Disrespectful stepson ruining my marriage

Dear Counsellor,

I have been married four years. Both of us entered the marriage with one child. His son is very disrespectful. My husband allows him to do anything and tells me I have to accept it. Right now his son and I haven't spoken in two months. He says he is not forcing his son to talk to me and that I must respect his son. The child heard this. I am 47 and the child is 16. My son, on the other hand, is not disrespectful. He will grumble or talk back, but I correct him and tell him it is not right. My stepson does things that he knows will cause his father and I to go at it.

I love this boy, but as I told his father, his manners and attitude stink. When I got into this marriage, my aim was to build a family. I brought up that little boy's average from the 30s to the 70s and helped him pass his exams. He disrespected me, so I did not go to his graduation. When his hand got broken, I was the one who ran up and down with him. If I am buying things for my son, I buy the equal amount for him.

Anything he tells his father, he believes. My husband says I pick on his son more than mine. He never tells him he is wrong and always tries to make me look bad in front of the boys. My stepson did not know his mom, she died when he was two and he was raised by his grandparents. He was spoiled.

My husband is saying I am too stern. But I am frustrated. I think my stepson is seeking his father's attention and tries to do things to get it, which, in turn, hurts me in the process.

Every fuss between my husband and myself is because of my stepson. I asked him to let us go to counselling and he said he does not want people in his business.

I told his family members all that I am going through, and because they asked him about it, he got upset. Everything is falling apart. Now he is telling me to go back to my mom because the first time we had issues I went to my mom and stayed for two weeks. So every time there is a fuss he says that.

He says he is done and he and his son are alright and he will take care of his son and I should take care of mine. He doesn't eat when I cook, so I stopped. We are sleeping head and tail.

Yours is a difficult situation, but it doesn't have to be a lost cause. Yes, it will take some work to sort through to salvage something, but it's not impossible. I must commend you for your diligence in raising your stepson and doing all that you have done for him, while still being there for your own son. It is evident that you love your husband and both your boys very much. It is also evident that you want your marriage to work and you have not given up on your family. That, too, is commendable.

Challenges with family life are typical, and teens generally can be a handful to manage. The first thing that is needed in order to find a solution to the situation will be a determination to try to make it work by at least one person. Thanks be to God, you apparently have such a determination.

The situation you are facing is a typical challenge in a family arrangement like yours. When two people get married, having their own children separately, there is the risk of siding. It's the relationship dynamic you've chosen. Marrying a man with a child and also having your own takes some work to ensure harmony in the home.

My advice:

Don't blame yourself: The situation apparently isn't your fault or a misdeed on your part. It seems your husband and you may have different parenting styles. Whatever happens, I'm confident your stepson will remember who helped him get ahead when he's matured and settled down. You've done the heavy lifting to keep your family progressing in a healthy way. Take comfort, you've done well.

Be patient: Though it can be tough, I encourage you to remain respectful to your husband and stepson. They're seemingly caught in a bit of "emotional confusion". Stay focused as you search for the answer to this present challenge. And remember, the boys will both be adults in a flash and then it will be just your husband and yourself for the first time. If you love your husband, hang in there as best as you can.

Call a family meeting: See if you can get all four of you to have a pow-wow. Try to plan some away time together and have a meeting, just the four of you. Ask your husband to support you on this. Tell him the situation warrants a little family trip. At the meeting, share from your heart and let the boys know what the family is facing. Ask everyone for their input and suggestions. Try to call the meeting after doing something fun together.

Be prepared: You should remain prepared for the worst, even though you should hope for and work towards the best. Have a plan of action in case you do not get cooperation from your husband on your efforts. You could make plans for your son and yourself to sit with a counsellor in the event the family separates.

I pray that both your husband and yourself will have the wisdom and strength to manage this situation and that your home will have the peace and happiness you all deserve.

Get on The Counsellor's Couch with Rev Christopher Brodber who is a counsellor and minister of religion. E-mail questions to allwoman@jamaicaobserver.com.

Christopher Brodber

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