As children grow up, relationships between family members can take difficult turns, and quickly affect the general climate in the home. If your husband and son are frequently butting heads, how should you react to their somewhat “warlike” relationship?
Accustomed to conflict-filled relationships within families, Gwenola Desombre, a marriage counselor in France, provides Aleteia with insight on the issue. She starts by qualifying the adverb “always,” which is sometimes used in an exaggerated way. “Conflicts aren’t constant; let’s also try to see everything that goes well in relationships,” she says.
The family: A whole system of relationships
Rather than getting stuck on this conflict, Desombre proposes reflecting on what this tension says about what’s happening in the family as a whole. Several scenarios are possible.
First of all, keep in mind that we’re not born parents: We become parents. In the process, we inevitably appeal to what we already know, which is our own relationship with our parents when we were children. Even if we’ve changed, matured, and made different decisions, our childhood and our experiences guide our roles as parents. They are our reference point.
There is also the phenomenon of the “symptom child,” in which the relationship between the parents seems quite peaceful, but the crisis between the father and his son comes as a revelation of other underlying problems between the parents or in the family. Desombre shares this story:
A father called me once to explain that his son was unmanageable at the moment and asked if we could make an appointment. I’d given a talk the week before at the son’s high school, and he had indicated to his father that he was willing to come and see me. So I invited the parents to come with their son. The son arrived and sat down between his parents, and I asked him if he knew why he was there that day. ‘Yes, I know very well,’ he answered. ‘You’re a marriage counselor, right? You help people who have strained relationships? Then I’ll leave them to you. I’ll see you later.’ He got up and left me with his two parents, who had agreed to stay for a consultation, and did in fact have marital problems to solve …
Finally, parental or family relationships can be unbalanced by stress, professional tensions, and quarantine or lockdown. In these cases, the child may want to make himself present at the heart of this tension and find his place in a fragile balance. One conflict leads to another, the general atmosphere of the family becomes weighty for everyone, and the most urgent matter is to calm or repair the first link in the chain: the spouses.
Children need to be free to be themselves
The bond between a father and son often involves a certain rivalry, conscious or not. For the father, seeing his child grow up necessarily means seeing himself grow old at the same time. The son and the father may then enter into a kind of competition that is more or less implicit. The pressure grows on both sides and the societal cult of performance takes precedence, to the detriment of the rest.