R. (1998).  Stepfamilies: A multi-dimensional perspective.  New York: Haworth.

Characteristics and issues of stepfamilies, differences among minority and same-sex stepfamilies, and strategies for working on stepfamily issues.

Braithwaite, D., Olson, L. N., Golish, T. D., Soukop, C., & Turman, P. (2001).  Becoming a family: Developmental processes represented in blended family discourse.  Journal of Applied Communication Research, 29, 221-247.

The first four years of stepfamily development. Stepfamilies are seen to experience different levels of feeling like a family. Some families that make rapid familial bonds, slowly progressing bonds, declining bonds, stagnating bonds, and turbulent bonds. 

Cherlin, A. J., & Furstenberg, F. F. (1994).  Stepfamilies in the United States: A reconsideration.  Annual Review of Sociology, 20(1), 359-381.

Five themes exploring stepfamily formation and functioning.These include changing marriage and remarriage rates, forms of kinship, stepfamily social organization, consequences for children, and risk of divorce.  The study notes that when divorced persons do not remarry, they often substitute cohabitation for remarriage. 

Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. (1997). Stepfamilies from the stepfamily’s perspective.  Marriage and Family Review, 26, 107-122.

Examines the stepfamily from the perspective of those within a stepfamily.  Stepfamily routines, unlike first-married family routines which develop naturally over time, may take negotiation and flexibility to work.  The authors recommend focusing on the well-functioning characteristics of stepfamilies.

Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Fine, M. A. (2000).  Reinvestigating remarriage: Another decade of progress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1288-1307.

Follows trends in increasing research on stepfamilies.  More researchers have studied the complexities of stepfamilies, including household configuration, years residing together, and socioeconomic status.  The authors recommend more longitudinal studies, as well as studies on nontraditional stepfamilies.

Coontz, S. (1997).  The way we really are: Coming to terms with America’s changing families.  New York: Basic.

Family structures and the history of new forms of family.  The author identifies economic issues, as opposed to the dissolution of the traditional family structure, as a factor underlying problems in family life.

Einstein, E. (1988). The stepfamily.  Macmillan Publishing Company.

This book details, though interviews and stories of personal experiences, the positives and negatives that stepfamilies experience.  Stepfamilies and professionals who work with them also provide insight into how stepfamilies are formed, and into the experiences of parents, children, and extended family within the stepfamily relationship.

Larson, J. (1992). Understanding stepfamilies.  American Demographics. 14, 36-39.

The numbers of stepfamilies in America today and some of their more common characteristics. The article also explores the special needs of stepfamilies, including legal and insurance matters.

Papernow, P. (1993).  Becoming a stepfamily: Patterns of development in remarried families.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Using case studies, this book examines the challenges of building strong stepparent-stepchild relationships among remarried couples.  Guidance is included on educational and clinical stepfamily interventions for family members, therapists, school personnel, and others.

Stewart, Susan D. (2007).  Brave new stepfamilies: Diverse paths toward stepfamily living.  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Living arrangements are described using the current data. Follows arious recent stepfamily forms through social trends, such as cohabitation, shared custody, same-sex marriage, and the aging population. 

National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (2009). Step-Families in the United States: A Fact Sheet.


Data on the number of stepfamilies, different types of stepfamilies, and nonresidential and cohabiting stepfamilies.

II.  The Social Implications of Stepfamily Formation

African American Family of 4The following materials discuss the characteristics of stepfamilies and the potential impacts remarriage can have on children and parents.  When both partners have had previous marriages, for instance, the willingness to leave the current marriage is higher than for those just married once.  The resources below examine the increasing complexity of family formation.

Amato, P. R., & Booth, A. (1997).  A Generation atrisk: Growing up in an era of family upheaval.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Topic: How youth coming of age in the 1980s and 1990s have been affected by the significant domestic changes of the last three decades.  Based on a 15-year study begun in 1980, the book considers factors such as parents' socioeconomic resources, their gender roles and relations, and the quality and stability of their marriages.  It also examines children's relationships with their parents, their intimate and broader social affiliations, and children’s psychological well-being among both married and re-married families.

Bumpass, L. L., Raley, R. K., & Sweet, J. A. (1995).  The changing character of stepfamilies:  Implications of cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing.  Demography, 32, 425-436.

Divorce, nonmarital childbearing, and cohabitation are reshaping family experience in the United States.  The article discusses that the definition of stepfamilies includes cohabitating couples raising a child of only one partner and recognizes the large role of nonmarital childbearing in the creation of stepfamilies.

