Thriving in a Blended Family

By Bernie Dunning, retired Marriage and Family Therapist

Bernie Dunning

At one time in our history a family was defined and assumed to be mother, father and children. There were some exceptions. There were rich people who had nannies to take care of the children and became part of the family. During the First and Second World Wars, as a result of the death of fathers killed in action, mothers took full responsibility for the family. Sometimes there were sisters who took responsibility, and at times there was the mother and live-in friends. However, society still thinks about a family as being father, mother, and children.

There is one other factor which needs to be acknowledged, and that is the inclusion of the family of origin. These members of the family unit have an influence in the nuclear family we are discussing. I cannot talk about all the issues surrounding the family of origin since this would take up too much space. For the purpose of this article we will discuss primarily what is called the nuclear family.

As we move into the 20th and especially the 21st century families have become very diverse. The reasons seem to be three-fold: couples divorcing and remarrying, homosexual couples adopting and some having children with a surrogate, and since people are living longer siblings are experiencing one parent dying and the other remarrying. There are   many single women bringing up families as a result of being financially independent, and not wishing to marry. It seems that our image of what is a family is becoming obsolete. However, I feel that the basic issues of family life are the same as they were from the beginning of time: that is creating an environment which allows each person to fulfill their humanity and their full potential. In this article I will focus on families that have multiple parents all trying to parent and help each other with family life issues. In my opinion the challenges today in bringing up a family require people to be more mature today than in the past.

The first challenge is to help children whose parents are divorcing to understand the basic reasons for the divorce. This is important because children are quite ready to blame themselves for the divorce. There needs to be a family meeting with both parents present to make sure the children do not take any responsibility for the divorce. Children may try to prevent the divorce, so parents need to be specific (without going into too much detail) and firm about their decision. This will help the children with their process of accepting reality. Children, especially young children want to know if their life going to change in any way. They want to know things like, will I still be able to have my friends? Will I still be going to my school, and will I still have my own room? You get the idea. For children life is concrete. The big question (usually without asking) is always and always will be “am I loved”? There should be as many meetings as possible, since there may be more questions in the second meeting.

The next issue for the children is who is going to take care of me? Do I get a say in where and with whom I will live? It may be because of lack of resources and limitations that everyone will not get entirely what they want. These issues need to be worked through. After all you may be asking the children to eventually deal with two sets of parents, and possibly have to relate to siblings they inherit. They may have to live in two homes at designated times. This will require both sets of parents to iron out basic parenting issues. Thus, frequent meetings are needed in order to sort through issues about parenting which will arise.

Some behaviours need to be avoided: first, not dealing with issues by sending messages with your child to the other parent (such as, “you will get the money owed to you next week”). Second, try not to get into the middle of issues between parent and child. If you start seeing your child as being persecuted by the other parent, do not get in the middle and be the rescuer of the situation. Stay out of the middle and try to let the two involved solve the issue. The solution they come up with may not be to your liking, but it will be their solution. If you try to rescue the situation, you will become the persecuted person in the triangle. The only time you need to rescue your child is if he/she is being abused or their life is being threatened. Third, try to be as specific as possible if the partner (who is not the biological parent) will have authority and if so, what authority will that be. An example would be, can he/she give out consequences for poor behaviour on the part of the child. Fourth, every adult needs to back up what consequences a parent gives out. Again, if there are issues, the adults need to get together to work through those issues. Fifth, the adult who is coming into the family as a stranger must refrain from trying to bribe the children to gain their love and admiration, and /or compete with the natural parent. This is important, because the child may play one against the other to get what they want. This scenario will lead to poor behaviour on the part of the child. Sixth, if you have feelings of rescuing the natural parent who is having a difficult time with his/her children, resolve those feelings, or do not get involved with this family. You will fail and do more damage than good if you do not resolve your feelings of rescuing.

Remember, all the adults are parents of the children. Even the person who is new to the children, and might not want to be involved as a parent, is being a parent by simply being there. It is impossible to not be a parent. He/she is living there and interacting with their spouse, and responding to life situations. Modeling is always occurring because children are always listening and observing.  The adults of families are always giving messages to their children about life by just being. Therefore the adults in the family need to realize that parenting is an ongoing process. It never ends until children become adults.

Adults need to be open to each other and realize that their children want them to be happy and succeed in life, and to be there for them. They do not want perfect parents, and realize this is impossible. It is parents who have problems with the realization that they are not perfect.

