DEAR FIONA: I’m a happily married mum, but I miss my social life

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Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: missing friendships, the death of a pet, shaky hands and an insensitive daughter.

QUESTION: I’m happily married with three lovely kids, but I really miss having a female friend.

I miss having a friend I can chat to, as when I was at college I had loads of female friends.

For some reason, probably because I didn’t work hard to keep them, these friendships just fizzled out when I got married. Most of my free time now is spent with my husband either watching TV or doing things with the children, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this, but I just feel I need something more.

I’d love to be able to have a good female friend again - someone I can really talk to and have fun with. Is that so wrong?

FIONA SAYS: There’s absolutely nothing wrong with wanting friends - of whatever sex.

While it’s perfectly possible to be best friends with a spouse or a partner, that doesn’t mean you don’t need other friends too.

Why not try to contact some of your old friends from college, or even from your school days? You may find they would welcome the chance to renew old friendships. Thirty years after I left school, I met up with a group I’d been in the sixth form with that I’d not seen since I left – now we see each other every few months.

If that doesn’t work out, look for other ways to find friends – through shared activities or hobbies, for example, your local library will probably be able to tell you what’s on offer.

Finally, what about other parents at your children’s schools? Many close friendships have been struck from waiting together at the school gate.

QUESTION: I feel so embarrassed about writing this but, since my dog died, I have just gone to pieces – I miss her so much.

It may seem silly to other people, but I really loved her and I can’t stop crying. Although my husband enjoyed taking her for walks, he never had the same bond and thinks I’m overreacting.

He’s offered to buy another puppy, but I know it won’t be the same. I have done nothing but weep for the past week, and when people ask what’s wrong with me, I’ve told them there’s been a bereavement in my family – I’m too embarrassed to tell the truth.

FIONA SAYS: Well, in a very real sense, you have told them the truth – this is a bereavement. You’ve lost someone you love, so it’s no wonder you should feel hurt.

Many people feel like you – surprised, and perhaps a little ashamed, that they can grieve for a pet even more than they have done for a friend or relative.

Your dog though gave you constant companionship, unconditional love and was totally dependent on you – something no human ever is. The relationship with an animal is so much simpler than it is with a human being.

With a parent or a sibling there can be conflict about differing views and it can seem that their love and support has strings attached. Once you allow yourself to realise this, you’ll realise why your grief is so intense.

Pets become an integral part of family life and there is nothing silly about loving them, so please, give yourself time to grieve. You’ll find many people have been through the same thing, so don’t feel embarrassed about saying you’ve lost your pet.

As for getting a puppy, it may be a bit too soon for you to think about this yet, but once you’ve had an animal in your life, it can be hard to live without one.

Take your time though and perhaps consider fostering a dog through an animal shelter first, to see if you’re ready to commit to owning another dog.

You may find the website Living with Pet Bereavement helpful and, if your grief becomes too difficult to manage, you could consider seeing a grief counsellor.

Finally, despite his show of bravado, I suspect your husband is also upset, so try and explain your feelings to him and encourage him to talk with you about your dog. He may need help, even though he doesn’t realise it.

QUESTION: For some reason, when I’m nervous or in new social situations, my hands shake.

It’s particularly bad if I am with a group of people and someone passes me a drink, and I’ve even embarrassed myself by dropping things.

I’m not like this at other times, but something about being in public brings it on. When I was a child my father used to make me practise my violin in front of his friends and I remember shaking like a leaf throughout.

Is it possible that this has made me react like this now?

FIONA SAYS: Being forced to perform in public is bound to make anyone feel anxious, but that was in your past so please don’t let a slight shake stop you from doing all the things you want to do.

I am sure others don’t notice it as much as you, and it would be a great shame if you allowed it to ruin your social life.

Having said that, you don’t say whether you’ve spoken to a doctor about this and I would strongly advise you do so, just in case it’s a symptom of something that needs treating.

Shyness and lack of confidence are quite likely to be at the root of this problem though, so consider ways you can deal with or overcome these.

Relaxation techniques could help, so once medical problems have been ruled out, ask your doctor if it’s possible to be referred to a local counsellor.

QUESTION: As a single mum, I worked hard to provide a secure and loving home for my children.

We didn’t have a lot of money but they were always warm, clothed and never missed a meal.

Now my middle daughter has started seeing a young man from a wealthy family. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I rather like him, but my daughter won’t stop talking about how much he earns, his parents’ mansion and the exotic places they’ve been to on holiday.

It’s always said in a way that makes me feel as if I’ve let her down by not giving her these things when she was younger, and I’m really hurt by her attitude.

She clearly has no idea how tough it has been bringing up three children on a low income.

FIONA SAYS: Your daughter may be being a little insensitive and immature but, as you say, she probably has no idea how tough life has been for you. She probably doesn’t even realise how much this is hurting you.

Tempting though it may be, I suggest you avoid giving her a lecture about the sacrifices you had to make, as this may simply make matters worse.

However, I see nothing wrong with quietly pointing out that perhaps, knowing you have so little, she could talk a little less about her boyfriend’s wealth and more about him as a person.

In time, I am sure she will come to realise that a secure, happy childhood and a loving family are more important than wealth any day.

Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or elise.brewerton@thenews.co.uk. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.