Jill Goldson
A relationship expert with over 25 years experience counselling couples, individuals and families, Jill's here to help navigate the rocky road that is Other People.

Jill Goldson: Can kids cause jealousy in a relationship?

My husband and I mostly have a happy and loving relationship but he is sometimes quite unkind to our 15-year-old son - a typical teen but a good kid. I often feel like the meat in the sandwich and it’s causing arguments between us. He says I don't back him up but I feel my husband is often unreasonable and acting like a child himself. I think he’s jealous of how close I am with my son. Am I crazy, or can this sort of thing happen?
Can a man be jealous of his partner's motherly love?
Photo / Thinkstock
Can a man be jealous of his partner's motherly love? Photo / Thinkstock

It's impossible to cope with being caught in the middle of a situation like yours without feeling crazy - but of course you are not. Certainly sounds like your husband is not happy either - and it's likely your son is aware of the tension. The good news is that you say that you and your husband mostly have a happy and loving relationship - this is a good basis and will help to work things out.

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There are a few things that might be happening here. The time and attention you are giving your son seems to be pushing buttons for your husband. Is he resentful of your closeness with your son? Is your husband implying that as a male teenager, your son needs to start acting like a man? Sometimes, to mothers, children remain the little children they always were - however old they get.

And to fathers, those same children might suddenly be seen as young men and not children any more.

What sort of unkindness do you mean? A fight about who unpacks the dishwasher sounds like regular family life. On the other hand, criticising your son's abilities or efforts is cruel to anyone and especially a teenager - and will be triggering a response from you.

Another feature of these situations is the old chestnut of family patterns. How much do you know about your husband's family life when he was a teenager? Was it harsh? Did his own parents; make your husband's young life difficult? Was there a favorite sibling? It's always incredible how marked the patterns can be through generations -what seems a total mystery on the surface can often be explained when we sit down and have a good talk.

Your husband sounds like he is craving more of your attention - not easy with the demands we juggle. The tension his conflict with your son is causing is fuelling the problem because very likely your husband will be blaming your son for that conflict and your resulting disapproval.

What is happening in your son's life? You describe him as 'a typical teen'. We know that adolescence includes a healthy dollop of selfishness - kids have long days, raging hormones, insatiable appetites and heavy backpacks - all regular stuff. Having a sweet mum to look after you can be a prize worth angling for - maybe he manipulates his opportunities and sees his dad as a barrier to your time?

Might your husband be struggling with issues at work - dissatisfaction, a tyrannical boss? Is your attention to him a salve after the workday and one which he resents sharing?

Either way, it sounds like there are two males in your life who are both wanting as much of you as they can get. And no wonder - you sound very loving and giving.

But you should not have to feel like the meat in the sandwich. What about your own needs? You need adult time and conversation with your husband, parent time with your son, and family time with the family - let alone time to be you and to look after yourself outside the pressures of home and work.

It is easy for onlookers to comment - but only we know what happens in our own family lives. And if something is not working, then it will result in conflict and bad moods. Rather than feeling you are going crazy, you should be applauding yourself for naming the problem. Brushing tension under the carpet is the perfect recipe for doubling the impact.

Accepting that your husband is jealous of your closeness with your son is a good start.

The "what to do about it" part follows from here. Choose a less heated moment talk to your husband about your concerns that he is not happy. Remind him that you love him as your husband - and as your son's father - and that you want to parent your child together with him. If he has criticisms of your son, or your parenting, see if you can direct these into a discussion about a way forward. Perhaps suggest that the two of you can plan some extra adult time and remind him that it his adult self that you love. Let him know it upsets you to see him in conflict with your son - and that you need him to ease up on his responses to your boy.

Talk through with your son ways of defusing tension with his dad. Ideally you would talk to both males together - and name the fact that you, yourself, are not feeling happy about arguments in the house. And that the two of them need to take some responsibility for making things sweeter at home.

This can be a very tall order. Family problems can be like a tangled ball of wool. At first it seems impossible to disentangle the knots. But once you start, it can be surprisingly easy. If it gets too hard and is affecting family life - then a conversation with a neutral professional who understands families can be extremely useful.

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