Cherlin, A. J. (2009).  The marriage-go-round: The state of marriage and family in America today. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The cultural evolution of marriage in America, with regard to religion and the law, how and why the present state of marriage (a merry-go-round of partnerships) has developed, and the implications for parents and children.

Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. H. (2004).  Handbook of contemporary families: Considering the past, contemplating the future.  London: Sage.

Changes in family formation in the last few decades.  The authors study how these changes impact family law, family education, and family therapy. 

Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Fine, M.  (2000).  Reinvestigating remarriage: Another decade of progress. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 62, 1288-1307.

An overview of trends in topics, research methods, and theories related to stepfamilies, and the complex challenge of studying these families.  The body of stepfamily research published in the 1990s exceeded the entire research output in the previous 90 years.  

Hetherington, E. M., & Kelly, J. (2002).  For better or for worse: Divorce reconsidered.  New York:  Norton.

An in-depth look at almost 1,400 families and 2,500 children who have experienced divorce or stepfamily development.  The book also provides a balanced view for divorced people about changes that occur with divorce and remarriage, the risks post-divorce, and the potential impact on children as families change.

Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (1995).  Remarriage and children.  In D. Levinson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of marriage and the family (pp. 584-587).  New York: Macmillan.

The impact of remarriage on a child’s life.  The authors state that there are conflicting studies on negative outcomes for stepchildren compared with children in nuclear families. 

Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (1997).  How society views stepfamilies.  Marriage and Family Review, 26, 85-106.

Classifies societies’ perceptions of stepfamilies as either disregarded, due to lack of institutionalized guidelines, or as less functional than nuclear families.  The authors note that families should not enter remarriage with high expectations of a functional relationship without effort and frequent communication.  The authors recommend that school and media should have a more balanced portrayal of stepfamily strengths and weaknesses.

Malia, S. E. C. (2005).  Balancing family members' interests regarding stepparent rights and obligations: A social policy challenge.  Family Relations, 54, 298-319.

Legal policies and regulations for stepparents regarding their stepchildren.  Due to the insufficient definition of stepparent rights and obligations, the authors recommend a more inclusive definition of family to include stepparents and more diverse family formations.

O’Connor, A. (2003).  The truth about stepfamilies:  Real American stepfamilies speak out about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to creating a life together.  New York: Marlowe.

Eight case studies that illustrate the many different perspectives of members in a stepfamily.  The overall message is that children can prosper in stepfamilies when there is parental and child cooperation and understanding.

Papernow, P. L. (2003).  Becoming a stepfamily:  Patterns of development in remarried families.  Hillsdale, NJ:  Analytic Press.

Developmental challenges involved in building nourishing, reliable relationships between stepparents and stepchildren, in the newly married couple, and among different family groups who must learn to live together in a remarried family.  Papernow discusses the factors that influence the pace and ease of development, and she provides four full-length case studies illustrating the varied paths through the stepfamily cycle to the successful remarried life.

Pasley, K., Koch, M., & Ihinger-Tallman, M. (1993).  Problems in remarriage: An exploratory study of intact and terminated remarriages.  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 20(1/2), 63-83.

Using data from 26 remarried and redivorced individuals, this article examines the differences between remarriages that stayed intact and those that ended in divorce.  Results show that re-divorced individuals had a higher frequency of spousal disagreement on money, parenting, outsider relations, and household expectations. 

III.  Unique Challenges Facing Stepfamilies

Middle Aged Family of threeResearch on remarriages that form stepfamilies reveals their complexities.  For example, in stepfamilies, parenting roles have to be re-negotiated, former partners/parents have to be considered because of their possible influence on household decision-making and finances, and stepparent- stepchild and stepsibling relationships have to develop and be supported (Adler-Baeder & Higginbotham,2004).  

The resources below detail the issues that arise in stepfamilies and ways they can be different from the challenges faced in first marriage families. There are a few general resources first, followed by resources on specific topics.

Beaudry, M., Boisvert, J.M., Simard, M., Parent, C., & Blais, M. C. (2004).  Communication: An important key to meeting the challenges of stepfamilies.  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 42, 85-104.

The challenges in communication within stepfamilies, using the examples of 26 stepfamily couples.  Results show that spouses’ communication skills contribute to long-term marital satisfaction.

Booth, A., & Dunn, J. (Eds.). (1994). Stepfamilies: Who benefits?  Who does not? Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

The evolution of stepfamilies, inherent issues that arise with blending families, the impact of stepfamily formation on children, and the importance of policy changes to protect stepfamily relationships.