Families are evolving. Regardless of how many parents are involved in raising children their task is to provide an environment that encourages those children’s potential and full expression of humanity.

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2017 AGM

Island Integrated Counselling’s Annual General Meeting

Don’t miss a free evening of refreshments, live entertainment, and an engaging speaker!

Wednesday June 28, 6 p.m. at the Kin Hut at Departure Bay (2730 Departure Bay Rd); enter from the water-side

Live music

Spirit of the North

Spirit of the North (Willie Thrasher and Linda Saddleback) perform both popular cover songs and their own Aboriginal-inspired material. Willie is Inuit and Linda is Metis.

Also performing will be Anita Rinfret. She is a rising star in the amateur music scene in Nanaimo, possessing nearly a perfect pitch and a spirited delivery.  She sings in the folk genre; songs like “Black Velvet Band”, “Streets of London”, etc.


Ian Gartshore

Speaker: Agency founder and public speaker Ian Gartshore

“Putting the Pizzazz Back into Your Relationship!”

Doors open at 6 p.m. for finger food/refreshments/social, music, a brief AGM (principally on our progress in one year and the election of the Board), Ian’s talk and more live music/refreshments.

Free childminding!

Feel free to bring a friend!

Ian Gartshore has been a relationship specialist for more than 20 years. He is a warm and insightful man and a valued speaker.

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The post-Christmas Blues

Christmas’ is supposed to be a great time of the year. For many, especially afterwards, it is anything but.

In this Shaw TV interview our co-Executive Director, Ian Gartshore, is asked about this and what people can do about it.

Plus other interesting things.

Click here to watch it on You Tube.

Posted in Eating Disorders, Family, News, Therapy & Counselling, Women's Anger | Leave a comment

When Men are Abused

Other very insightful articles on this website outline how women can become abused by men. This is (by far) not the only time partners are abused! Men are also abused by women, and gay couples can abuse each other.


When the abuse is between a man and a woman it is more often true that the man is abused verbally and/or emotionally than physically due to the usual difference in physical size and strength. But because women are far more likely to report physical assault than are men, and police (sadly) often believe women more often than men when they have been called to a situation of assault, men are usually afraid to physically respond when they have been assaulted by a woman. She may “only” slap him across the face or kick him (or worse) but these actions are also considered to be assaults.

Consequently men can find themselves in a situation in which they are a) being physically assaulted and b) dare not respond even to protect themselves and c) may not be believed or taken seriously when they report the incident to the police. What is he to do?

Regardless of whether the man is being physically or emotionally abused he needs to first firmly inform his partner that this conduct is unacceptable, to not accept any responsibility for her abuse of power, and to act on his belief that he deserves to be treated better than that. This usually means leaving the situation and letting his partner know that the conversation will not continue until such time as she can be respectful toward him. If he has been physically injured, regardless of whether he is believed, he needs to report this to the police. This may be a key step to helping her to finally get help, even if she is never charged.

In order to be strong enough to act with self-respect he will need to believe that he does, indeed, deserve better. Anyone who is abused has usually endured a history of such, so often lacks this self-respect or self-esteem. Professional help is often needed if friends or family are unable to reach him.

The best way to address a man who is being abused in any form is to let him know of your concern, that you love him and that you believe he deserves better. If he responds well to this then you may be in a place to listen to him say what he is experiencing, being careful not to try to counter his sense of shame but to appreciate that he is willing to risk this with you. Then he may be open to doing something about his situation.

Regardless of the gender, abuse is degrading and undeserving. Anger is usually fear-based (e.g. a fear of the mate leaving the relationship).

Help is available. Our agency runs a group specifically for women who struggle with anger. Our caring, informed staff are available to help anyone do better. Just contact us.

Life can be much better.

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Violence Between Intimates



There are many forms of violence one can talk about. There is violence toward children on the part of adults, which includes sexual abuse. There is also violence toward women and men in the work place.

Here I would like to focus on violence toward women in intimate relationships. This would include adults dating or married or living in common law. This would also include heterosexual and gay and lesbian relationships. This article will not include women who are involved in prostitution and, as a result, are abused.

