Q: My husband and I have been married for five years. He has been a great father to my children from a previous marriage. Just within the last month, my 13-year-old has become disrespectful toward his stepdad, saying things like, "What are you going to do? You're not my dad!" What do we do?
Juli: The behavior you're describing is pretty common for a 13-year-old boy, whether or not he's in a blended family. In the early teen years, boys are prone to challenge authority as their bodies and brains develop. Often, this is done through boundary-pushing and disrespectful behavior. The added element of a stepdad may give your son even more gumption to question authority.
Don't fall for the "you're not my dad" trap. Your husband can calmly respond, "You're right that I'm not your biological dad. But I care about you and you live in my house, so I expect you to honor our rules." In addition to wanting his own way, your son may also be challenging your husband's love and commitment to him. Encourage him not to give up or step back because of your son's apparent rejection.
Recognize that your son is growing up. Are his siblings younger than him? Maybe you could give him choices and privileges that they don't have. Let him stay up later, decorate his room, buy his own clothes with an allowance and tackle more household responsibilities.
However, within this growing autonomy, make it clear that he needs to respect your rules and authority. Instead of getting into a power struggle, determine reasonable consequences for disrespectful or irresponsible behavior.
There are many excellent resources to guide you through the teen years, including "Boundaries With Teens" by John Townsend and "Preparing for Adolescence" by James Dobson.
Q: My wife and I have only been married for six months, and frankly, we feel like we just get on each other's nerves most of the time. I didn't think the "spark" would die so soon. What should we do?
Jim: What you're experiencing is not that unusual. Being a newlywed can be scary. No matter how strong the relationship, the lofty expectations you had before the wedding rarely match the reality after you say "I do."
My wife, Jean, and I had a rough time early in our marriage. I had come from a broken home with no healthy male role models, and Jean was dealing with depression. If not for counseling, prayer and friends, we might have withered on the vine.
You and your wife might consider meeting with a pastor or marriage counselor about your frustrations. Doing so is not an admission that there's something seriously wrong with your relationship. It's a sign of your commitment to one another and your desire to make your marriage the best it can be.
I'd also recommend that you find a pair of "marriage mentors." These are older couples with years of experience under their belts. They can offer wise counsel to young couples feeling uncertain and overwhelmed.
One note of caution: Even if you and your wife come from stable homes, don't seek out your parents as marriage mentors. Moms and dads don't always have the objectivity to offer unbiased advice. According to Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott, a marriage mentor is not a parent or a close friend. The Parrotts also note that marriage mentors are not "on call" for every crisis, they don't have perfect marriages themselves, and they aren't know-it-alls. Rather, they're friendly acquaintances who can model a healthy relationship and offer insights when needed.
With commitment, prayer, and the wise counsel of a couple who have stood where you stand today, there's no reason why you and your wife can't thrive during these early years of marriage. God bless you!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com
Copyright 2011 Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995
International Copyright Secured. All Rights reserved.