DeLongis, A., & Preece, M. (2002). Emotional and relational consequences of coping in stepfamilies. Marriage and Family Review, 34, 115-138.

The relationships between 154 remarried couples and their children and stepchildren, and ways to cope with stresses.  Results showed that in stepfamilies where wives use confrontation to cope with family stress, husbands withdraw emotionally from stepchildren.  In turn, as wives’ emotional closeness with stepchildren decreases, tension with biological children increases.

Prado, L. M., & Markman, H. J. (1999).  Unearthing the seeds of marital distress: What we have learned from married and remarried couples.  In M. J. Cox, & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Conflict and cohesion in families: Causes and consequences (pp. 51-85).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

This chapter examines a longitudinal study on the causes of marital distress and the negotiation of conflict.  Remarried couples reported changed views on marriage as a result of their divorce, including increased cautiousness, pragmatism, and vigilance. 

J. Pryor (Ed). (2008).  The international handbook of stepfamilies: Policy and practice in legal, research, and clinical environments.  Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

With 23 essays by more than 40 international field specialists, this is an essential reference on the multifaceted subject of stepfamilies and their challenges The subjects covered include social and cultural contexts, family dynamics, external influences, and legal concerns.

a)      Financial Challenges

The following resources provide information on financial planning and education related to stepfamilies, including the challenges of parents with children in two families.

Coleman, M., & Ganong, L.H. (1989).  Financial management in stepfamilies.  Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 10, 217-232.

The financial practices of 105 remarried couples in stepfamilies and how these couples chose to manage their money compared to the practices in their previous marriage(s).  The study also explores how spouse relationships are impacted as well as parent-child relationships.

Leigh, S., & Clark, J. A. (2005).  Financial decision-making in stepfamilies.  MU Extension Publication GH 6603.

Assisting remarried couples with how to communicate about money and make decisions together, and offers strategies to try and strategies to avoid.  The article lists important questions remarrying couples should discuss in order to handle finances well together.

Pasley, K., Sandras, E., & Edmondson, M. E. (1994).  The effects of financial management strategies on quality of life in remarriage. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 15, 53-70.

Financial management behavior in 91 remarried couples.  The satisfaction and happiness of couples were compared across the different financial management strategies, but found little difference between couples.

  1. Couple Relationships

The resources below detail the relationship issues that arise in stepfamilies such as unrealistic expectations, intimacy barriers, and partner equity.

Buunk, B. P., & Mutsaers, W. (1999).  Equity perceptions and marital satisfaction in former and current marriage: A study among the remarried.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 16, 123-132.

This study of 290 remarried individuals on perception of overall equity in the relationship compares former and current marriages.  Results showed that there was more perceived inequity in the former marriage.  Increased satisfaction among individuals was associated with increased perceived equity in the current marriage.  Men’s satisfaction was more strongly associated with the degree of perceived advantage in an inequitable relationship in the current marriage.

Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2000).  Close relationships in remarried families. In C. Hendrick & S. Hendrick (Eds.), Handbook on Close Relationships (pp 155-168).  Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Examines remarriage stability, couple relationships, and parent-child relationships in stepfamilies.  Couples who form stepfamilies are at a higher risk of divorce than couples in their first marriage.

Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (2004).  Stepfamily relationships: Development, dynamics, and interventions.  New York: Kluwer.

The various relationships within and between stepfamily households, through a cultural and historical point of view.  Recent statistics show that half of all marriages in the United States are remarriages for one or both partners, and one third of children in the country will live in a stepparent household before adulthood.

Golish, T. (2003).  Stepfamily communication strengths: Understanding the ties that bind. Human Communication Research, 29, 41-80.

Interviews with 90 persons from 30 stepfamilies were used to examine communication strategies among stepfamilies of varying strength.  Results showed that strong stepfamilies spent time together as a family, and used everyday talk, openness, communication of clear rules, engagement in problem solving, and promotion of a positive image of the non-custodial parent.

Knox, D., & Zusman, M. E. (2001).  Marrying a man with “baggage”: Implications for second wives. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 35(3/4), 67-80.

Analyzes questionnaires from second wives of husbands with children outside of their marriage to examine trends in marital happiness.  Results showed assumptions about the ex-wife and children were associated with lower marital happiness, increased thoughts about divorce, and regretting the decision to marry their husband. 

  1. Parenting in Stepfamilies

The following resources examine aspects of parenting in stepfamilies, which is a common stressor on the couple relationship.  Issues such as the parent-child bond among biological and step-parents, discipline, and parenting behavior are examined in these resources.

