Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Step-children causing rift in marriage? Wife jealous over an old friend?

DEAR NATALIE: Over the past 10 years my husband's kids have only seen each other on two occasions. One time at his 75th birthday (for a long weekend) at our vacation home and this year for his 85th birthday. He has four kids so for his 75th birthday, each of the kids scheduled a night to treat the family at a restaurant. But this year one of his sons, Sean, didn't want to do this because he thought it was unfair that since he has less children than his siblings, he was paying more to host. Very petty stuff.

So, Sean caused a problem at the 85th birthday party that I paid for. After the party, he and his wife did not show up at our home for dessert. He explained that they have been mad at his brother Ryan for the past decade because he didn't pay enough attention to them at the 75th birthday party. Then he told me that they have also been mad at my husband (his father) and I for the past several years because of an air conditioning issue at our vacation home that they used a few years ago. When they got into the house, they called us to tell us that the A/C wasn't working. We asked if they called the A/C company on the island, they hadn’t, and we suggested that they make the call based on their availability. The outcome was that the fuse just had to be switched off/on—at no cost—--but they remained mad at us for not making the call. This was the source of their anger for several years. Go figure.

The reason that this caused a problem at the 85th birthday party was that Ryan had no idea, nor did we, that Sean and his wife were holding a grudge. As he was angrily discussing their grievances, I cut him off by saying that I did not understand his problem and was not going to discuss such silly issues with him and that it was a shame that they were causing problems at his dad's party. When we got back home, I wanted my husband to talk to Sean about this, but he wouldn't do it. I told him that he enables bad behavior when he chooses not to acknowledge it. He tip toes around his grown kids, afraid to ever say anything to them, and the problems never end. What should I do? -- FED UP STEPMOM

DEAR FED UP STEPMOM: Unfortunately, these patterns of behavior were sown many moons ago and I doubt the dynamic between your husband and his children are ever going to change at this point. In this situation, while it appears that your stepson is really childish, petty and frankly, a total brat, I would stay out of this mess. Whatever his resentment is towards your husband is between them, and it may be that there is a lot under the surface that hasn’t been healed over the years. While you may have to interact with them on some occasions, the best thing you can do it keep your emotional distance. At your husband’s age I don’t think a tiger can change their stripes, and while you may be annoyed with their dynamic, he seems resigned to it. I know you care and love for him and it must hurt to see his son mistreat him in this way, but getting in the middle of it will only stir up more problems and most likely cause tension between you and your husband as well as his kids. You may just have to suck it up and accept that this is what it is. The good part is, it doesn’t seem like they come around a lot, anyway. (Yikes, that’s sad when that’s the “good” part).



DEAR NATALIE: My wife and I have been married for almost ten years, and we have a pretty good relationship. But recently, one of my old friends, a woman I used to know several years before I got married, got in touch with me via Facebook. She is moving back to the city we live in and wants to get together for drinks to catch up. I told my wife and she was livid. She claimed that this woman just wants to get with me and is insisting that I delete her contact information and de-friend her on Facebook. I think this is ridiculous. I have no intention of cheating on my wife, but I would like to catch up with this person. What do you suggest I do? -- UNEXPECTED ISSUES

DEAR UNEXPECTED ISSUES: If you don’t want issues, don’t make issues. If your wife is this upset over the idea of you catching up with an “old friend”—and I’m putting that in quotes because I have a hard time believing your wife is this livid over a “friend”—why would you rock the boat? Would you like it if she started going out with some of her “old friends” for drinks? Drinks are sexy. Putting yourself in a situation with this woman and alcohol sounds like a bad idea. While I’m sure your intentions are above board—because, why wouldn’t they be?—the fact that you are questioning whether or not to do this knowing how hurt your wife is confuses me. At the end of the day, your marriage should come first. If you can’t walk away from potential trouble, what makes you think putting yourself in a situation will make things any easier? End this now before it gets blown out of proportion and things go from “pretty good” to a “pretty big mess.”



Natalie’s Networking Tip of the Week: Seek out a mentor in your industry to help guide you to the next phase of your career. Use your network to leverage those contacts that could be helpful to you and take every opportunity presented to create a bond with someone who is where you want



(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)