Q: After a difficult divorce, I remarried several years ago. At first, my son got along okay with my new husband, but once my boy reached puberty, conflict flared into open hostility between them. I feel caught in the middle. Please help.

Focus on the Family Malaysia: We all know that adolescence often brings tension between a child and parents. However, when you toss in the divided loyalties and confused roles that tend to happen in step-families, the process becomes more complicated.

Instead of framing this as an “either-or” situation, we suggest you approach it as a “both-and.” In other words, do not take sides. Avoid thinking in terms of “choosing” between your husband and your son, but try to rise above the conflict and help them each see things from the other’s perspective.

In the meantime, there is another important principle to keep in mind. As in every step-family situation, you and your husband need to make your marriage a priority. If you allow parenting conflicts to pull you apart, it will not just hurt your relationship with one another, but it is also the worst thing you can do for your child.

Commit yourselves as parents to act as a unified team. Sit down with your son and let him know exactly what you expect of him. Discuss the rules he will be expected to follow and agree on the consequences he will face if he breaks those rules.

Remember that as the biological parent, you should be taking the lead when it comes to discipline. If you are always assuming the role of “good cop”, you are forcing your husband to play the “bad cop”. That arrangement can drive a wedge between him and your son.

If you have further questions, our counselors at Focus on the Family Malaysia will be happy to assist.

Q: My husband and I are reaching the end of our rope trying to deal with his mother, who is a hypochondriac. Most doctors have refused to see her. She has driven my husband’s family bonkers for years, and now this is starting to impact our relationship. When we try to ignore her behavior, she gets upset and calls continuously. I want my husband to confront her but he is afraid to rock the boat. What can we do?

Focus on the Family Malaysia: We feel for you – the frustrations and challenges you are facing are real. Unfortunately, hypochondriasis is more than just an annoying behavior – it is a legitimate anxiety disorder that requires professional treatment. With this in mind, we encourage your husband and his family to explore this option.

You obviously cannot guarantee changes in your mother-in-law’s behavior but you do need to address the challenges it presents to your marriage. It is critical that you and your husband approach this as a team and not just something he needs to fix.

Begin by determining what you both need and want. For you, it is a limit on unhealthy communication with your mother-in-law. Your husband probably has the same desire but also wants to preserve the relationship with his mother.

It is possible that his mother may have instilled feelings of guilt at a young age about him “not being supportive”, so he needs to be able to address that in a healthy manner.

Once you have both identified your core needs, strategise and implement a solution that accommodates them. As difficult as it may be, establishing some firm boundaries with her should be part of your plan.

Our counselors will be happy to help.

This article is contributed by Focus on the Family Malaysia, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting and strengthening the family unit. For more information, visit family.org.my. Join Dr Bob and Jenni Paul at the Taking Your Marriage to Great Marriage Conference on Saturday, June 1 as they explore the essence of marriage, emotions and teamwork in decision-making. Register at family.org.my/greatmarriage.

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