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STEP parenting 101
By kevin leman
Nelson BooksCopyright © 2007 dr. kevin leman
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBirth Order Blends of Husbands and Wives
As I talk with spouses from blended families, I often ask them if the pop song Frank Sinatra made famous in the early '60s is true: "Is love lovelier the second time around?" I get a lot of quizzical looks, a few wry smiles, and very few absolutely!'s. Instead, I'm told, "The second time around love must be wiser-and stronger."
I often liken marriage to two people trying to play the same game with different rule books. Each spouse walks into the marriage with his or her own rule book, which is based on the lifestyle and life theme each one has developed after being born into a special spot in his or her own family. Few engaged couples ever exchange rule books or talk about them, even if they go to premarital counseling. Once they say, "I do," each spouse begins operating within the marriage according to a very personal set of rules.
It doesn't take long, however, to discover that your spouse's rule book sounds like something from a foreign land. It's not a matter of deciding whose rule book is right and whose rule book is wrong. The real challenge is for each spouse to translate his or her rule book for the other so that they can achieve harmony and understanding.
This is easily said, not easily done. By the time someone marries, his or her lifestyle has been established for years. The grain of the wood is set, and there is no changing it. You can reshape the wood, sometimes substantially by modifying your behavior and learning how to correct your weaknesses while capitalizing on your strengths; but you cannot change the grain. Your basic lifestyle is there for life.
SOME COUPLES WEREN'T BORN FOR EACH OTHER
Studies have shown that certain birth orders do better than others in a marriage relationship. My own experience with hundreds of couples suggests that a good general rule for a happy marriage is to find someone as opposite your birth order as possible. In general, opposites not only attract-in marriage birth orders, they are good for one another.
Only children and last borns supposedly make the best match, followed by first borns and last borns. Then come the middle children and last borns. In case you think I'm favoring last borns as the best possibilities for marriage because I'm a last born married to a firstborn, let me assure you that these findings come from research in which I took no part whatsoever.
While there are no guarantees that being a certain birth order means that you and your spouse will live happily-or miserably-ever after, there are indicators that show which combinations work best. Following is a quick rundown of six birth order combinations and why they tend to go wrong or right in a marriage.
FIRSTBORN + FIRSTBORN = A POWER STRUGGLE
The marriage of two firstborn personalities might actually be a match between an only child and a firstborn, two only children, or two firstborns. (Since only children are super firstborns, we're including them in this group.) The issues in this kind of match usually focus on perfectionism and control.
Perfectionists are the ones who can spot flaws at forty yards or beyond. Put two firstborns together, both of whom are very likely to be perfectionistic, and there is bound to be a power struggle-possibly a war. In addition, two firstborn personalities can wind up butting heads because by nature they are both used to calling the shots and leading the way.
Tips for Firstborn Couples
1. Steer away from "improving" on things your spouse does or says. Because you are probably a perfectionist, doing so may be difficult, but bite your tongue and do it anyway. Practice tongue control whenever possible. The New Testament compares the tongue to the bit in a horse's mouth or the rudder in a huge ship (James 3:3-4). Either device turns and controls everything. The tongue can literally turn your marriage in one direction or another.
2. Stop "shouldering" your mate. As a perfectionist, you are prone to be a fault-finder. Criticism is second nature to you, and not only do you criticize others, but your main target is yourself. Put away your high jump bar. Quit trying to jump higher, and quit asking your mate to do so as well.
3. To avoid control issues, have good role definitions-a specific division of labor as to who does what in the family. You may do the shopping, but your spouse may be the one who pays the bills and balances the checking account. Try to help each other with your assigned tasks rather than compete with each other or make things difficult. For example, if one spouse controls the social calendar, the other shouldn't make commitments without checking with him or her first.
4. Realize there are more ways to skin a cat than your way. This tip was especially helpful to Phil and Peggy. Phil, a meticulous firstborn controller, looked on his family as if it were a business. Peggy, his only-child spouse, had grown up with few, if any challenges of her opinion or of what she did and how she did it. Each of them needed to value the other's ideas and to learn that a suggestion that wasn't his or her own could still be a good one-even the best one-for all concerned.
