Q: We have a blended family. It’s me and my two kids and my partner with his three kids. The problem is it’s not working very well, because no one gets along very well. There’s a lot of stress and my partner and I fight more when all our kids are at our house. His two oldest are usually rude to me and don’t listen to anything I tell them to do. I’ve grounded them and sent them to their rooms, but they won’t listen and then they complain to their father when he gets home. He definitely favors his kids over mine. He’s much stricter with my kids and yells at them when they don’t listen. My daughter says she’s afraid of him.

I just want us all to get along and have a nice, peaceful family. Another thing is my ex-husband and his ex-wife don’t help matters either. I’d really like your advice.

A: This sounds like a very challenging situation. Let’s first consider our expectations of “blending” families. This usually doesn’t work as seamlessly as we might hope. We can put ingredients into a blender, successfully ending up with a smoothly blended concoction. However, two different families typically don’t combine with as much success. I think of this as mixing up partners with their respective children, sometimes working out quite well but, more often, bringing together children who are feeling loss, bitterness, anger, displacement, sadness, while likely not wanting a new “family.”

I appreciate that new partners are anxious to recreate some stability and peace after divorce, when joining their two families together. There are usually high expectations that all the children will get along well with each other, making the transition easier for everyone. Consider how unrealistic some of these expectations might be — possibly sharing a bedroom and possessions with new kids; adjusting to a new home, location, possibly even a new school; understanding and accepting different rules, boundaries, expectations; and, most importantly, adapting to a parent’s new partner. Children need time, space, compassion, patience, and acceptance to adjust to this new household at their own pace.

An important guideline for parents mixing their two different families is to ensure the children’s respective parent (his/her biological or adoptive parent) does the disciplining, enforcing any limits, etc. Take your cues from the children. This doesn’t mean you have to remain silent when being treated disrespectfully — the difference with this example is to respond in the same way you would if any person was rude to you. Set a healthy boundary without overstepping your role by grounding or sending children to their rooms. That’s the time to defer to the other parent to address the problem.

A helpful tool is to schedule regular family meetings, allowing the children to voice their concerns and questions, addressing what’s working and what’s not. Family meetings should be a time for some fun planning, as well, creating space for both the positive discussions and the problem-solving. This needs to be a democratic process, with everyone having an opportunity to be heard and to feel safe and respected, without interruption or consequences. When both partners show a willingness to listen and understand each child’s perspective, you’ll discover what they feel is going well and what they feel needs to change. Establishing a mutually respectful, caring relationship with your partner’s children will take time, patience and stamina. Good luck.

Q: My husband and I have very different views in so many areas but, in particular, we don’t have the same social needs. He would rather stay home to do things around the house, watch a movie or read the paper, than go out on the weekends to see friends, go out for dinner, or go to one of the area events. I love going out and socializing and I just feel he’s being stubborn and not listening to my needs. I never thought he’d be such a homebody, restricting social fun. Do you have any suggestions to get him to understand being social is good for us and makes me happy?

A: The differences in temperament in adult relationships are not always as clear to us as they are with understanding our child’s needs. It’s apparent how little we recognize that the same challenges exist with us. What we’re willing to do for our children, going to great lengths to accommodate and understand how our child’s temperament affects how he/she behaves, has little bearing on how we embrace these insights in our marriage/partnership or co-parenting dynamics.

There are nine temperamental traits, with each of us reacting to situations through those filters. Some of us might react in ways that are almost indiscernible, while others have strong reactions to their environment and sensory input. It’s helpful to consider our own unique temperamental profile, as well as that of our partner. It’s also very enlightening to identify the introverts and extroverts in our respective families. It’s not unusual, for partners arguing about the quality of their social interactions, for the reason to be as simple as opposing energies: one is likely more an extrovert, the other an introvert. Neither is good or bad.

Extroversion means one is energized by external stimulation and groups; processes by talking; and needs activity, ongoing input/feedback. While introversion translates to being energized through alone time; being drained by crowds, extended socializing and stimulation; and needing time for quiet, for personal space. When we identify and accept these differences, we can then express our respective needs, ultimately brainstorming with our partner how to mutually respect and negotiate both perspectives. Some of the contentious battles in marriages are often from misreading our spouse’s needs, or from imposing conflicting needs onto the other. An example is the issue you raised — what you could be hearing from your husband’s need to stay home rather than socialize is rejection or abandonment, an unwillingness to “make you happy.” Your need to connect seems to be through talking, socializing, which directly clashes with your partner’s need. To sustain a harmonious, fulfilling partnership, understanding this is important. This underscores the need to communicate effectively: identifying, sharing, respecting your own needs, balanced with hearing and respecting your partner’s needs. Thinking, “He’s doing this because he doesn’t understand being social is good for us” or “he’s doing this intentionally to make me unhappy” will undermine the health and satisfaction in your marriage. Empathizing with each other, while brainstorming how to work together, are key factors.

Understanding the different ways to energize, identifying the extroverts and introverts in our family, can help replace anger and frustration with new options. We can work together to find solutions agreeable to everyone. Accepting these differences, we begin to understand those we love through a fresh filter. Effective strategies in our marriage help us model to our children, supporting them to develop coping techniques to recharge.