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Male: I really wish you�d tell me about it.
Female: Well, if you must know, it�s my love life.
Male: Really? You�ve been seeing a man?
Female: Only when I close my eyes and concentrate.
Dr. Kenner: That�s from Fraiser. That�s Daphne and those longings that you might have had or you may currently have of just wishing that you had the partner you always wanted, what do you do with those longings? Do you sit like Daphne and date occasionally or do you make it your top priority or close to the top priority to find a companion in life that will give you a sense of almost like a mirror to yourself. Not almost, but it is like a mirror to yourself. You both come at the world the same way and you both feel connected and loved and cherished for the things that you love in yourselves. I�m Dr. Ellen Kenner and my show is The Rational Basis of Happiness. My number is toll-free, 1-877-DR-KENNER. I�m a clinical psychologist and that means you can call me with any questions you have relating to your family or your love life, your friends, problems, maybe they betrayed you or problems with your in-laws or co-workers. My number again is toll-free, 1-877-DR-KENNER. And right now, I want to turn to the phones and welcome Mike. Mike, you�re having some difficulty with your stepson?
Mike: Hi Dr. Kenner. Thank you for taking my call. It�s kind of a sensitive issue and I appreciate it. Very briefly, my wife and I have been together almost 12 years. Our 9-year-old is our biological son together. Our 16-year-old was almost 5 when I met him. I�m very, very cautious to treat them equally and I love him and think of him as my own son, but my wife does think that I treat him a little bit differently. We�ve had normal parents that parent a stepchild difficulties. My wife does kind of treat him favorably and several of our friends over the last couple of years have noticed and mentioned it to me innocently on the side that she does treat him differently.
Dr. Kenner: The 16-year-old?
Mike: Yes. Treats him favorably to myself and my 9-year-old. I�ve mentioned it to her, but of course that rubbed her wrong, no matter how carefully I tried to mention that, and she�s very defensive to the point now where we can�t really have a constructive conversation about him because she immediately thinks I�m on the attack. She will quickly move it toward an argument and shift whatever the conversation is to shutting it down.
Dr. Kenner: Let me slow you down a minute. You have two kids, a 9-year-old that is your biological child together. You guys have been together for 12 years and it�s the 16-year-old that is not your biological child, your stepson?
Dr. Kenner: And your 9-year-old is a daughter or a son?
Mike: They�re both boys. Wonderful boys.
Dr. Kenner: And you�ve tried to treat them equally?
Dr. Kenner: She is definitely favoring the 16-year-old, which is not only by your observation, but friends and other people have said, �Hey, look what she�s doing.� Can you just give me a quick snapshot, and you�re saying that you can�t have a conversation with her? You�re wanting some help as to how to breach that gap, how to be able to bridge that gap, to have a conversation with her?
Mike: Sure. See, that�s not even the problem. Here�s where the real problem is � what happened was, I picked up his Playstation mobile device yesterday and turned it on, because our 9-year-old�s Playstation mobile device could not access the internet and I could not figure out how to make it do that. I know my 16-year-old does on his all the time. They were out of the house, the wife and the 16-year-old. I picked up the 16-year-old�s mobile device and powered it up, and immediately appeared a story on the front screen of an incestuous, erotic nature. I was a little bit shocked. I went to the browsing history and immediately found there were several more erotic, incestuous stories that he�d been reading and then as well there were half a dozen searches of �mom� on a couple of pornographic websites. Along with various other searches of �mom.�
Dr. Kenner: This is what I�m hearing, your 16-year-old, your stepson, that seems to be turned on by incestuous images with his mother, is that what you�re saying?
Mike: It would appear to me, from the searches that I found and the internet sites, the pornographic internet sites he�s been browsing on his mobile device are quite a few things about moms and mothers.
Dr. Kenner: So this has to have gone through you like an electric, like a lightning bolt or a shock?
Mike: I was floored. I don�t know how to approach it with either of them. It�s going to be a battle. My wife will be unbelievably defensive and she will come at me with that I�m trying to get him in trouble or I was just trying to find pornography on his mobile device. We�ve been together for 12 years.
Dr. Kenner: Can I be your wife for a second, just in role-play? If you said to me, �This is what we found,� an alterative way she could respond would be the following. She could say, �Oh my God. Let�s look at this together.� And it�s more like your parent partners at this moment. �Where do we go from here? Maybe I have been favoring him too much and maybe he�s grown up with a love map around me and that�s not where I want to go.� So, what am I showing? An alternative is that she could reasonably look at the facts that you identified and work with you.
Mike: That would be fabulous. The chances of that are slim in my experience of my marriage.
Dr. Kenner: That�s why you�re bringing this up � you want to have in mind how you would respond, let�s say if something similar happened to you. If someone similar said, �Ellen, your daughter or your son is having sexual impressions of you,� I�d say, �Oh my God! How do I stop this? Where do I go? What do I do? I want some help with this. I want to figure out how to maintain a good relationship, but know there are boundaries and where did I go wrong? What misleading messages might I have sent or maybe it�s nothing with me, but just puberty kicking in. How do you deal with this?� It�s a problem to solve. But if the problem to solve is her denial, that�s a different issue. That�s telling you something. And have you observed her being more romantically involved with him, huggy or anything?
Mike: No. Here�s the thing, my wife is absolutely gorgeous. She�s tall, beautiful, kind of large chested. Sometimes she can wear revealing kind of tops and she�s very aware of her sexuality. But, we are not overtly sexual in front of the kids. We try to set a good example. She�s not overly affectionate with him and I really feel that she does not portray herself in a sexual way to him.
Dr. Kenner: So you don�t think she�s deliberately trying to entice him?
Mike: Absolutely not.
Dr. Kenner: Then you could just say to her, �Listen, I want to work with you on this.� Phrases like that help. �I want to work with you on this. We have a problem. I love it when you dress sexy. You may want to reconsider around our son. This is what is starting to happen.� She doesn�t know about it yet, right?
Dr. Kenner: And you show her the evidence, and then observe her. You can try to re-guide her back on path by saying, �Listen, it�s not between you and me. These are the facts that now exist. Let�s move forward from here. What do we need to do?� And I want to just pause for a second just to add that when you treat both kids equally, you do neither of them a favor. You want to treat them each uniquely. You don�t want to obviously treat one as a bad kid and one as a good kid, but value what is good in both of them. And, call them on the carpet for the things that aren�t.
This is Dr. Ellen Kenner on The Rational Basis of Happiness.