There was an article on the CBC news web page about family violence. The article reported that every 4 days a woman is killed by a family member. Here is the reference for the article, well worth reading ( A book I highly recommend is called “The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence” by Gavin de Becker. His main thesis is that, just like animals, we are programmed to be fearful and take Fearfulmeasures to protect ourselves when we are in situations which may contribute to our harm. However, he says that because of our socialization we tend to over-ride these feelings, and tell ourselves we are being foolish and this cannot be. He says women especially tend to be socialized to nurture and take care of the other. As a result some women do not pay attention to their feelings of being at risk, and over-ride their feelings –at their peril. It seems to me that as a society, which includes the courts, there is some of this going on. In our minds we tend to minimize or even disregard statements made by women about fears of abuse or being abused depending on how sensitive we are to the plight of women regarding intimate situations. Even our language re-enforces control over the other in intimate relationships. Men and women talk about MY WOMAN, and women talk in terms of MY MAN. We even introduce ourselves by our position in life, not by who we are. We are introduced as “this is my wife” or “this is my husband”, and our name comes second. I contend that language is important because it speaks to our interior life of how we feel and see ourselves vis-a-vie the world.

There is a progression with regard to women being abused in relationships. The progression happens gradually. Usually the male sees himself as taking care of his partner, and is so insecure he is on the lookout for any act of his partner which seems like he is losing her. In his mind, dominating her becomes the safe way of keeping her, and he can take this attitude all the way to thinking, “if I cannot have her, no one can”. He does not see his actions as control but as caring for his loved one. However the more he cares (controls) for her the more she wants to distance herself from him (to be her own person).

In the beginning of the relationship this behaviour on his part is seen as loving and caring. He is always THERE, and being ATTENTIVE. The only request he denies her is when he decides she is not being logical and reasonable. He disagrees with her not because he sees the situation differently, but because she is being “stupid” or not “logical”. I think this is why others seem to down-play the woman’s complaints, because he is such a nice guy, and he speaks so flattering of her and is so caring.

Here are the steps a woman must be attentive to:

First there is the message received in the relationship that the woman’s thoughts and feelings are not valid, or “faulty”. The male partner becomes the authority on what are the correct feelings and thoughts to have about any given situation or experience. In my opinion this usually progresses gradually.

Second: Along with monitoring her thoughts and feelings he next becomes the “decider” on what is appropriate to wear, and when the house is messy. Along with being unreasonable, and illogical most of the time, the partner finds herself now being “provocative”, or “slutty” if she wears certain clothes. She is also now not a good house keeper.  Control starts to creep into every part of her life.

Third: He always wants to move to isolated areas. This has a lot to do with controlling who she socializes with. He feels more secure when she has very few friends, as they may have, from his point of view, terrible ideas. Isolated, he has more of a chance to monitor and control her friends. At this stage of the relationship, when they socialize he becomes critical of her spending too much time with some males. He perceives her as always flirting, or being with friends who have the WRONG ideas. At this point she may start to stand up for herself out of her perception that she is being unjustly accused. Her opposition and his attempt to control turns into fights where he may start to put her down even more forcefully through intimidation.

Fourth: When they are fighting, the fight turns from words to physical actions such as pushing her, and grabbing her forcefully. At this stage when one asks the women, “Is he violent toward you”, she responds by saying no, “He only pushed me.”

Fifth: The fights become more violent in that the words and the pushing become more intense. He now hits her. The violence becomes more intense because she is not responding to what he wants from her. His ego is being threatened. He fears he will lose her, evidenced because she is starting to rebel. He also fears his friends looking at him in a critical way, meaning, “Why can’t he control his woman”? This means he is seeing himself as a failure, a shame he cannot tolerate. So now he now  totally blames her for his misery.  All these factors increase the violence. After violent fights, he apologizes, and promises he will never hit her again. His behaviour is meant to keep her in the relationship, hoping she will be more compliant.

Sixth: Now he is becoming desperate. He starts to threaten suicide because he sees her as not loving him. Or he starts threatening to kill her, and the children, saying if he can’t have them no one will. Gavin de Becker feels that murder between intimates is the easiest act to predict, because the perpetrator always tells her he will do it. De Becker believes that most victims and most of society over-ride the threats because of socialization issues. We are conditioned to believe that a family man would not do such a deed, even thought statistics indicate differently. I personally think that the reason authorities have trouble believing the threats involves their perception of the perpetrator. Most perpetrators are Anti Social, and their pain is very real.  This makes them very convincing when they say they would not kill their spouse and/or their children. However, their pain is totally based in having low self esteem as well as seeing the other and society as totally responsible for their suffering.