Beer, W. (1989).  Strangers in the house: The world of step siblings and half siblings.  Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Changes in American families over time and how nontraditional and stepfamilies differ from other families.  It also includes an overview of sibling relationships and how these relationships fit into the larger family structure.

Bray, J. H., & Berger, S. H. (1993).  Developmental issues in stepfamilies research project: Family relationships and parent-child interactions.  Journal of Family Psychology, 7, 76-90.

Longitudinal study of family relationships  in nuclear and stepfamilies.  Results showed more family relationship difficulties for stepfamilies during the early months of remarriage and approximately five years later, when the children were early adolescents.  Marital and family relationships predicted parent-child interaction.

Bray, J., & Kelly, J. (1998).  Stepfamilies: Love, marriage, and parenting in the first decade.  New York: Broadway.

Using data from a longitudinal study, stepfamilies are examined to determine how a stepfamily develops into a family unit, when stepfamilies are at risk, the tasks stepfamilies need to solve, and how to heal from a divorce. 

Cissna, K. N., Cox, D. E., & Bochner, A. P. (1990).  The dialectic of marital and parental relationships within the stepfamily.  Communication Monographs, 57, 44-61.

Communication in stepfamilies.  Results showed that couples’ relational tasks include creating marital solidarity through direct communication with each other and with children about the priority of the marriage, and creating stepparent authority with stepchildren.

Claxton-Oldfield, S. (2000).  Deconstructing the myth of the wicked stepparent.  Marriage & Family Review, 30, 51-58.

Popular culture’s negative portrayal of stepparents.  The authors suggest that the negative portrayal of stepparents can influence negative perceptions of stepparents in others and themselves and cause negative relationships between stepparents and stepchildren.

Dainton, M. (1993).  The myths and misconceptions of the stepmother identity: Descriptions and prescriptions for identity management.  Family Relations, 42, 93-98.

Popular myths of step motherhood including the evil stepmother myth and the myth of instant love.  The author states that the stepmother myths have shown little signs of changing and, therefore, stepmothers may have continued identity challenges.

Deal, R. L., & Petherbridge, L. (2009).  The smart stepmom: Practical steps to help you thrive!  Bloomington, MN: Bethany House.

The stepmother's role often is ambiguous and can carry unrealistic expectations about the relationship and parenting.  This book answers women's common concerns and questions providing perspective and guidelines to help stepmothers and their families thrive.

Deal, R. L. (2011).  The smart stepdad: Steps to help you succeed!  Bloomington, MN: Bethany House.

Advice for men navigating in a stepfamily, including how to connect with stepchildren, be a godly role model, discipline, deal with the biological dad, and keep the bond strong with one's new spouse.  The Smart Stepdad provides essential guidelines to help stepfathers not only survive but succeed as both dad and husband.

Fine, M. A., Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. H. (1998).  Consistency in perceptions of the stepparent role among stepparents, parents and stepchildren.  Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 15, 810-828.

Using data from interviews with 40 stepfamilies, this study examines the perceptions of the stepparent role.  Results show that stepparents and biological parents both perceive that the stepparent should and does play an active parental role.  Stepchildren are more likely to report that stepparents should be less active in the parental role and be more of a friend. 

Ganong, L. H., Coleman, M., & Jamison, T. (2011).  Patterns of stepchild – stepparent relationship development. Journal of Marriage & Family, 73, 396-414.

Thirty-two stepdaughters and 17 stepsons participated in this grounded theory study of emerging adult stepchildren's perceptions about how relationships with their stepparents developed.  Six patterns of step-relationship development emerged: accepting a stepparent as a parent, liking from the start, accepting with ambivalence, changing trajectory, rejecting, and coexisting.

MacDonald, W. L., & DeMaris, A. (2002).  Stepfather-stepchild relationship quality: The stepfather’s demand for conformity and the biological father’s involvementJournal of Family Issues, 23, 121-137.

This study uses data from the National Survey of Families and Households to examine stepfather-stepchild relationship quality.  Results show that among children with highly involved biological fathers, an increase in interaction with the stepfather is related to decreasing stepparent-stepchild relationship quality, when a stepparent requests conformity to rules.  Among children with biological fathers with little or no input, the stepfather’s demand for conformity has a positive association with stepparent-stepchild relationship quality.

Marsiglio, W. (2004).  When stepfathers claim stepchildren: A conceptual analysis. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 22-39.

Using interviews with 36 stepfathers, this article examines properties related to stepfathers claiming their stepchildren and how stepfathers’ perceptions of stepchildren can be influenced.  The author reports that stepfathers indicate that shared daily contact and practical involvement with the stepchild causes claiming attitudes to slowly increase.

