"My son wants my partner out of the house and is telling me to choose..."

Dear Mark, My son wants my partner out of the house & is telling me to choose. He is mega angry. I've told him it is not his decision. But I am feeling very crushed & overwhelmed. My partner is too, but he is angry with my son in a sulky sort of way & the atmosphere here is a tinderbox. I feel very stuck, torn and scared.


Here are some tips regarding father-figure and son conflict:

As weird, ironic and contrary to what seems apparent as it is, these situations can sometimes (sometimes) be worked out fairly simply. At least doing this in the context of counseling -- sort of a one-two punch -- it is possible to help a youngster accept that:

a) he can love his biological dad without being in danger of being hurt emotionally as long as he doesn't expect dad to be perfect or take missed contacts and whatnot as evidence of an inner lack of personal worth,

b) he can have a much better, rewarding relationship with his father-figure and can actually then have two dads,

c) he can use the experience to burn into his memory how it feels to be on the kid-end of this crappy situation and resolve not to do this to his own son some day,

d) he can give you credit for loving him enough to try to find him an additional (not a replacement) dad to make sure he had enough father-figures in his life,

and e) he can sort things out so he realizes suffering and complex relationships can work out such that you are smarter and feel better afterward.

Contrary to apparent expression of feelings, your partner is probably not the problem at all. Of course it is always possible that a father-figure is really a sadistic jerk. However, assuming that is not the case, it is not likely that the solution is to dissolve the relationship.

It's my experience that such kids are very hungry for a good relationship with a father-figure -- actually any father-figure. They want a good relationship with their biological father and are well aware that this is just not going to happen with him. This is an enormous struggle for the child.

Your partner in all likelihood can, with a bit of luck, find something fun to do with your child that can be fun for both. Sometimes it is tough, and a counselor can help a lot in this area. Basic rule of thumb is the trick to find something the child likes to do that your partner can do with him -- it doesn't work as well to have the child do things with a father-figure that the father-figure likes to do.

Your partner will be happier and have more patience if he reinterprets the hatefulness as a cry for help to have a safe, strong father-figure. It doesn't make it easy, but it makes it less difficult.

Your child identifies with his biological father. Any negativity about his father will be experienced as negativity about him. Thus, telling him his dad is a loser will translate to telling him he, himself, is a loser. Telling him his dad loves him but has a lot of trouble dealing with emotions and straightening out his behavior is more helpful. That is also, in all likelihood, what is actually happening with your son.

Your child may be feeling thrown away, devalued, unwanted. In spite of all sorts of people saying the opposite, you can probably assume that he is struggling with a great deal of anger toward himself -- assuming that he has done something to make his dad so angry, unloving, inconsiderate and touchy. This doesn't go away with talking. This goes away -- maybe -- as people demonstrate this is not the case. An experienced counselor can help with ideas about how to accomplish this while also working on opening up the child's willingness to change his mind.

Your son is probably experiencing a great deal of stress, conflict and confusion. You can't rely on what he is saying. Adults get very confused, hostile and grumpy under far less frustrating, distressing circumstances. It is no mystery that a child would. Adults will tell you what is wrong, but they may be very, very wrong. It is easier, sometimes, to figure out what is going on without asking the person who is so confused, upset and distressed.

Understand that when your son is dumping hateful emotions on your partner, this is probably an attempt to get some help dealing with his emotions, confusion and stress. It is also probably an indication that your partner is seen as safe to "reach out to" in order to get help. Yes, it’s a lot of stress to dump on poor father-figures, but kids in these situations do not feel comfortable confronting their biological dad. Confronting him may result in harsh retribution and a quick termination of the relationship.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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