Why do they fight?

My eldest son really doesn’t get on with my new partner. They fight over everything – who feeds the dog, where each of them will sit on the sofa, even what cereal to have in the morning. It’s driving me crazy and I can’t understand it specially since he’s always been such a kind, quiet helpful boy. When my husband left us he was a rock to me and his younger sister. He and my partner seemed to get on at first – why is he being like this?

When a new partner is just a date, they do not upset the dynamic of a family. Once they become partners and have a place in your home you need to look at who has to shift around to give them room and what they feel about that. Eldest children often feel they have to take the role of a missing parent, caring for, looking after and over the parent they live with. When a new partner comes along he or she takes over, in effect supplanting the child and pushing them out of the place they have come to assume is their own. Your son feels like a rival and so he and your new partner bicker over all sorts of territorial issues and issues that the head of a family may usually decide.

It’s understandable, so the best way to deal with it is to acknowledge it. Say “It must feel odd to have someone come in and be a responsible adult when you felt you were doing that job. I’m really grateful for how much you did when we were alone. How are we going to sort things out now so you and John don’t argue so much? I really hate it when you quarrel.” Simply bringing the issue out into the open sometimes does the trick. One tactic may be to agree specific responsibilities, and to thank him when he does them, so your son doesn’t feel he has to fight to be recognised as his role is accepted. Another is for your partner to find something such as fishing or football they can do together, so making the lad an ally rather than a rival.

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