DEAR FIONA: They won’t stop their dogs licking my baby

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Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: an inappropriate brother-in-law, an absent boyfriend and being newly single

QUESTION: My elder sister recently married and on her last visit, her new husband made a pass at me.

I was shocked and angry, but didn’t shout at him or slap him because I didn’t want to hurt my sister’s feelings.

I was really alarmed when he called me at home the following evening, and he’s called several times since, but although I’ve banged the phone down, he keeps calling.

I’ve not seen my sister since and keep making excuses, but it’s making me feel awful, keeping this secret from her.

I hate him for the pain he is causing me, and the fact that he’s letting my sister down, but what can I do?

FIONA SAYS: What an obnoxious man your sister has married! This bullying, dominating behaviour is unacceptable and I suspect he’s doing it because he sees you as a weak person who won’t want to make a fuss and upset your sister.

Family dynamics are complex and I’m sure you’re afraid that, if your sister finds out, she may blame you, or that other family members may be forced to take sides.

You shouldn’t have to put up with this kind of harassment and nor should you feel guilty, as you’ve done nothing wrong.

Do you have a father, uncle or older brother you trust? Next time he calls, tell him, if he does so again, you’ll be telling that person about his behaviour.

Make a note of the date he made a pass at you and put together a dated record of his calls. If this situation escalates, you may need to report his harassment to the police and they will need this as evidence.

If you make a threat, be prepared to go through with it, no matter how painful this may be for you and your family. Show your record to the person you’ve decided to trust and ask them to talk to your brother-in-law. If he continues after that, approach the police and ask them to intervene.

I can understand why you don’t want to hurt your sister’s feelings, but have you considered how hurt she will feel if she finds out from someone else?

While this is going on, don’t visit her at her home, but meet on neutral ground and make sure it’s at a time when her husband isn’t around.

You might like to sound her out about how she’s finding married life, and ask her if she loves and trusts her husband – it may be that she already suspects something.

If that’s the case, you may decide to tell her what’s been happening, but be aware she could still take his side against you. They say love is blind, and if she hasn’t realised what sort of person her husband is, she might accuse you of trying to lead him on.

Even if he stops, I don’t suppose you will ever feel comfortable in his company again, so you’ll have to limit contact – which is sad, but, I fear, the only way forward, until things are resolved.

QUESTION: I’ve been living with my fiance for about two years, and as long as I’ve known him, he’s always preferred a night in to a night out.

That’s until recently when he’s suddenly started going out several nights a week, without me. I’ve asked if I can go with him, but he says it’s not a place for women to go.

He says I shouldn’t be worried as he’s not seeing anyone else, but I can’t help fearing the worst. I think he’s getting fed up with my asking questions, and I’m afraid I’ll drive him away, but I’m so scared.

Am I right to be, or should I just learn to live with this?

FIONA SAYS: I think you have every right to be concerned – whether you trust him or not.

To suddenly start acting in such a mysterious way, not telling you where he’s going and what he’s doing, is not the behaviour of a caring partner.

He’s being selfish and unfeeling for not recognising how this would worry you.

While there are many couples who happily have independent social lives, that only works when they trust one another.

He might just be doing something or preparing something as a surprise, but he still needs to recognise how worried you are by his behaviour.

I also think that, whether he’s planning a surprise or a parting, you need to develop a social life of your own – get out more and make new friends.

You need a life too and it will mean you have people to help, should the worst happen.

It may also make your fiance realise how hurtful he is being!

QUESTION: I went out with the same guy for 12 years and split up with him three months ago when I realised we had nothing in common any more.

My family, and some of my friends, have been very negative about it and told me I may as well get used to being single as my chances of finding another man are very slim.

I’m feeling quite hurt by this as I’m only 34 and, I’m told, quite attractive, but no one has asked me for a date since I became single, so I’m beginning to feel a bit concerned.

Having said that, I’m quite enjoying the freedom to do what I want for a change – silly things, really, like being able to watch my sort of programmes on TV when I want to, or eat the sort of food I like.

Am I really on the shelf?

FIONA SAYS: I think your friends and family are being overly negative, as well as a bit insensitive.

It’s only been three months since your split and, if you’ve made no real attempt to widen your social circle and meet other people, it’s not surprising that you haven’t met anyone new.

You’ve proved yourself capable of sustaining a loving relationship, so there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t do so again.

You’re enjoying being single, so don’t be in too much of a hurry to leap into another relationship.

In spite of the negative comments, plenty of people don’t settle down until their forties - or even older, so relax.

QUESTION: My daughter is five months old and I’ve tried to ensure that both sets of grandparents get to see her regularly.

However, my partner’s parents have dogs and they let them slobber over everything.

When she was tiny I could keep her away from them, but now she’s sitting up or sitting on their laps, they take no notice of my protests and let the dogs lick her.

I’ve explained that I don’t think it’s hygienic, but they, and my partner, just think I’m making a fuss.

He refuses to take a stand about it and although I don’t want to stop seeing them, I’m afraid this could be my only option.

FIONA SAYS: Like you, I find the thought of a dog licking a face rather revolting; let’s face it, it’s their toilet paper.

I know it’s unusual for dogs to transmit diseases to humans, but it has happened.

Most people think a lick is a sign of affection, but it may not be, and while some dogs lick a human’s face as a sign of submission, other dogs use it to get a reaction.

It could mean the dog is trying to establish dominance over the baby, and it’s very important for the dog to understand that it’s not on an equal footing to the child.

Dogs need to be trained to be submissive to the child, however young it is, because what might seem cute to your partner’s parents could, potentially, be dangerous.

You are not making a fuss about nothing - many parents feel like you, so explain to your partner you’re serious about getting his support to stop this.

If he tries to shrug it off again, ask him why it is you spend so much time sterilising baby bottles and equipment?

If, even with his help, his parents continue to ignore your wishes, you will simply have to stop the visits, because the most important thing is your daughter’s health and safety.

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.