Inappropriate relationship between step children


Inappropriate relationship between step children


your avatar   Jamie, 37-year-old woman

I have been married to an amazing man for 2 years after a long-time relationship with the father of my oldest son. He has a 14 and 8-year-old daughter from his previous marriage. My oldest son is 18 and he gets along very well with the three. He's especially fond of the teenage girl. He doesn't want to talk to me about it and my husband doesn't think it's a problem. Am I overreacting? They cuddle a lot and he lets her sit on his lap while he plays his games in the living room. I've caught him with his hand up her thigh but he pulled away when he noticed. She doesn't seem to mind but I wonder if she even knows what his motives are. I feel like he's not treating her with respect, she's a sweet girl and she seems very "pure" and childish, because she is. She is too young and she's like a sister to him now. She's supposed to able to trust him.

Should I allow my 18-year-old son to continue and do intimate things with my 14 year old step-daughter?


    Bob Rich, Ph.D.

Jamie, there is nothing wrong with step-siblings getting together. There is no blood relationship between them.

However, there is everything wrong with sexual contact between an 18-year-old and a 14-year-old. It is against the law, and with reason. A 14-year-old can't sign a contract, drive a car, or vote, because the ability to see consequences is not yet developed until later. And, from what you say, she is emotionally young for her age.

If they have sex, even if she has consented, even if she is enthusiastic, then your son will have committed a crime, and could go to jail. If he gets her pregnant at 15, she will become a mother when she still needs to finish her schooling and prepare for her adulthood.

Even if he thinks he is acting from love and not just lust, even if she is all for it, his actions are still sexual abuse because of the power imbalance in their relationship. Does he want to think of himself as a sexual abuser?

So, he needs to keep his hands to himself until she is of legal age, whatever that is where you live. Tell your son to research what that is. In some places it is 16, but even then, they would do well to hold off longer.

I have had many clients in their mid-30s who say, "I love my husband/wife/partner, but all the same, I had an affair." Sometimes it's a series of one-night stands. They feel terrible, guilt eats them and they desperately want to undo the damage and repair their relationship. When I ask the age at which they committed themselves to their partner, it is almost always while still in school.

You see, part of growing up in our culture is the experience of being without commitments, obligations, firm ties. Kids have a boyfriend/girlfriend for a while, go through the storm of breaking up, and try out another one, all the time learning without realizing it.

If they miss out on this experience, often they have a feeling of vague, generalized dissatisfaction in their 30s, with bills to pay, kids to raise, the drudgery or work... "There has to be more to life than this." So some, though of course not all, play up then, making up for the teenage years they'd missed out on.

I know a young couple. They were inseparable boyfriend/girlfriend until about 21. Then, she broke up, saying she wanted to experience how to be independent. He was devastated, but what could he do? They both had a series of short-term partners - then met up again. Now, they are happily married with two kids. This is a much better choice than if they'd married at 21.

Let both your son and step-daughter read this answer from me. You, or they, are welcome to email me.

Have a good life,


This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit:

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