Renegotiating Family Communication:
Remarriage and Stepfamilies
When many people think of “family” they imagine two people getting married, having children, and growing old together. This image of the American family is perhaps more stereotypical than it is typical. Because of divorce and widowhood many people will get married more than once in their lifetime. When people with children remarry they create a stepfamily. However, not all Stepfamilies are formed after divorce or widowhood. More people are having children outside marriage, and if these people eventually marry, their first marriage will generate a stepfamily. Remarriages and Stepfamilies face all of the same challenges as first marriages and their associated families. However, remarriages and Stepfamilies appear to have their own unique qualities and burdens that distinguish them from first marriage families. Communication and relationship development issues in Stepfamilies have a different character than what might be observed in first-marriage families. Even though there has been a lot of attention to the negative aspects of remarriage and Stepfamilies, there is reason to believe that they enjoy many of the benefits of first marriage families, and that their relationships are not necessarily more troubled.
We begin this chapter by briefly examining the phenomenon of remarriage and answering a common question: “Why is it that marriage does not always work out better the second time around?” Next we present an in-depth analysis of communication and relationships in Stepfamilies. We address questions such as “How are Stepfamilies portrayed in the media?” and “What are societal views of Stepfamilies?” These views and images are mostly negative and are not accurate representations of the complex realities of Stepfamilies. Next, we take on questions such as “How do stepfamily relationships and communication develop in the early years of stepfamily formation?” and “How are roles and relationships defined in different types of Stepfamilies?” Finally, what are the challenges that are particular to Stepfamilies with regard to communication, conflict, and adaptability and cohesion? Addressing this question leads us to consider research findings on child adjustment in Stepfamilies and the importance of stepfamily communication for child well-being. Above all else, the research reviewed in this chapter shows that Stepfamilies are exceptionally diverse. There are many different types of Stepfamilies, and these are represented in numerous taxonomies and typologies of Stepfamilies that have been developed by family scientists. Obviously, with all of the various forms and functions in Stepfamilies, sweeping generalizations must be interpreted tentatively.