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Are You Dooming Your Remarriage to Divorce?

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Exclusive Interview with “Father Oprah” Who Offers Some Valuable Advice for Remarrieds

Father Albert Cutié – often referred to as “Father Oprah” – is launching his new daily talk show premiering 7/11 on FOX television stations, called FATHER ALBERT. He’ll be focusing on one topic per episode and discussing it with real-life guests who are experiencing conflicts and dilemmas in their relationships.  Whether it’s between husband and wife, parent and child, or stepparent and stepchild, or one of the moral, emotional and ethical dilemmas we all face at one time or another – Father Albert offers solid, sensible advice.  

Father Albert took time to talk with RemarriageWorks.com publisher Paula Bisacre to share his views on remarriages and stepfamilies. Read on to learn what he shared in their interview. 

Q: Tell me about your step-family composition: how old are the children?

A: My wife and I got married two years ago, and she had a 14-year old son from her first marriage. They divorced when he was about 6 month’s old. She was a single mother for many, many years. So I knew that once we got married, having a teenager would be part of that package. We now have a 7-month old, our first daughter from our own marriage. The way I see it, we have two children: I only say ‘stepson’ when I have to clarify his relationship to me because I’m not his biological father, but I always describe him as my son. And I think when he talks about me, he always says I’m his dad, so that’s the type of relationship we have.

Q: What do you think are the biggest challenges for stepfamilies today, both professionally speaking as you provide counsel and advice, and also personally speaking?

A: I think people need to know that when you enter a marriage and you are going to give your entire life to someone else, when there are children involved, those children also have to be part of the commitment you are making. You have to realize that if you marry someone that obviously loves their children and wants the best for their children, you have to want and desire the same thing. So those children really do become yours in some way, regardless of how involved or how uninvolved the biological parents may be.

You have to take on the role – especially when the child is living with you – of parent for that child, also. Biological children and stepchildren need good parenting, so when you enter a marriage, that’s an important part of that relationship. If it’s important to your spouse, it’s got to be important to you. It doesn’t just apply to children, it applies to everything, but I think children are a big part of that.

Q: Sometimes there can be conflict, where children or stepchildren feel caught in the middle between their biological parents – especially when there’s one or two stepparents involved. What are some guidelines that you recommend to a new stepparent?

A: Well, there has to be a lot of respect and I think the burden should never be placed on the children. I think the adults in the relationship need to act like adults. So if there are rules in the home, whether or not you agree with those rules, you have to respect the fact that if your child is living under someone else’s roof, that those rules should be honored and respected. And I think the best way to go about life is to dedicate yourself to be respectful to others and to be respectful of your ex-spouse’s decisions. You know, she married someone who is or is not of your liking – that’s totally her business, not yours.

And that’s where I think people need to be more sensitive to the fact that the rules in the home, the way things are done – even some of the cultural things – you have to be very respectful of the other person because your children will pick up on all the negative vibe. Your children will pick up on all of the ping-pong – I call it the ping-pong effect, where kids are being bounced back and forth from one place to the other, they spend weekends with you, they spend the rest of the time with her and back and forth… I think kids know what’s going on and they can even become manipulative if you allow them to see there’s this kind of tension and rift between the parents and stepparents.

Q: In my experience as publisher of RemarriageWorks.com, often people believe there are stigmas attached to stepfamilies. For example, Disney’s evil stepmother, or in media, stepparents portrayed in a negative way. Do you agree?

A: I think those are stereotypes. I think we’re very prone to use stereotypes in our society, like the whole thing about your in-laws, you know, your mother-in-law just must be a pain. That’s not true. I think my wife loves her mother-in-law, and I love my mother-in-law, so I think that we don’t have to fall into the stereotypes.

You need to see and accept people as they are. Not everybody can satisfy your way of understanding life or seeing life. I think that’s very important. That’s another aspect of respect when you are able to accept people as they are, especially your in-laws, those involved in a stepfamily situation. You’re being more realistic and going to have a happier life if you accept people as they are.

Q: The divorce rate for first marriages is about 50%, and second marriages depending on what study you read, can be 60-70%, and each subsequent marriage, it goes up another 10%. Why do you think the divorce rate for remarriages is so high?

A: I think people come from a situation of frustration once their first marriages failed and maybe they idealize way too much the next relationship: “This relationship is going to somehow fix what was wrong with the first one,” and that’s just totally unrealistic.

The fact is if you had serious issues in your first relationship, you’re bound to have serious issues in your second and third relationship because a lot of the issues we have in marriage have nothing to do with your spouse – they have to do with unresolved issues from your past, in yourself. I’ve seen this from counseling couples for such a long time: people think they’re going to magically improve their life by this second or third marriage and it’s just going to get all better for them and most of the time, it does not. It ultimately just gets more complicated.

People don’t go to therapy, people don’t attend to what’s important; people wait for the train crash to attend to problems. I can tell you as a clergyman I see people come looking for their pastor, their priest, their rabbi usually when it’s – I don’t want to say it’s ever too late – but usually when there’s already been some serious offending and some serious dysfunction going on for a long time. People don’t want to accept the fact that they need help. And that’s why I believe second and third marriages have higher divorce rates because people just think, well, it was that person, something was wrong with them, and very few people are willing to admit “something is wrong with me” and “I need to fix what’s wrong with me and I need to look at my own problems, many of them even stem from childhood and I need to look at them closely and attend to those things before I keep looking for someone else being at fault.”

