Q: My husband works with a lot of women. I'm OK with this, but I don't like the fact that he texts them all the time, even in the evening. When I asked him about it, he said that I was being paranoid and that it is just part of his work. What do you think?
Juli: Most likely, your husband's texting is innocent and work-related. However, I think it is legitimate to be concerned for a few reasons.
First of all, most affairs begin with innocent communication between friends or co-workers. People don't set out to get entangled in an inappropriate relationship. They just evolve into that over time as sharing becomes more comfortable. For that reason, it is wise to keep clear boundaries and accountability with opposite-gender co-workers.
Secondly, texting is a very private and impulsive form of communication. It is much easier to text something that crosses a line than to make that same comment in front of other people at work. Texting histories are easily erased, eliminating the accountability of email, for example.
Ask your husband if he would be willing to communicate with co-workers only during work hours or through email, simply as a safeguard for your marriage. He is likely to hear these concerns as an accusation that you don't trust him. It is important for him to know that you are not accusing him of anything, but just guarding your marriage against even the possibility of a temptation in the future.
Q: My stepdaughter resists my attempts at friendship, to the point that she sometimes screams, "You're not my dad!" I know having a blended family is tough, but I really want to make it work. What can I do?
Jim: You're absolutely right -- having a blended family can be incredibly hard because of the unique challenges they face. It's difficult to comment without knowing specifics, but there are many reasons a child might react strongly to a new parent.
Focus on the Family's counseling team, which deals with this issue frequently, suggests that the problem might be rooted in unspoken signals emanating from your relationship with your new spouse. If the biological parent fails to give the stepparent an explicit endorsement of authority, the child may feel that she has no reason to recognize the stepparent as a full-fledged guardian with all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood. If that's the case in your situation, your wife needs to take the initiative by setting the ground rules for your stepdaughter and affirming your authority.
On the other hand, it's easy for an enthusiastic stepdad to come on too strong in expressing his excitement about the new family. This can be confusing -- even threatening -- to a child. When that happens, the stepparent needs to step back and let the relationship develop at the child's pace. In other words, find ways to operate at your stepdaughter's comfort level. When you sense bitterness or resentment, don't force the issue. Just make it clear that you're ready to listen when she decides to express her emotions in a respectful manner. If the hurtful words persist, it may be time to seek help from an objective third party. Contact Focus on the Family for a referral to a licensed counselor in your area.
Being a stepparent takes patience, determination and lots of love. If you're persistent, your efforts will eventually bear fruit. For more help in this area, we recommend that you seek out Ron Deal's excellent book "The Smart Stepfamily" (Bethany House Publishers, 2002). It contains a wealth of practical advice for parents in your situation.
(Submit your questions to: ask@FocusOnTheFamily.com)