Thomas, S. (2005).  Two happy homes: A working guide for parents and stepparents after divorce and remarriage.  Longmont, CO:  Springboard Publications.

Helps advise parents on how to bring new partners into the lives of children after divorce. Practical and specific ideas for parents to create happy stepfamily lives for their children are discussed, including common errors to avoid.  Specific advice is also given for coparenting.

Thomson, E., Mosley, J., Hanson, T. L., & McLanahan, S. S. (2001).  Remarriage, cohabitation, and changes in mothering behaviorJournal of Marriage and Family, 63, 370-380.

Using mother- and child-report data from the National Survey of Families and Households, mothering behavior in remarried and cohabiting couples is examined.  Mothers and children report less frequent use of harsh discipline by mothers in new partnerships compared with single mothers.  Mothers and children differ on reports of supervision, depending on whether the mother remained in a relationship.  Children report better mother-child relationship with mothers who remained in a partnership. 

Visher, E. B., Visher, J. S., & Pasley, K. (2003).  Remarriage families and stepparenting. In F.Walsh (Ed.), Normal family processes: Growing diversity and complexity (3rd ed., pp. 153-175).  New York: Guilford.

Characteristics of stepfamilies.  The authors find that successful stepfamilies accept the differences and challenges that stepfamilies face and give themselves time to integrate the family.  The author posits that family members should understand that difficulties faced are not due to personal inadequacies; they are predictable in a stepfamily situation.

Weaver, S. E., & Coleman, M. (2005).  A mothering but not a mother role: A grounded theory study of the nonresidential stepmother roleJournal of Social and Personality Relationships, 22, 477-497.

Roles of middle class stepmothers and issues related to them, including mothering but not mother roles, other-focused roles, and outsider roles.  The authors report that the perception and experiences of motherhood, child behavior, and expectations influence how the stepmother conceptualizes her role.  Also reported is that stepmothers can encounter control and ambiguity issues and often compare themselves to the children’s biological mother when enacting stepparent roles.

  1. Former Spouses

The resources below detail the relationship between separated couples that are now remarried to other individuals.  Issues such as conflict and role expectations are examined.

Buunk, B. P., & Mutsaers, W. (1999).  The nature of the relationship between remarried individuals and former spouses and its impact on marital satisfaction. Journal of Family Psychology, 13, 165-174.

Using a sample of 290 remarried individuals, this article examines how the relationship with a former spouse relates to marital satisfaction.  Results show that feelings of hostility were infrequent, but more common than friendship or attachment.  Couples who did not have children in the former relationship or were more highly educated were more likely to have a positive relationship with the former spouse.  Attachment to the former spouse was related to a decrease in marital satisfaction, particularly for wives and their husbands’ attachment. 

Schrodt, P. (2010).  Co-parental communication with nonresidential parents as a predictor of couples' relational satisfaction and mental health in stepfamilies.  Western Journal of Communication, 74,484-503.

This study tested the degree to which co-parental communication with nonresidential parents predicted couples' relational satisfaction and mental health in 127 stepfamily dyads.  Communication patterns between non-residential co-parents affected both satisfaction and mental healthy symptoms.

Weston, C. A., & Macklin, E. D. (1990).  The relationship between former-spousal contact and remarital satisfaction in stepfather familiesJournal of Divorce & Remarriage, 14(1/2), 25-47.

Using interviews with 60 couples in stepfather families, this study examines the relationship between former-spouse contact and remarital satisfaction.  Results showed that when role expectations are agreed upon, increased wife contact with the former spouse is associated with increased remarital satisfaction.

IV. Research and Resources for Practitioners and Therapists Working with Stepfamilies

Family Therapy SessionIn the past, marriage and relationship education (MRE) resources were not specifically designed for stepfamilies. Some practitioners may use the same interventions and educational resources for stepfamilies that are developed for couples in first marriages/families (Robertson, Adler-Baeder, Collins, DeMarco, Fein, & Schramm, 2006).  However, the increased prevalence of stepfamilies and high level of need among these families has led to the development of many stepfamily-specific MRE tools. The resources in this section describe both the gaps and recent developments in resources, including stepfamily specific materials for practitioners serving these couples/families, and resources for remarried couples/stepfamilies themselves.

Adler-Baeder, F., & Higginbotham, B. (2004).  Implications of remarriage and stepfamily formation for marriage educationFamily Relations, 53, 448-458.

Reviews literature focusing on marriage education curricula as related to stepfamilies.  The authors report that the issues within stepfamilies are not addressed in most marriage education curricula they investigated, despite the high need for marriage education for stepfamilies. 

