What Happens to Your Marriage When the Kids are Gone by Gayla Grace

Your Marriage Counts: What Happens When the Kids are Gone?

My husband and I celebrated 22 years of marriage this past weekend. Of our five children, we have only one still at home who is an “ours” child, 16-year-old Nathan.  Although life still has challenges, our marriage, most of the time, is free of tension and conflict. I don’t say that to brag, but to offer hope.

It hasn’t always been that way.

If you’ve read much of my blog, then you’ve heard my stories of disharmony and stepfamily struggles. I’ve opened my heart about our challenges in hopes you could avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made.

As I think about what advice I’d give as we celebrate another anniversary, I want to offer a reminder: your marriage counts.

What Happens to Your Marriage When the Kids are Gone? Words of encouragement by Gayla Grace

One day the kids will be gone.

The food fights at the dinner table, the step-sibling squabbles over who sits in the front seat, the arguments over chores that didn’t get done, the lingering smell of dirty laundry that emanates from their bedroom, the curfews that are broken…those things won’t matter anymore.

If we’re fulfilling our role correctly as parents and stepparents, we will work our way out of a job.

Our kids will fly away and lead thriving adult lives.

It will be the two of us.

Will we have a marriage left? Will you have a marriage left?


Parenting and stepparenting is a season. And like all seasons, the season will end.

Please don’t neglect to nurture your marriage.

In the midst of watching your stepson at the soccer field, hold your partner’s hand.

While making dinner for the family, smile at your spouse across the room.

On a busy afternoon at work, stop and send a text that says, I love you.

Sure, anniWill you still have a marriage when the kids leave home?versary trips are nice and date nights are important, but even simple gestures of love can keep relationships connected when schedules don’t allow for extended time together.

If you’re stuck in unresolved conflict or tension that won’t subside, seek professional help. Stepfamily life is complicated. Sometimes you need help from a neutral party who can identify the root of an issue and what to do about it. Be sure to find a pastor, counselor, or coach who understands stepfamily dynamics.

I also encourage you to check out helpful resources for stepfamilies. My husband and I are currently leading a stepfamily class at our church with the book, The Smart Stepfamily Marriage: Keys to Success in the Blended Family. It’s a great book to go through together as a couple that shows how to build on your relationship strengths and helps you improve your weaknesses.

Your marriage counts.

Do you have suggestions on how to nurture your remarriage? I’d love to hear them in the comments.




My Biggest Tip after 20 Years in a Stepfamily

My husband and I celebrated 20 years of marriage last week. There were many years I didn’t know if we’d make it to our next anniversary.  Today, I’m thankful for where we are as a stepfamily.

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I’ve grown emotionally, spiritually, and mentally in so many ways since I began this journey. I’m thankful for what stepfamily life has taught me; I’m a different person than when I started. Last year I wrote a post on What I’ve Learned in 19 Years as a Stepmom. 

I must admit, however, that I’m most thankful our hardest years are behind us. You can read about some of our struggles here: Trusting God’s Plan for Your Stepfamily and The Myth of the Perfect Stepparent. 

There are a lot of suggestions I could give for how we’ve made it 20 years. But today I want to focus on one—or maybe it’s three :). If you asked for my biggest tip for long-term success, peace, and harmony in your stepfamily, here it is:

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

I know—you’ve heard that before, right? Maybe it seems too simple. Maybe you don’t like it. But it’s worked for us.

When our marriage was in trouble (which happened within our first year), we began counseling. My husband and I both uncovered leftover baggage from our previous marriages and family of origin issues that affected us. It was painful to look at my part in how I wanted to be right and insisted on having the last word when we argued or how I considered my way of parenting superior to Randy’s.

I didn’t like having to consider how my 11-year marriage to an alcoholic skewed my thinking about relationships. Trust no longer came easily for me and I put one foot out the door before I gave our marriage a fair chance. I had worked hard in my previous marriage but it failed anyway. I had to dig deep and make myself vulnerable again in a marriage when I didn’t know the outcome.

