In the first of this two-part series we will be discussing the importance of being understood in both a general context and in specific relation to blended families and dating those with children. Being understood is an important part of our mental wellbeing and is consequently a principal factor in a healthy, loving relationship. This is because if we feel as though we are being misunderstood it can lead to resentment and bitterness, which over time, will have a long-lasting negative impact on the relationship. It can also decrease the value we put on our partnership, as well as ourselves.
It is imperative to remember that we can never really know what is going on in someone else's mind. Therefore, how are we to expect others to know our thoughts and feelings if we do not express them or communicate them verbally. Of course, there are non-verbal cues that signal how we may be feeling but this form of communication does little to reveal the cause of our feelings and emotions. Non-verbal communication leaves room for error and this can even be the case when we communicate verbally, due to pragmatics. Pragmatics refers to the communication of meaning through the analysis of not only structural and linguistic knowledge, but also the context of the expression, pre-existing knowledge about those involved and the inferred intent of the speaker. This highlights the importance of clear and concise communication, particularly regarding such an imperative topic.
Family is extremely important and as a subject can become a bone of contention if each partner does not feel as if they are being heard or understood. This is particularly the case with blended families as they are structurally complex and present a multitude of characteristics from previous households (Ganong & Coleman, 2017). As a result, there may be disputes when it comes to the directive role of parenting. Braithwaite, Baxter and Harper (1998) found that it was important for family members to embrace their new family whilst still valuing what was important in the old family environment. It is key to remember that when entering a new relationship, where you are bringing two families together, that it is best to have an adaptive nature and have the ability to pay homage to both old and new family dynamics.
Despite some differentiation, combining parenting techniques and fully communicating what you expect and what you are willing to accept in terms of your partner’s involvement in your children's lives, will allow for an open and honest relationship. We may at times jump to conclusions but by calmly expressing your thoughts you allow a dialogue to open up between yourself and your partner. You may not always agree but communicating demonstrates a willingness to understand and empathise with your significant other. It is also noteworthy to remember that the focus of being understood in this context is to create a long-lasting, fulfilling relationship with your partner which runs in parallel to the relationship you have with your children or your partner's children. Children look to their parents for guidance and it is important to understand that seeing your relationship with your partner as a separate entity will allow a stronger and healthier relationship and a better example for your children.
We will never be in someone else's mind nor will they be in ours and perception is key. In perception, we find compassion and understanding. With a multitude of memories and cognitions determining people’s feelings and thoughts, it is fundamental that both partners do not assume they have experienced life the same way. Families come in all shapes and sizes and what can help with the transition for blended families is communication. This will bring you a wonderful relationship with your partner and the added bonus of being part of a family.
Braithwaite, D. O., Baxter, L. A., & Harper, A. M. (1998). The role of rituals in the management of the dialectical tension of “old” and “new” in blended families. Communication Studies, 49(2), 101-120.
Ganong, Lawrence, and Marilyn Coleman. "The Dynamics of Step parenting." Stepfamily Relationships. Springer US, 2017. 143-173.