Adler-Baeder, F., Robertson, A. & Schramm, D. (2010).  Conceptual framework for marriage education programs for stepfamilies with considerations for socioeconomic context.  Marriage & Family Review, 46, 300-322.

Couples in stepfamilies face unique challenges and are also at higher risk for dissolution, especially in the context of lower economic resources.  Most current programs do not address the needs of these uniquely complex families.

Adler-Baeder, F., Erickson, M.,and Higginbotham, B. J. (2007).  Marriage education for stepcouples.  The Forum for Family and Consumer Issues, 12 (1).

Prevalent issues associated with healthy couple functioning in stepfamilies that would be important to marriage educators and practitioners.  Information covered includes implementation issues for programming, program content and learning objectives, and how to recruit both participants and good facilitators for a program.

Browning, S. W. (1994).  Treating stepfamilies: Alternatives to traditional family therapy. In K. Pasley & M. Ihnger-Tallman (Eds.), Stepparenting: Issues in theory, research, and practice (pp. 175-198).  Westport, CT: Greenwood.

Clinical approach to working with stepfamilies.  The author notes that stepfamilies should not be approached  in the same way as non-stepfamilies because it creates confusion and inconsistent clinical results.

Browning, S. W. & Artelt, E. (2011).  Stepfamily therapy:  A 10 step clinical approach. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

A 10-step model for intervening with stepfamilies in therapy.  The authors integrate clinically validated interventions within an original theoretical framework for stepfamily therapy.  The importance of extended family members is stressed, as is the necessity of understanding and valuing racial, ethnic, and sexual diversity within stepfamilies.

Coleman, M. & Nickleberry, L. (2009).  An evaluation of the remarriage and stepfamily self-help literature. Family Relations, 58, 549-562. 

This is a critique of post-1990 self-help books, intended as a resource for professionals working with stepfamilies.  Thirteen books were recommended for their clinical or empirical sources of information as well as practical and concrete advice for stepfamilies.

Counseling stepfamilies: Tools for your toolbox.  

Counselors often feel overwhelmed by the ambiguity of remarriage and stepfamily relationships.  This video seeks to help professionals learn how to coach stepparents in their role, reduce stress, and increase positive exchanges in the family. 

Cox, Ron. (2011).  After the divorce:  Treating co-parenting as a business deal.  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Strategies for marriage and relationship education practitioners, on helping parents adjust to and manage their new working relationship.

Cox, Ron. (2011). Using MRE skills to promote successful blended families.  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Covers challenges stepparents face in their marriages and strategies that can help marriage and relationship education practitioners prepare couples to blend their families together.

Crosbie-Burnett, M. (1992).  The interface between non-traditional families and education: Empowering parents and familiesFamily Science Review, 5, 81-92.

How non-traditional families are at a disadvantage in traditional education institutions because of outdated views on family life.  The author recommends modifying policies and procedures so children in these families have equal opportunities.

Duncan, S. F., & Brown, G. (1992).  Renew: A program for building remarried family strengths. The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 73, 149-158.

A home-based program for remarried families.  In Renew,he authors recommend emphasizing the strengths instead of focusing on the problems that may arise in a remarried family.  A home-based program provides a more private setting compared with a possibly more threatening group setting.

Giles-Sims, J., & Crosbie-Burnett, M. (1989).  Stepfamily research: Implications for policy, clinical interventions, and further researchFamily Relations, 38, 19-24.

Selectively reviews the clinical and empirical literature on stepfamilies to identify work that has major implications for policymakers, service providers, clinicians, and researchers.  Clear cases are made for encouraging remarriage preparation classes and for service provision changes as well as for better developmental models of stepfamilies.

Gonzales, J. (2009).  Prefamily counseling: Working with blended familiesJournal of Divorce and Remarriage, 50, 148-57.

A new model for blended family counseling.  Blended families often come together with little preparation or understanding of what to expect, and many experience common problems that premarital counseling could help address. 

Halford, K., Nicholson, J., and Sanders, M. (2007).  Couple communication in stepfamiliesFamily Process, 46, 471-483.

Despite the fact that couple communication skills are stressed in most marriage and relationship education (MRE) programs, this study demonstrates that stepfamily couples may have different needs relating to ealthy communication.  When compared to first-time married couples, stepfamily couples had lower rates of negative discussion and higher rates of withdrawal, which could signal an avoidance of sensitive topics due to uncertainty in the relationship.  Authors suggest that helping stepfamily couples address their commitment to the relationship, withdrawal and fears about dissolution of the relationship, and address different parenting issues could be helpful in MRE programming.

