Understanding and working with Stepfamilies

Module Sections:

Interpersonal Needs: Family FIRO Model

Another vital assumption of the Family FIRO model suggests that the three interpersonal needs are to be prioritized. Specifically, inclusion issues must be resolved before control issues can be addressed. Likewise, control issues must be resolved before intimacy issues can be fully secured. The model suggests that intimacy is not mandatory for healthy stepfamily functioning, but is needed for individual development. For example, as long as the need for intimacy is being met for an individual by one other person, whether that person is a member of the stepfamily or not, it is thought that healthy stepfamily functioning is possible even if intimate sharing is not a part of every dyad within the stepfamily. A more specific example is illustrated when children have this individual intimacy need met by either a bioparent or a friend. They may or may not share intimacy with anyone else in the stepfamily, but some suggest that the nature of the bioparent connection with the child serves a crucial role in stepfamily transitioning (Arnaut, Fromme, Stoll, & Felker, 2000).

The three domains of inclusion, control, and intimacy are each present at any given time in any family. However, when a specific stressor occurs within the family a successful effort to address that issue must access the domains in the order described. For example, a common event in stepfamilies occurs when the stepparent immediately tries to declare the role of disciplinarian. Discipline is a control issue. Inclusion is experienced when the stepparent is defined by the stepchildren as an actual member of the family. If the inclusion needs have not been established between the members, discipline attempts will fail. Ongoing nurturance (inclusion domain) between the stepparent and stepchildren must be experienced before control will be tolerated.

In an effort to address the onoging development of the stepfamily, examination of another model can assist in identifying and prioritizing problems as they occur throughout the family life cycle and across multiple generations.

Audio Companion: Understanding Stepfamilies