About Our Guest
Our host Ted Lowe sat down for an interview with Ron Deal, the director of FamilyLife Blended and the author of several books, including The Smart Stepfamily Marriage.
Ron is a licensed marriage and family therapist and he conducts marriage and family seminars all over the country. Ron and his wife Nan have been married since 1986 and have three sons.
Can you tell our listeners a little about yourself?
I don’t come from a blended family and I don’t live in one now. So people naturally ask how I got into working with blended families.
I’ve been in ministry my entire life—marriage and family ministry specifically. I’m also a licensed marriage and family therapist and have spent a good amount of my career working for local churches and trying to save marriages as a therapist.
You can’t do that and not work with some blended families. When I started in ministry over thirty years ago, I wanted to be able to minister to all families no matter what their story was. I found myself working with stepfamilies and very interested in the subject. There was a need and we kept developing resources and materials and people found out about it.
Today, I have my own ministry called Smart Stepfamilies where I speak and do conferences around the country. That blossomed into me joining the team at FamilyLife Blended here in Arkansas.
On a personal note, Nan and I have been married for 33 years and we have three boys. We’re empty nesters at this season—my youngest is a sophomore in college..
How do divorced people feel in the local church?
The average divorced person today feels put down by their local church. This isn’t me putting down the local church—I know we inadvertently say the wrong thing sometimes and we’re not meaning to. But the truth is, divorced people do feel marginalized.
Sometimes blended family couples come back to church and they hope no one will ask them about their past. It’s really stifling for people because they feel they have to hide their story. I think that’s really sad and gets in the way of God really redeeming their story.
Not everyone has been through a divorce who is in a blended family—you could be widowed and getting remarried for the first time. Lots of people find themselves in blended families. The trend today is a first marriage where one of the adults has children by two other partners. We can’t always assume there’s a divorce narrative, but frequently that is the case.
What are some of the wrong things we say to blended families?
It’s inadvertent most of the time, but we accidentally step on people’s toes. The term “broken family” implies a lot and it implies things we don’t mean to say. I think often when a pastor talks about a “broken family” he means “fractured family”. A fractured family is now a complex family, but when we say “broken” it implies less than.
One of my biggest pet peeves is saying “God hates divorce.” First of all, there are so many scholars who make the point that’s not what Malachi 2 says. Most translations don’t say “God hates divorce”. It’s really about a man who hates his wife and puts her away—it’s about the man who is mistreating his wife and divorcing her.
We say “God hates divorce” because we’re trying to get people to stay married, but you don’t get someone to do something by bashing the other side. In the process, we beat up people who are divorced, not realizing we make them feel less than. That’s not God’s intent or the heart of the passage. We need to remember these families are there.
Over 100 million Americans have a step relationship right now. The estimate is that half of us will be in a blended family in our lifetime. This is not a small story. Forty percent of all families raising children right now are blended families, but the average marriage ministry provides half of what blended couples really need to have a strong marriage and family.
There is great reason to say, “Who is in our audience”? We can’t do ministry the way we used to. My new phrase is, “nontraditional is the new traditional”.
How can we be inclusive for blended families?
We want to uphold God’s blueprints for the family because there is blessing built into the design God built for us. However, we serve a redemptive God and nobody has a perfect life. We’re all trying to respond to sin in our life and our world—that’s true of all families.
We’re applying the same blood of Jesus to families who have found themselves in a structure that is different than what God designed. Structure does not equal worthiness to God. Most of the Old Testament families don’t look anything like what God designed a family to be. The structure of our home does not determine our worthiness to God. There are advantages to family structure, but we need to get past the structure and help people do the best they can today.
Blended ministry does not give up on this ideal. Research shows that healthy blended families are a change agent to help the next generation go back to God. Children raised in a blended family choose better spouses and have more of a chance of a long-term relationship that lasts. But blended families that are unhealthy create more chaos in peoples’ lives.
Somehow people have gotten the idea that if God hates divorce, he hates divorced. That’s never been God’s story. Jesus encountered the woman at the well and used her physical thirst to talk to her about her relational thirst. God doesn’t say that she couldn’t speak for him because she’d been divorced five times.
What are some things that blended families need?
In a typical marriage ministry, we deal with the couple—what’s going on between the husband and wife. That is also helpful for blended family couples, but the stressors that blended family couples often have are triadic—what’s going on around them.
That may be a former spouse who is the source of real heartache in their marriage. That’s a high stressor for a couple. It could be parenting and step-parenting. There’s a big intersection between Parenting Street and Marriage Avenue.
Those things intersect big time for blended family couples in ways that do not happen with biological parents raising their own children. There are so many different relationships going on—the spouses’ expectation of the stepparent, the kids expectations, the former spouses’ expectation.
That’s highly stressful and not as much about being a married couple as it is about being a step-parent. It always ripples into the marriage. The average training program on marriage doesn’t deal with that at all, but that’s what we do—we help people make sense of that.
Do you have a blended family who we can all learn from?
I’m thinking of a couple who got remarried later in life. They were both widowed and their kids were adults. Adult kids may be fine with it, but they’re going to have to make as many adjustments as kids who are 15 or five because everything is changing in their family system.
This couple found themselves wrestling as they were driving away on their honeymoon. They both got calls from their adult kids about the chaos behind the scenes after the wedding. We were able to step in and give them some resources that speak to adult children. Through that process over a period of time, it moved them in a better direction. After many years, they’re in a better place.
Your one simple thing this week:
- For Couples: Go out of your way to find unity even in the smallest moments.
- For Stepparents: Learn your place as a stepparent and how to function within the home.
- For Biological Parents who are co-parenting: Work with your new spouse on a posture that is cooperative with the other house.
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