FIRSTBORN + MIDDLE BORN = A NEED FOR "TELL ME MORE"
If you're a firstborn married to a middle born, rejoice in realizing you've married the most monogamous of all birth orders. At the same time, be aware that middle children can also be a vexing paradox. For example, while they have grown up having to learn how to negotiate, mediate, and compromise, they are also often secretive, preferring to keep their emotions close to the vest.
From the other side, if you're a middle child married to a firstborn, your tendency is to just throw your spouse a bone once in a while without letting him know how you really feel. If you have difficulty articulating your feelings, try writing them down and sharing them in notes that you can discuss later with your spouse. Also, take time to discuss your day or your week. Resist your natural tendency to keep feelings inside and open up to your firstborn spouse as you trust him or her to listen.
Tips for Firstborns and Middles
1. Treat your middle child spouse special. Give small gifts, write love notes, say the things he or she needs to hear. Any time you do things to make a middle child feel special you are scoring points, because it's a fairly good bet he or she wasn't made to feel all that special while growing up.
2. Work at getting your middle child spouse to articulate feelings. By nature, firstborns are impatient know-it-alls, so back off of that tendency to keep asking your middle child spouse, "What do you think?" "Tell me how you really feel," or "Tell me more." The husband of a middle child wife often has two good reasons to seek out her opinion: First, she is probably more perceptive than he is regarding people and their feelings. Second, she's comfortable in the middle, where she can be solving and mediating problems, smoothing the way for everyone.
3. Always assure middle child spouses that their qualities and skills are useful and needed. In a blended family, this can mean encouraging the middle child spouse to use negotiating skills, especially on those Armageddon-like evenings when stepsiblings are battling it out. Because she's a middle child, she is probably best equipped to see both sides of a conflict and call the shots correctly.
FIRSTBORN + LAST BORN = BLISS (USUALLY)
According to one study of three thousand families done by birth order specialist Walter Toman, the odds are best for a happy marriage when a firstborn hooks up with a last born. The theory at work here is that the firstborn can teach the last born little things that are probably lacking in his or her life, like being organized, having goals and plans, and that he or she has to get serious now and then. Likewise, the last born can remind the firstborn how to relax and enjoy life.
Strangely enough, the rather huge differences between the firstborn and the last born seem to balance each other much like two people of equal weight on a teeter-totter. And it helps if the firstborn can choose a last born who, while being full of life and fun, is a little more "together."
Tips for Firstborn/ Last Born Couples
1. If inclined to fault finding, the firstborn should back off on finding the last born's flaws. At the same time, the last born should not flaunt his flaws in the firstborn's face.
2. The last born can teach his or her firstborn mate to hang loose and give in now and then. In social situations, for example, when someone is late and the firstborn begins to pace the floor like a Siberian tiger, the last born can point out that a few minutes aren't going to mean the end of the world. Last borns may also be able to model for their children and spouses a generous spirit in contributing-at church or to welfares and charities.
3. Last borns should always realize that others need their share of the spotlight. Because last borns are performers, they sometimes forget that their firstborn mates need attention and praise, too.
4. Firstborns and last borns can take advantage of the fact that they make a great team in the game of life. For example, the firstborn can usually size things up better and help the last born learn to grasp the big picture and realize the impact of schedules and activities that bring pressure on the family. The last born, who is normally more of a people person, can lead the way in dealing with the feelings and emotions that circulate through the family because of conflicts that keep things from working out for everyone.
5. Last borns can always help their firstborn mates lighten up, particularly on the kids. Last borns, as a rule, bring the gift of fun and humor to the blended family.
MIDDLE + MIDDLE = TOO MUCH MIDDLE GROUND
Ironically, two middle children can have trouble in their marriage because they do not communicate. I say ironically because middle children are well-known for being great negotiators and mediators, something they learned out of necessity while growing up. Somehow, though, when they marry and start building their own families, they find it easier to keep things to themselves. Either they feel it isn't worth the hassle to confront each other, or in typical middle child fashion, they discount their own opinions.
Tips for Middle Child/ Middle Child Marriages
1. Do your best to build up each other's self-esteem. Let your spouse know that you appreciate his or her strengths and abilities.
2. Give each other plenty of space for outside friendships. Because middle children are usually big on friends and social acquaintances, it's a good idea to encourage each other to have these kinds of contacts. At the same time, both of you should take care to keep friends in the "same sex" category.