I questioned our efforts constantly—what were we doing wrong?Although you hear it takes 4-7 years for a stepfamily to blend, it took longer than that for us.  There were things we could have done differently, no doubt, but the truth is, the complexities of our stepfamily life with four children and two ex-spouses made life hard. And just as we were making progress in healthy relationship-building, my stepchildren learned their mother was battling colon cancer. Her death a year later was devastating for everyone.

Your circumstances are different than mine but I suspect you have your own challenges. Days you want to quit. Relationships you want to give up on. Questions that don’t have answers.

I know. It’s hard. I’ve been there.

Will you dig deep? Will you trust a loving God who wants to hold your hand as you walk through difficult circumstances?

Will you do the hard work of looking at your own issues instead of always considering someone else needs to change? Will you persevere when the road stretches out endlessly?

The easy way out is to quit. But you’ll never experience the blessings of the long haul if you do.

I’m thankful I’ve stayed—through the good and the bad.

Make your marriage a priority, trust God through the rough patches, and don’t give up just because it’s hard.

Do you have other suggestions? I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like more nuggets of help, check out our devotional book on Amazon:

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Step Parenting Blended Families

What I’ve Learned in 19 Years as a Stepmom

My husband and I celebrate 19 years of marriage today. All four of the kids in our wedding picture are grown – we have only an “ours” child still at home – 13-year-old son Nathan.

I love the way my friend Heather Hetchler counts years in stepfamilies – # of kids X years married, so in stepfamily years, we’ve been married 95 years! Wow! That’s a long time!

Read more

How the Beauty of Grace Saved Her Marriage

She had been wronged. Pornography had invaded her home and her husband couldn’t seem to give it up.

Tears puddled her eyes as she described her feelings of inadequacy, frustration, and hopelessness with his addiction.

But she wasn’t ready to quit. She had walked the road of divorce before and didn’t want to go there again. Her husband was the stepdad to her three kids and they had tried hard to build meaningful relationships with one another.

She was thankful he had agreed to counseling and was surprised when he openly admitted to his struggle with the counselor. She saw a glimpse of regret and was encouraged that he seemed willing to change his ways.

But then it happened. She picked up his phone while he was gone one day. There it was. She couldn’t deny he was doing it again.


I didn’t know what to say.

And then she began speaking again.

“I’m praying hard for my marriage. Will you please pray with me? I’m not going to let Satan ruin us. I’m willing to give him another chance.”

Chill bumps covered my arms although it was 90 degrees outside. The beauty of grace filled the room. Her face radiated as she described her love for her husband.

Yes, she was discouraged. She wished it wasn’t true. But she refused to live in denial… or defeat.

I told her how much I applauded her efforts. Her willingness to offer grace. Again. and Again.

Her willingness to stand by her vow… for better or for worse.

Her steadfast belief in a God who still saves marriages.

blogMaybe you’re facing mounting issues in your own stepcouple marriage. The complexities of stepfamily dynamics put a strain on even the best marriages. Will you commit to give your marriage similar efforts?


For better or for worse.

Steadfast prayer and faith in a God who still listens and heals marriages.

Hope when it seems hopeless.

I don’t know the end of the story with her marriage. But I know she will give it more than 100% before she gives up.

Are you willing to do the same?

If you’re looking for some stepmom support, please consider joining us at our next Stepmom Retreat in beautiful Asheville, NC Sept 26-28. It will be a great week-end where you will be encouraged, find tools for your journey, and enjoy camaraderie with others walking a similar path. Here’s what other stepmom participants have said:

“It’s been an amazing weekend. I met lots of great stepmoms and found so much comfort in knowing I’m not alone on my stepmom journey.”

“I believe every stepmom needs a weekend like this.”

“What an honor to join together with like-minded women who want to give the best they can to their stepfamilies.”