Higginbotham, B., Skogrand, L., & Torres, E. (2010).  Stepfamily education: Perceived benefits for children.  Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 51, 36-49.

From the results of interviews with 40 parents and 20 facilitators, this article explores ways in which stepfamily education benefits children.  The findings support educational efforts to strengthen stepfamilies and highlight the value of interventions that involve the entire family.

Kaplan, M., & Hennon, C. B. (1992).  Remarriage education: The Personal Reflections ProgramFamily Relations, 41, 127-134.

Summary of a remarriage education program for those entering remarriage.  The authors believe that specific remarriage education programs are needed because of the increasing number of people in remarriage situations.  The program teaches couples about role expectations and stress resulting from conflicts about roles. 

Kirby, P. G. (2011). Blended families in the over-50 crowd.  American Journal of Family Law.  25, 20-26.

Unique features of creating a stepfamily later in life from, with attention to the potential legal decisions to be made.

Robertson, A., Adler-Baeder, F., Collins, A., DeMarco, D. (2006). Meeting the Needs of Married, Low-income Stepfamily Couples in Marriage Education Services: Final Report.  Administration for Children and Families, Office of Policy Research and Evaluation.

A conceptual framework for marriage education for stepcouples, derived from research, and an informal study with community educators targeting stepfamilies.  In addition, the framework suggests the consideration of several elements of program service delivery and of conditions that exist at the individual, family, and community levels that influence service needs.

Leon, K., & Angst, E. (2005).  Portrayals of stepfamilies in film: Using media images in remarriage educationFamily Relations, 54, 3-23.

Topic: Examines the portrayals of stepfamilies in films from 1990 to 2003 for appropriate re-use in remarriage education programs.  The authors note that stepfamilies were most often shown in a negative or mixed way.  The film clips can be usefed in marriage education programs to illustrate family dynamics, generate discussion, create a shared language, and create new culture. 

National Healthy Marriage Resource Center (2009). Recruiting and Serving Stepfamilies.  Webinar presented , June 30, 2009.  

Focuses on the challenges stepfamilies face and effective strategies for tailoring marriage education programs to meet the needs of stepfamilies.

Robertson, A., Adler-Baeder, F., Collins, A., DeMarco, D., Fein, D., & Schramm, D. (2006).  Meeting the Needs of Married, Low-income Stepfamily Couples in Marriage Education Services: Final Report.  Administration for Children and Families, Office of Planning, Research & Evaluation, Washington, DC.

A framework for promoting healthy marriage among stepfamilies.  Due to stepfamilies’ unique situations, as compared with first marriages, the authors recommend that marriage education programs include elements such as establishing a positive view of stepfamilies, navigating relationships with former partners, negotiating roles and rules, and utilizing financial management skills.

Skogrand, L., Dansie, L., Higginbotham, B., Davis, P., and Barrios-Bell, A.,  (2011).  Benefits of stepfamily education: One-year post-program. Marriage & Family Review, 47, 149-163.

Addresses the lasting effects of stepfamily education by examining findings from qualitative interviews conducted one year after participants had attended a research-based stepfamily program.

Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1996).  Therapy with stepfamilies.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Investigates the characteristics and techniques of therapy with stepfamilies such as areas of difficulty, self-esteem interventions, relationship strengthening, psycho-education, negotiation, and techniques for working with children.

Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1997).  Stepping together: Creating strong stepfamilies [Leader's manual]. Lincoln, NE: Stepfamily Association of America.

Topics for stepfamily group meetings, such as stepfamily myths, emotions, couple relationship strengthening, and working across households. 

Webb, J. (2009).  Getting married (again): Tips for blending families.  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Helps engaged parents develop strategies to avoid potential areas of conflict and sustain a healthy marriage while co-parenting and combining families.

V.           Stepfamily Marriage and Relationship Education Curricula

The Wellness Way for Stepfamilies

Part of the skill-based Family Wellness curriculum, this handbook is an additional resource for practitioners working with stepfamilies.  The concepts and skills presented in this Handbook are based on research on what works for families to be successful and, most specifically, for stepfamilies.

Smart Steps

This 6-session research-based educational curriculum is designed for remarried or partnering couples and their children.  It focuses on building couple and family strengths while addressing the unique needs and issues that face couples in stepfamilies.

VI. Resources for Blended Family Couples

There are a variety of community-based programs for couples who are creating a stepfamily.There are also on-line resources that answer commonly asked questions, provide additional resources, and highlight books that couples can use at home.  This section lists some of the available resources that include information on managing the couple relationship in a stepfamily.