I think that women who are in a situation where they are being threatened need to disappear from the area, and leave no trail of where they are going. Court orders will not work in these situations. His goal is to get rid of his psychological pain. Her goal needs to be safe.

These six stages are red flags to which women need to pay serious attention. Their decision to leave or stay, of course, needs to be their decision. I have encountered couples who have been in therapy, and the violence never happened again. However, even going to therapy needs to be looked at with some caution. It can be an opportunity for the perpetrator to blame the therapist, and seeing his spouse as aligning with the therapist against him.

It is also important to mention that some relationships stop at the  second stage, and never go any further. In the end the spouse and society need to work at taking these red flags seriously, and realize the attitude and behaviour of men controlling women, of seeing women as something to be used, is very deep and has a long history. I hope this article will be of some help in moving beyond this attitude and the risks it endears.

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Reduce Anxiety

Click here for the slides presented for a seminar given by Renee Bueckert October 20, 2016 on how to reduce anxiety.



Some take-aways:

  1. Anxiety doesn’t have to run (ruin!) one’s life.
  2. It can be alerting us about something that needs to be changed in our lives
  3. Breathing is a good thing!

Of course you may wish to involve one of our therapists in assisting you through these steps. Just know that there is hope!

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End Shame

Shame Creating Havoc

Shame Creating Havoc

All of us suffer from shame at times, but it turns up as embarrassment, anger, anxiety, fear, distancing, arguing, convincing, pleading, addictions, eating disorders, suicidal wishes, and much more! Most relationship problems are rooted in shame (communication problems are merely the symptom).

What can you do about it? Lots! Risking sharing one’s shame to another (if appropriate) can help -especially if the other does not try to ‘make’ us feel better but simply appreciates the courage it takes in sharing it. Obviously a skilled therapist can also help.

You can read the resources from a shame seminar (shame-seminar) and/or go through an exercise booklet (dig-deep-activity-2-0). Both were created by Mary Moore of our agency.

Posted in Articles, Eating Disorders, Men's Anger, Therapy & Counselling, Women's Anger, Youth | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Thriving in a Blended Family

Bernie Dunning

Bernie Dunning

In this free one-hour seminar Bernie Dunning, a highly experienced Marriage and Family Therapist, will offer many practical tips on how to improve your (or others) efforts to blend families.

Date: Thursday October 27, 2016

Time: Arrive between 5 and 5:30 p.m. for dinner. Presentation begins at 6 and ends at 7:00

Location: The Tap House pub (the old train station, 321 Selby St., Nanaimo), upstairs

Cost of the seminar is free; participants are expected to purchase something from our hosts.

About the presenter: Bernie Dunning had nearly 30 years of experience working with families as a Licenced Marriage and Family Therapist. As you can tell by his picture Bernie is a warm, gentle man who has a lot of wisdom to share.

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Overcoming Anxiety

Renee Bueckert

Renee Bueckert

Are you tired of experiencing anxiety, or know of someone who suffers from it?

In this free one hour seminar Renée Bueckert will reveal practical steps to turn this ‘pest’ into a resource!

Date: Thursday October 20, 2016

Time: Arrive between 5 and 5:30 p.m. for dinner. Presentation begins at 6 and ends at 7:00

Location: The Tap House pub (the old train station, 321 Selby St., Nanaimo), upstairs

Cost of the seminar is free; participants are expected to purchase something from our hosts.

About the presenter: Renée is a Registered Rehabilitation Professional (RRP #5223) helping people achieve positive change in their lives. Currently working towards a Master’s degree in Clinical and Vocational Rehabilitation Counselling, Renée has successfully supported people with a variety of mental and physical health concerns such as chronic pain, brain injury, trauma, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.  She is passionate about her work and is committed to assisting people as they move through challenging parts of their life journey.

Don’t miss this helpful presentation!

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An ingredient to Improving Life Satisfaction

Mary Moore

Mary Moore

Ever wonder what the missing piece to enjoying a more rewarding and fulfilling life? Mary will reveal this during her free seminar that will begin at 6 p.m.

Mary is a school teacher and guidance counsellor in School District 69 who is completing her training to be a registered therapeutic counsellor.

Date: Thursday October 13, 2016

Time: Arrive between 5 and 5:30 p.m. for dinner. Presentation begins at 6 and ends at 7:00

Location: The Tap House pub (the old train station, 321 Selby St., Nanaimo), upstairs

Cost of the seminar is free; participants are expected to purchase something from our hosts.

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