Dear Amy:

My husband, Jerry, and I married three years ago when my oldest son, Arliss, was 16. Jerry and Arliss have never been close, and last year Arliss was very disrespectful at times - and there were quite a few blowups.

Arliss has grown up a lot and has not been disrespectful or had a blowup in more than six months. Jerry has not said one word to Arliss in all that time, not even to thank him for picking up 80 bags of topsoil for us and helping to unload it.

Jerry still brings up things Arliss said or did more than a year ago. Jerry says he does not like my son, and when I try to talk to him about forgiveness and about how all this makes me feel, he does not want to talk about it.

We have a very good marriage in every other respect, but in some ways I feel it was not in Arliss' best interest that I married Jerry. I know Arliss does not like or respect Jerry either. I'm heartbroken about this.

- Loving Wife and Mother

Dear Loving:

When Jerry married you, he married your children, too, and no creature can strain the "for better or for worse" part of the wedding vow more than an angry 16-year-old boy.

But angry 16-year-olds grow up, as you have seen, and your husband's refusal to have a relationship with his stepson means that both men are missing out.

Jerry and Arliss may dislike each other, but they should still be respectful. You should make your expectations clear to your son. However, as the older adult, Jerry needs to demonstrate some leadership qualities and show Arliss (and his other stepchildren) how to be strong, respectful, positive and forgiving.

A book your husband might find helpful is

Keys to Successful Stepfathering

by Carl E. Pickhardt (1997, Barron's Educational). That your husband doesn't want to talk about this means that he should talk about it. A counselor would help you to have this conversation.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to "Ask Amy," Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.