Website Resources:

Married With Baggage

Information for stepfamilies on strategies to improve their relationships.   Information is available through workshops, blogs, support groups, therapy, and books.

National Stepfamily Resource Center

A clearinghouse of information, providing research and best practices for stepfamilies. Included are services, educational resources, frequently asked questions, and information about laws.  Find a free interactive program that provides information on parenting, step parenting, and couple relationships here.

Remarriage Works

Topic: Articles, advice, and resources for step- and blended families. 

Remarried with Children:  

Topic: Articles, videos, newsletters, and support group information about stepfamilies.

Smart Step Families:  

Topic: Hundreds of articles, conference information, and a free e-magazine.

Stepfamily Foundation

Topic: Information on how stepfamily members can develop successful relationships; certification in stepfamily counseling;and other trainings, books, and videos about stepfamily dynamics. Membership required for some resources.

Stepmom Magazine

Topic: For stepmothers.  Information and advice from experts about topics such as marriage, custody, parenting, and coping strategies is available in each issue.

Two Of Us

Topic: Articles and videos for couples about their relationship. Relevant articles for couples in or creating a blended family include:


·         Building Strong Stepfamilies

·         Married (with Children)

·         Preparing for Remarriage


·         How can we connect as a couple in a stepfamily?

·         I’m a new husband and a stepdad, now what?

·         I’m a new wife and a stepmom, now what?


Webb, J. (2009).  Getting married (again): Tips for blending families.  National Healthy Marriage Resource Center.

Helps engaged parents develop strategies to avoid potential areas of conflict and sustain a healthy marriage while co-parenting and combining families.

On-line Video Resources:

Advice for Blended Families:  

Challenges of being in a blended family and the most important things for parents to remember when forming one.

The Best Recommendation for Remarriage Education

Remarried couples have unique needs and issues to overcome.  Learn from a remarriage and stepfamily expert what resources are best for remarriages.

Blended Families 1 of 4:  

Blended Families 2 of 4:  

Blended Families 3 of 4: 

Blended Families 4 of 4: 

This series of videos features an interview with an expert talking about how to form a healthy stepfamily, how to coparent well, and how to anticipate common issues stepfamilies face.

Blended Families:  

Blended families are a big part of today's society.  Parents TV explores how to successfully integrate two families to create one with happiness and harmony.

Blended Families:  

Issues blended families encounter, and some of the tools available to make this transition a successful one.  It educates families that are experiencing challenges and feel that things are not as easy as they thought they would be.

Dr. Phil on Blended Families

Dr. Phil speaks with an expert about the issues faced by blended families.

Dr Phil Uncensored: Blended Families.  

Dr. Phil speaks to stepfamilies about having realistic expectations in blending families.

Helping Stepfamilies Avoid Mis-Steps:  

Tips on how stepfamilies can avoid mis-steps during the holidays.

The Scoop on Blended Families:  

Realistic advice from teens who have made their stepfamily situation work for them.  Just like blending ice cream ingredients to create an interesting new flavor, blending the personalities and lifestyles of two families takes know-how, experimenting, and patience.

Books and Articles

Deal, R. L., & Olson, D. H. (2010).  The remarriage checkup: Tools to help your marriage lastBethany House Publishers.  

Topic: Advice for remarried couples on how to improve the strengths of the marriage based on the National Survey of Couples Creating Stepfamilies.  Research shows that couples that broke up during courtship had significant difficulties in their relationship after marriage.

Deal, R. L. (2002).  The smart stepfamily. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House.

Solutions to issues stepfamilies face, such as recognizing each family member’s uniqueness, improving stepparent-stepchild relationships, communication with ex-spouses, and developing traditions.

Thomas, S. (2005).  Two happy homes: A working guide for parents and stepparents after divorce and remarriage.  Longmont, CO:  Springboard Publications.

Helps advise parents on how to bring new partners into the lives of children after divorce. Practical and specific ideas for parents to create happy stepfamily lives for their children are discussed, including common errors to avoid.  Specific advice is also given for coparenting.

Visher, E. B., & Visher, J. S. (1991).  How to win as a stepfamily.  New York: Brunner/Mazel.

A guide for stepfamilies that addresses issues such as relationships with former spouses, grandparents, custody, and financial arrangements.

Stepfamilies: Strengthening Your Couple Relationship.  Family Development Fact Sheet. University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension.

Tips for couples on communication, making time for the couple, and the importance of a strong couple relationship in a happy family.