I’d love to meet you in NC! Details here: http://sisterhoodofstepmoms.com/?page_id=23

By David Castillo Dominici,

Pic By Stuart Miles





How to Create Healthy Stepfamily Relationships

I’ve noticed a common theme among step couples I’m working with lately: marital issues compound stepfamily problems. In other words, if you’re struggling with basic marriage challenges, it will spill over into your stepfamily.


Here’s an example: let’s say you and your spouse don’t do conflict well. Maybe you say things you know you shouldn’t in a heightened sense of emotion. It’s likely you will say things about your stepchild that you can’t take back that will fester a wound with your spouse. Now a marital issue has become a stepfamily issue.

Or perhaps you struggle with managing your finances properly. You didn’t have to keep track of it that closely when it just involved you, but now money is tighter and you and your spouse constantly argue over the child support payment. A marital problem has become a stepfamily issue.

My point is this: stepfamily challenges are real. It takes a lot of effort to cope with ex-spouses, parent children that aren’t yours, parent children that are yours, manage a job and a household and a dozen other commitments, and maintain a thriving marriage.

So please nurture your marriage. Don’t expect it to function on auto-pilot and keep cruisin’. It won’t. It will crater. And your children will endure another loss.

We all emerge from our childhood of origin with strengths and weaknesses. In stepfamily life, your weaknesses can destroy your marriage.  A weak marriage simply can’t stand up against the challenges. Look in the mirror and determine what you need to change to become a better marital partner.

Do you need to temper your anger? Do you need to practice patience? Do you need to be more intentional with your speech or your listening habits? Do you need to persevere through your challenges?

Ask your spouse. Or listen to what they’re already telling you. What needs to change to create a healthier, stronger marriage?

I didn’t have to ask my spouse. He’s been telling me for years some things that I haven’t listened to well. Then my sister recently told me the same thing. Ouch!

I love the passage in Galatians 5:22-23 that talks about the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.”  Relationships naturally become more harmonious as we polish our rough exterior and exhibit more fruit in our lives.

It’s easy to blame all our stepfamily problems on the kids. But the truth is, if we look closer at ourselves, we’re contributing to the problems with our less-than-perfect attitudes, habits, and weaknesses.

If you stay married long enough, which I hope you will, the kids will leave home. Your marriage will be all that’s left so why not work out the kinks in your marriage NOW? I promise it will benefit your stepfamily in the process.

Healthy marriages create healthy stepfamily relationships. Does your marriage need a tune-up?

How have you created more harmony in your marriage or your stepfamily? Will you share it with us?

If you’re stuck in marital disharmony, I hope you’ll consider professional counseling or check out my coaching page. Don’t give up on your stepfamily until you’ve worked through your marriage challenges. It might be the difference that turns your stepfamily around.

Photo by David Castillo Dominici





Celebrating Valentine’s Day as a Stepcouple

Have you made plans for Valentine’s Day yet? If not, please do. As a stepcouple, you deserve a night out to celebrate your marriage and enjoy time as a couple.heartStepfamily life includes too much time trying to cope with the everyday strain of kid issues, or co-parenting with a difficult ex-spouse, or juggling the emotions that crop up constantly that surround stepfamily challenges.

Valentine’s Day is a day to celebrate the love that brought you and your spouse together. Leave the kids at home and spend the night out. Make plans to do something special. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or even involve the entire evening. But it needs to send the message to each of you that your marriage is important.

Make a few rules surrounding the evening. There will be no discussion of children, ex-spouses, financial challenges, or job stress. The evening is to be dedicated to celebrating your love and what brought the two of you together. Make plans for the future. Dream about years to come when the kids will be gone (it really does happen, I promise). Or plan a summer vacation for just the two of you.

But don’t let Valentine’s Day slip by without celebrating your marriage. It only comes once a year. What’s your plan?

How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? I would love to hear.