Q: I am a single mom with two kids, 6 and 9, and my fiancé is a single dad with two kids, 6 and 11. We both had failed marriages but have come to the Lord since then. With a renewed and strong faith, we are now considering marriage. We could use some advice on parenting and forming a strong and lasting life together. We are both Christians and do a Bible study together and pray together all the time.

A: Perhaps your biggest challenge will be how to relate to each other's children. The basic rule of harmony
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is not to take an authoritative role toward your partner's child unless your partner asks you to back him or her up, in which case you should agree immediately with what he or she has just said or done. If you think a serious mistake has been made, bring this up in private, not in front of the child.

As to how to form a strong and lasting life together, your most powerful tools are awareness and acceptance. You are now aware of the goodness in each other's hearts. And what you are seeing in each other is real; it is there. Write down what you see now so that when you are tempted to forget, you can take the list out and remember what God sees in each of you. The other and perhaps less obvious tool is acceptance. You must learn not only to see each other clearly but to accept each other exactly as you are. The key to a great love relationship is not that the two people are superior individuals with special attributes and talents. The key is that they are at peace with what they see. To come to this point takes great patience and much practice. So remind yourself often that God loves your partner, and God doesn't make mistakes.

In addition, it is essential to have a way of resolving conflicts. The technique you use doesn't matter as much as your willingness to approach solving problems in a manner that will strengthen your relationship. Here is a summary of the steps we recommend.

  • Never talk about an issue that divides you--even a small one--while you are distracted or doing something else. Sit down and give your friendship the attention and respect it deserves.

  • Take up one small part of a complex issue and work on resolving this area only.

  • Take turns stating your position without criticizing each other and without bringing up past mistakes.

  • Restate your separate positions on the issue, but this time only in terms of your fears. Behind every stand we take against our partner is a fear, and our fears often reflect our past and are projected onto our partners.

  • Close your eyes and ask God to help you remember why you are in this relationship. This is difficult if you are angry, but it is essential if you want the resolution of this issue to result in a strengthened bond between you.

  • Think of three things you are willing to do to help resolve this issue. The bond between you is like a house you're building together, and these gifts are the bricks that add to its strength and beauty. In the past, you might have thought of these as compromises or concessions. Now you see that they bless you by blessing the relationship of which you are part.

    If you use this or some other agreed-upon technique for resolving issues, if you're tolerant of each other's children, and if you consistently practice acceptance and forgiveness, you will begin to build an unshakable bond that will bless you and your children and will represent the love God has for both of you.

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