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Dear Stavroula

Ask Stavroula: My Husband Has a Difficult Relationship with Our Son

December 5, 2021

Dear Stavroula,

I am married and have a 16 year old son. In the last three years, his relationship with his father has deteriorated. I know that it is normal, when a boy enters adolescence, to create tensions and conflicts, but in our case my husband is the one with the problem. Ever since our son entered adolescence, my husband’s behavior has changed. He speaks to him very often disparagingly, and he tries to impose himself with shouting and prohibitions with the result that our son also reacts strongly and we cannot calm down at home. My son started to isolate himself and avoids spending time with us. It is a real pity, because my husband is a good man and he strives to do the best for his family. On the other hand, our son is not a child who exaggerates or creates serious issues. I have a hard time with the fighting, because I feel that my husband is waiting for me to take his side with my son and to defend him. I am in the middle and I wonder what I have to do to calm them down. I tried to talk to my husband about a psychologist but he doesn’t even want to hear it. Is there anything else I could do to help the situation?

Mary

Dear Mary,

The way a man perceives the role of the father is influenced by many factors such as the relationship he has with the mother of their child, the situation in which he is currently in on a personal level, but mainly the relationship he had with his own father. A man who has not received tenderness and acceptance from his father is very likely to do the same with his son.

Things get more difficult when the son enters adolescence and the admiration he had as a child for his father begins to collapse, while peers now have the most important place in his life. The father, once an ‘idol’ and role model for his son, is now often treated as an example to be avoided. In fact, cases where the son strongly criticizes the father for his choices or behavior, even for the way he speaks or eats are not excluded.

Then it is very likely that the father will react just as strongly, which will make their relationship even worse, creating a vicious circle of conflicts and disputes.

Maybe something similar is happening in your own family. And indeed, communicating with a specialist, perhaps at the family level, would be of great benefit to the situation. On the one hand, it could help your spouse to understand what is necessary for the young man he is raising: the son needs to the father off his pedestal, to challenge him, to criticize him, so that he can then become a man. His son needs to find things that will make him proud of himself when compared to him. In other words, the teenage son needs to weaken the father’s power within him, in order to then find his own strength.

The father who understands how his teenage son feels, and does not interpret his behavior as ingratitude, audacity, or disrespect (when of course he does not face extreme behaviors of the child, which happens in your case as well) can help his son and himself to go through this difficult phase more mildly. He can talk more with his son, admit his mistakes as a father, recognize his son for what he achieves, without that “bravo, but…” and show him undivided love and acceptance.

On the other hand, contacting a psychologist would help you better manage the role of mediator or ‘firefighter’ that you are often forced to play. Even if your spouse continues to be negative, you should ask for help on your own if you feel you need it.

For your part, it would be good to seek a calm conversation with your husband, without criticizing him, and to explain to him how important good communication is. In your case, it seems to be disturbed, but can be restored gradually with steady steps. Your son needs to feel that his father cares about his thoughts and concerns, that he understands and accepts his feelings, and that he allows him to make his own choices.

What might help a lot is for a father and son to share happy moments, through activities that they both love, without having conversations that can lead to conflict. The positive and calm atmosphere unites people and eases the confrontations. Right now this seems to be what the father and son need in your family.

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