Mean to Her Son

Q: I already had a 4-year-old son when I married my husband 10 years ago, and later we had two children together. He is now a distant man who has not admitted he was wrong about anything since our first year of marriage. Over the years his relationship with my oldest son became more and more strained. The friction escalated to a point that, a few months ago, my son began living with my mother. I begged my husband to stop this foolishness. When my son came home for a visit, my husband denigrated him continuously. My son is an honor student and has not disrespected me. I don't think he is perfect, but over the years I have watched my husband attempt to break his spirit. A couple months ago, my son went to stay with his biological father who lives five hours away. Now I have so much anger toward my husband. I blame him for not having my son with me, and I doubt my abilities as a wife and mother. I don't know how I can get past this. I no longer have any desire for my husband, because of too much anger. Please offer any advice you can. -- Melinda, 37

Dr. Susan: If only your insensitive husband could magically change places with your son so he could understand what harm he is doing to an innocent child. He already knows what harm he is doing to you and to your marriage, but he can't seem to put two and two together and straighten up his act. I would strongly urge the two of you to attend a counseling session or two so he could be told, by someone other than you, that he's killing your love for him by his unnecessary cruelty to your child. I'm afraid your son is never going to forget how his stepdad treated him and drove him away. Sadly, he may blame you, too, for not being able to remedy the situation. Being in such a bind is agony, and I feel great sympathy for you.

In the animal kingdom, stepfathers have been known to eat the children born of their wives' prior mates. It's this unthinking competitiveness that could lie at the root of your husband's meanness. We don't eat our stepkids, but sometimes we subconsciously do what we can to drive them out of the nest. Before the next time your son visits (and I hope he does so as often as possible), have a serious talk with your husband about the ground rules. If he can't be civil and kind, then your husband should stay in his room or go to a friend's house and let you and your son have peaceful time together. A long-term solution may be harder to work out, but perhaps he can be made to see that his instinctive reaction to this kid is hurting everyone.

As for his refusal to admit he's ever wrong, I know what you mean. I know people like that. His stubbornness makes it very hard on you, but you can learn to get more of your needs met without his having to lose face. Stick to asking for what you need and want, without focusing on what he's done wrong in the past. Let him know that you very much want to feel loving toward him as you used to, and if the two of you could work out ways for him to get along with your son, it would mean the world to you. And although you can't get back the years with your son that have been messed up already, it's never too late to develop a really fine relationship with him that will continue for the rest of your life.

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