Q: How should I respond when my son tells me that my ex-husband has been making some very critical and unkind statements about me?

Jim: I’d first encourage you to figure out whether your ex-husband is truly guilty as charged. We all know kids are capable of exaggerating or making up stories, especially if they have some motive for pitting Mom and Dad against each other. So don’t jump to conclusions until you’ve made a serious effort to gather the facts.

If the evidence convinces you that inappropriate comments are being made, let your son know that you’ll be discussing it directly with his dad. This will give you a chance to communicate with your son about the motives behind your actions.

For example, you might say, “For some time now you’ve been mentioning certain negative things that your father’s been saying about me. I think it’s important for our family that we end this kind of talk. I’m going to speak with your dad about the problem and see if we can’t find a way to agree about what we will and will not say about each other. That way, if we have issues with each other, we can resolve them without bringing you into it.”

The final step is to contact your ex-husband and ask if he’s willing to support such a plan. Whatever the response, you can still make up your mind not to retaliate by launching verbal counterattacks. This isn’t to say that you should “candy coat” his flaws for the sake of keeping the peace among the three of you. When you have legitimate concerns, you should voice them to your former husband, but you should also do your best to maintain an attitude of respect. Hopefully your child will see that your actions speak louder than your ex-husband’s words.

Q: I’ve been dating my boyfriend for almost two years. He’s a great guy when we’re around other people. But when we’re by ourselves he can be very controlling. He gets upset if he doesn’t get his way or if I don’t do as he wishes. My parents tell me to stand up for myself, but that just seems to make things worse. I really love this man. How can I help him be less controlling?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: How can you help your boyfriend become less controlling? Unfortunately, you can’t. While our behavior can impact and influence others, only God can change a heart.

So what should you do? You mentioned your parents have encouraged you to “stand up for yourself,” and that may be good advice — depending on what it means. It doesn’t mean you can go toe-to-toe with your boyfriend as if you were confronting the class bully. That approach will get you nowhere. What’s needed, rather, is for you to develop and demonstrate some self-respect. The fact that you’ve put up with this behavior for two years suggests that you could benefit from the support of a wise professional counselor. Don’t hesitate to call us for a referral.

Standing up for yourself also means establishing some very clear boundaries with your boyfriend. If you do decide to try and continue on in a relationship — a question I’d encourage you to give serious thought to — you should insist that he get ongoing individual counseling for his anger and control issues. These behaviors are enormous red flags. If he’s serious about his love and concern for you, he’ll get the help he needs. Otherwise, you’re better off without him — doing the work you need to get healthy and trusting God for a new and better beginning.

Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.