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My husband and my son fight dreadfully. How can I help?

David Coleman answers your parenting questions

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The daily arguing and shouting is tearing this family apart. Stock picture

The daily arguing and shouting is tearing this family apart. Stock picture

The daily arguing and shouting is tearing this family apart. Stock picture

Q I have a 14-year-old son from a previous relationship. I have been with my now husband for nearly 10 years. Their relationship has never been great, but it is unbearable lately. I work long hours so my husband does school collections and dinners most evenings, but he and my son are always arguing. A simple disagreement turns into a screaming match and my son gets so upset he says he doesn't want to live anymore. I think my husband feels he has to pick my son up on every small thing. I don't know what to do. I hate seeing my son so upset and I just can't stand the roaring from my husband.

A From your description, it does sound like the relationship between your son and your husband is at breaking point. For your son to say that the arguing leaves him feeling like he would be better off dead, it is very serious. Something needs to happen to shift their dynamic, and it needs to happen quickly.

I wonder how your husband feels about his role as a stepdad. It sounds like it may never have been a role he relished, and he may now resent the fact that he bears the main responsibility for caring for your son on a day-to-day basis, given your work hours.

I also wonder about your son. His feelings are likely changing, due to puberty, adolescence and his growing sense of independence. Conflict with parents is a natural part of adolescence, but it may be intensified for your son if he feels that his stepdad doesn't even properly have the authority to tell him what to do. He may also be intensely aware that his step-dad may not fully accept him.

These are the kinds of complex issues that may underlie the "simple" disagreements that would otherwise be easily resolved. In fact, simple frustrations are probably just a trigger for the release of pent up negative or angry feelings that may have been festering for years.

You are very much caught in the middle and so it may not be possible for you to be the person that helps them to resolve whatever is between them. It seems to me that finding a psychologist, or an experienced family therapist, who can listen to them both and try to help them understand each other, may be your best course of action.

However, given your son's distress about the situation, I think you do need to act immediately to try to find that person, or find some way to give your son and his stepdad a break from the intensity of their relationship.

Perhaps you need to adjust your work, and your husband's work, to rebalance the direct caring of your son, even for a short period of time. That bit of breathing space might then facilitate some therapy to resolve things further.

Irish Independent