My wife and I conduct a marriage course, and we found people are often shocked and surprised by the very elementary things that we talk about in that course. I think the reason for that is people don’t invest a whole lot of time in marriage prep. As a matter of fact, any time that the church requires people to take the course, you almost always see people roll their eyes and say “Oh wow, this is so much.” But you know, you go to school for four years or more to get a degree and that’s to prepare for a career. How much more important is this fundamental relationship in your life that we call marriage, and how much more important should it be, and why is it we don’t attend to that with the same concern and the same energy that we do to our professional matters?

It’s almost like, career and work –if there is some material value to it we think, oh well, that’s more important. But you know, your relationship – it’s probably even more important that you invest time and your energy toward making that as healthy as possible because we have learned from research that what makes you most fulfilled in life is not your job, it’s your relationships. So if you’re working to have a good marriage and a good relationship and a good family environment, you’re going to be much happier, so invest your energy and your time on that.

Q: What do you think the best way is to inform people and say, “Hey listen, before there’s a problem is when you seek assistance and guidance and education”? How do you see the future? Is it going to take generations?

A: I’ll tell you what it’s going to be, what’s going to happen. I believe that as therapy becomes more commonplace and as people begin to shift from what our grandparents thought a psychologist was, what young people today know it is, I think there’s a much more open attitude toward counseling now.

When I first became a priest 16 years ago, if I sent one of my couples to therapy, I’d always get at least one with a real backward attitude of “Oh, I’m not crazy, I don’t need a therapist.” I don’t hear that stuff anymore. I think it’s already known pretty much in our society today that at some point in our lives we’re going to need some type of counseling whether it’s marriage counseling, grief counseling, or recovering from a traumatic experience. I think people are much more open today to going to get help from a mental health professional in times of crisis.

I found that when I was first ordained a priest I still had a lot of people with some of those taboos toward therapy and getting the type of help they needed. I don’t find that much anymore. For people who are in a situation of remarriage that are getting into problems or feel that they’re miserable or their marriage is not going right, I feel that they need to wake up and say “Okay, what do I want for my life? Do I want to continue going from one relationship to another wondering when I’m going to be happy?” Like someone said to me, “I was happy by my seventh marriage.” I think it’s unrealistic for people to think they have to get married seven times to reach happiness. I think people need to seek happiness where they are right now and ask themselves the question, “Why am I not happy? What is it that is making me unhappy? What are the real underlying issues here? What is the big white elephant in the middle of the room that no one wants to look at”?

Q: Many of our readers of RemarriageWorks.com are women; many of our followers in our social media happen to be women, and when you look at what the resources are available today for stepdads in particular, there are very few. How many of your followers, and what portion of your audience, is men, and what specific tips do you recommend for men, for stepdads?

A: That’s interesting. I would say to you most women are more communicative than men are: they’re more open about their problems, they talk to their friends about them. Men have a tendency to shut themselves down or close themselves in on themselves – they don’t want to really ‘spill the beans’ about what’s going on in their lives, they don’t want anyone to perceive any type of insecurity in their lives. So men have a tendency – maybe it’s a masculine thing, maybe it’s the way that we are – we have a tendency to just be more private about ourselves and our lives.

I think it has a lot to do with social settings, with what women do when they get together with other women, what do we talk about… men maybe have a tendency to be more business-focused and not so focused on the aspects of chitchatting with other people in their situation. How many dads talk to other dads about being a dad? You don’t get a lot of that, but you do have a lot of moms that talk with other moms about being moms.

My audience, yes it’s female, and the one’s who want to talk about issues are usually female. I always get the impression that if you get a man who really opens up and talks without any fear, he’s pretty unique because most males are just not that ready to talk about their problems. Same thing happens professionally. When people come for counseling with a priest or rabbi or minister or a therapist, when you talk to them they’ll tell you most of the time the woman really had to do a lot of begging and arm-twisting to get him there. A lot of men will tell you, “I don’t want to talk about my issues with any other man and I don’t want to talk about my issues outside of my home. Dirty laundry stays at home.” That, unfortunately, is a very masculine defensive approach to dealing with issues.

Q: Is it your vision that this attitude will shift as well?

A: I think it’s already shifting from my dad’s generation to the present generation, and I hope it continues shifting. I think a lot of it has to do with values we inherited from parents and grandparents, how you deal with problems. You know, now we’ve got the internet, now there are so many different ways to communicate I think a lot of young people are like, well you know, isn’t it full disclosure? Don’t we talk about everything and send each other pictures? I think there’s a lot more communication taking place in society in general. A lot more openness about issues and problems.

Q: The premiere of your show is coming up. Please tell the RemarriageWorks audience what kind of topics you’ll be touching on, and specifically, if there are any dealing with remarriages and stepfamily situations.

A: I think the remarriage audience will find this show particularly interesting because it’s all about relationships: how we deal with family issues; how you deal with a rebellious teenager, whether he is your biological child or your stepchild; how mothers deal with their daughters; how these issues come up with children who want to do their own thing and how the parent doesn’t know what to do anymore when a kid is out of control, how we deal with that.

Every human relationship is an important part of the show, but specifically I would say family issues and definitely issues between stepparents and stepchildren are a big part of the show, because it really has to do with human dilemmas. I think this is a very common human dilemma today, the fact that people do remarry and want to start their lives again and build stronger families, and so these are all the issues that’ll come up in my show every day.

For more information, go to Father Albert’s Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/fatheralbert



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