3. Always try to do something special for each other. If you're a typical middle child, your perception may well be that no one did many special things for you while growing up. Now that you're married, you can have empathy for your middle child mate and try to make up for lost time to help him or her feel special. Remember, your something special doesn't have to cost much or take a lot of time.
4. Don't forget that nothing is more important to a middle child than respect. Go out of your way to show each other mutual respect, no matter what the situation might be.
MIDDLE CHILD + BABY = A PRETTY GOOD MATCH
When you put the middle child, typically strong in negotiating and compromising, with the socially outgoing last born, you usually come up with a healthy marriage. In fact, middle children and last borns are the third best pairing, according to birth order studies.
A plus in the marriage of a middle child and a last born is that there is a high probability for good communication-the ability to share feelings and roll with the punches. That may sound contradictory to what I said earlier about middle children tending to clam up and not share emotions, but as birth order matches go, a baby would not be as threatening to a middle child as a firstborn, so the odds for good communication are better.
Tips for Middle Child/ Last Born Marriages
1. If you are a middle child mate, make good use of your tendency to want to "work things out." That should blend well with your last born spouse's willingness to "talk it through." Be careful not to be condescending, however, because last borns can smell that in a minute. People have been writing them off in a condescending way for a long time, and their antennae can detect the tiniest slight or put-down.
2. Work at blending your social interests with your mate's desire to be on the go. If you're like most middle children, friends are important and you enjoy having people over for dinner and other social gatherings. If your last born mate is typical, he will always be ready for adventure, travel, seeing new places, and meeting new people. But be aware that the daily tensions (battles) of a blended family may put a crimp in getaway plans, much to your spouse's chagrin. If opportunity ever does knock for getting away, don't hesitate. At the very least, grant in fantasy that which isn't possible in reality at the moment: "Honey, I'd love to go with you to that bed and breakfast, and we will, as soon as the kids settle down a little."
3. If you're a last born, be brave enough to admit you probably have a selfish streak and a desire to hog the spotlight. Try to cut your middle born mate some slack and back off now and then with your demands for service or attention. Remember, most middle children grow up feeling anything but special while many last borns grow up being pampered all the time. As the last born in the marriage, anything you can do to make your middle child mate feel a little pampered for a change will go a long way, particularly if your spouse is a stepdad who is struggling with surly stepchildren.
4. Don't have fun at your middle child spouse's expense. Last borns with the typical propensity for having fun may enjoy humor of all kinds, from practical jokes to sarcastic little digs just to get a laugh. Keep in mind, however, that if your spouse is like most middle children, she may be battling feelings of inferiority, and it can be all too easy to press the wrong button. So, when you're having fun, make a point to not do it at your mate's expense. She'll love you all the more for it.
LAST BORN + LAST BORN = CHAOS
The marriage of a last born and a last born is not considered one of the better bets for success, and there is a certain amount of irony in this fact. After all, aren't last borns supposed to be so sociable and communicative? That's true, but they need to bounce off the older birth orders to keep them in line, organized, and aware that bills come due about every thirty days.
The big problem with last born plus last born is answering the question, "Who is running the ship?" If last borns don't make some firm decisions about the practical side of life, they are headed for big-time trouble. You see, babies of the family have a tendency to forget. They also have a tendency to pass the buck and blame someone else. In a marriage, no one is a handier target than your spouse. The only problem is, if your spouse is a last born, too, guess who's catching the buck and passing it right back into your face?
Tips for the Last Born/ Last Born Couple
1. Two last borns must be aware that they can be quite manipulative by nature. The result is that they play games with one another, often selectively hearing only what they want to hear. Later, when called to account, they respond with, "Oh, I didn't understand it that way at all ... I never really agreed to do that ... Why didn't you tell me that's what you wanted? I had no idea!" Two last borns must vow to shoot straight with each other, but not at one another.
2. Learn to be active listeners. A simple technique last borns can use to cure selective hearing is active listening. This means you listen with more than just your ears. You look directly at your partner and try to sense your partner's feelings as well as whatever facts are being communicated.
Excerpted from STEP parenting 101 by kevin leman Copyright © 2007 by dr. kevin leman. Excerpted by permission.
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