Marrying my soulmate was my dream come true . . . until I realized that it was also my nightmare.
Nobody tells you how complicated a second marriage can be – or at least nobody told me. It turns out that the love of my life was a package deal. He came with two children, the ex-wife, the ex's new partner, that partner's children, the ex-in-laws, and the usual assortment of ordinary in-laws.
I too was hardly an island. With three children, an ex-husband, his new partner, my ex-in-laws, and the whole jumble of extended family plus pets, I was more of an archipelago. And of course, this doesn't even count the 20 years of accumulated stuff between us and properties that wouldn't sell.
Our non overlapping joint custody schedules meant that we had 2, 3, or 5 kids in the house ¾ of the time. I found that getting married at midlife involved so many demands on our time together that I had to take a number. Or at least that's how it felt to me.
Life fell into a pretty predictable rhythm of no kid (NK) time and kid (K) time. NK time caused much jubilation, song and dance, merry making, and lots of sex (we were honeymooners, after all). K time involved stress, loyalty binds, tension, arguments, exhaustion, and lots of sex (honeymooners, remember?).
Some of the stress was just the sheer energy and resources required to raise five kids, most of whom were teenagers. But lots of the stress was the added complication of blended family dynamics (especially when the 'blend' thing hadn't really been achieved yet).
When my husband and I were alone in the house, I felt calm and blissful. I was a female Buddha floating through my still, childless, tidy house. But when the child army returned, with all their incessant demands and messes, I went from Buddha to berserk in 60 seconds flat.
Stress or Peace?
I knew that by focusing on the many stresses of step-family life, I was making myself completely miserable, not to mention that it was eroding the strength of my marriage. Maybe I could white-knuckle it until the kids were grown (though ten years would be a long time to hold on), but deep down I knew that I was the one that had to change. I needed to cultivate peace within myself. I had always said that true inner peace was independent of life's circumstances and now I had the opportunity – as well as the incentive – to walk the talk.
Although I did find that long meditations and yoga classes were helpful in calming my agitated mind, I rarely had the time to devote to these practices. So what I cultivated instead was a system of "shortcuts" – quick well-being practices that I could weave through my day. They were simple to integrate because I attached them to ordinary daily prompts.
Here are four that I used to stimulate an open heart, to develop acceptance, to center myself, and to increase gratitude.
Good Morning Sunshine (to do when lying in bed in the morning before you get up)
Place one hand on your heart and one on your lower belly. Rest like this for a minute and imagine light within you, the light of love. Breathe in the word "Love" and breathe out the word "Love." Think of your mate or someone else whom you love (a person or a pet) and let that love fill you, expanding within you and radiating in the form of light.
Go with the Flow (to do when you're washing your hands)
When your hands touch the water, relax your shoulders and state the words, "I go with the flow" or "I align myself with the flow of life." Let yourself go with the current rather than react with resistance.
Take Five (to do when you're at your desk)
Breathe in through your nose to the count of five. Hold your breath to the count of five then exhale through your mouth to the count of five (or longer). When exhaling, purse your lips as if blowing through a straw. Repeat several times and feel your body relax.
Rest in Peace (to do when you lay your head on the pillow before you fall asleep)
Review your day and list three things that happened for which you are grateful. Don't just vaguely remember each instance, but actively recall it and recreate the experience of it. Even on a tough day, there are many things to be grateful for if you train yourself to look for them. Hold the grateful feeling and think of yourself as a sponge, absorbing the memory in your body.
As these shortcuts became daily habits, I shifted my focus from stress to peace. And once I made that choice, peace became the backdrop to my life. Now, five years later, I'm happy to report that the family has blended. While there are still the normal ups and downs of daily life, 'happily ever after' never felt so good.
Ashley Davis Bush, LCSW is a psychotherapist and the author of four self help books including 75 Habits for a Happy Marriage and Shortcuts to Inner Peace. Ashley lives and works in southern New Hampshire with her beloved husband, Dan. Together they have a blended family of 5 kids and 5 pets. Check out her free resources on love, loss, and life at www.ashleydavisbush.com.
Read more from Ashley Davis Bush at her website.