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DEAR HARRIETTE: I recently married my wife, and her teenage son does not seem to like me at all. I believe it is because of the major changes my presence has brought into his life. His dad passed away a few years ago, and I know my arrival has disrupted the dynamics he had with his mom. I’ve tried to connect and bond with him, attempting to show support and care, but it seems he’s resistant and distant. He often spends time alone in his room and is reluctant to engage in family activities. My heart aches to see the strained relationship between us. How can I build a better relationship with my stepson despite his initial resistance to form a stronger family bond? I want to ensure that he feels supported and loved, but I’m not sure how to break through the barriers he’s set up. — Establishing a Connection
DEAR ESTABLISHING A CONNECTION: Patience is going to be your friend. It may take a lot of time to build a meaningful rapport with your stepson. His being a teenager doesn’t make it easier, as he is wrestling with hormonal changes that may affect his mood, on top of grief over his father’s death and fear over your presence.
Figure out what he likes to do for fun, and invite him to do some of those things with you. Keep asking even if he normally says no. Attempt to do things with him alone as well as with both him and your wife. Establish family routines that include the three of you that can create normalcy. Tell him stories about your life, and gently ask him to share stories about his. Let him know that you want to be there for him when he needs a sounding board or guidance.
Don’t give up. Know that it may take years for you to build a healthy bond. If you are committed to your wife, remain committed to her son.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My partner and I have been arguing more lately. I’m not exactly sure why this is happening, but it’s uncomfortable. What’s the best way to resolve conflicts and maintain a healthy relationship when things get tough? — Looking for Strategies
DEAR LOOKING FOR STRATEGIES: Do a bit of reflection. When did the arguing begin? Try to pinpoint what precipitated it. Was there a change in either of your jobs, finances, friendships, health? What is different? If you can identify the source of the change, you can talk about it. Establish a weekly meeting between you where you check in about what’s going on in your lives. This can include household duties, your calendar and your finances. If you agree to meet at the same time each week, this can become routine and won’t feel as awkward when you need to discuss sensitive topics.
Address the obvious: You are experiencing conflict. Ask each other why it’s happening, and talk about what you can do to work through it. Actively work at being kind to each other instead of lashing out due to tension. Choose to see goodness in your partner — especially when times are tough. This is much easier to say than do, but it helps a lot.