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by Abigail Van Buren

Wife's Past Affects the Way Husband Now Treats Her Son

DEAR ABBY: I have been married to my second husband, "Jack," for six years. We have two children. One is my son "Tommy" by a previous relationship. The other is our 3-year-old daughter, "Elizabeth." (Tommy's birth father has never been a part of his life.)

The problem is, Jack treats Tommy differently from the way he treats Elizabeth. He chastises Tommy when the TV is too loud, when he slams the door (I don't often consider it a slam), and rarely wants to spend any money on Tommy for haircuts, shoes, clothes, etc. If Elizabeth does any of the above, he doesn't "hear" it. If I buy something for our daughter, he seems content with it. He rarely has conversations with Tommy unless he's correcting him. A neighbor even noticed this and mentioned it to me.

If I try to discuss the situation, Jack becomes defensive and denies it, and the conversation ends. One day we did clear the air, and he said that Tommy is a constant reminder of my past relationship. Abby, Jack is the only father my son has ever known, and Tommy loves him. I don't want Tommy treated differently because of my life history -- he has done nothing wrong.

What's ironic is that Jack used to criticize one of his relatives because she treated her stepson differently from her own. I see the early stages of this in my husband. -- HEARTBROKEN IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR HEARTBROKEN: Since your husband has finally admitted that there's a problem, now is the time to take the initiative. Tell him that his behavior is extremely unfair and that you can no longer tolerate it because it's psychologically damaging to your son. Ask your physician for a referral to a family counselor who can straighten out your husband's thinking and help Tommy rebuild his self-esteem. If your husband refuses to cooperate, go to the counselor yourself, and take your son.