Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her advice to an exhausted mother whose husband is never around and others.
IS MY MARRIAGE HEADED FOR DIVORCE?
My husband and I were in our teens when we got married, and we had two of our four children before I was 20. Now we have four in total, and at 31, I’m feeling old, whereas he seems to have reverted back to his teenage years.
Our marriage has run out of steam as I don’t have any energy to do anything, and he wants to start doing the things he never had the chance to do when he was younger. He goes out nearly every night, but as the kids are too young to be left alone, I’m always stuck indoors looking after them.
Even if I wanted to go with him I probably wouldn’t be able to, because I’ve got no energy. The strain on our marriage is starting to tell and although I’ve I tried to get him to stay in a bit more, he says there’s no point because I’m never interested anyway.
I suppose that’s true because all we seem to do these days is nag each other, but I’m afraid my marriage may be on the rocks.
FIONA SAYS: YOU CAN RECOVER FROM THIS
I think your husband is acting very unfairly, but the first thing to tackle here is your health issues. Please do make an appointment to see your doctor. Whilst four young children are hard work and very tiring, you need to make sure there is nothing else wrong. Even something as simple as an iron deficiency can knock the stuffing out of you and mean that you’re tired all of the time.
Depression also leaves you feeling exhausted and, from the way your husband seems to be behaving, that might also be a possibility. Successful marriages require work - they don’t just happen. When they’re in trouble both parties have to be willing to make a real effort to get things back on track.
By writing to me you’ve indicated you’re prepared to try and resolve things, but your husband has to be as well. The fact that he says that there’s no point staying in with you, because you’re not interested anyway, makes him sound both angry and resentful about the way your relationship has deteriorated.
He could also be feeling rejected by you, even though your attitude towards him is simply down to the fact that you’re exhausted, not because you’re no longer interested. You were both very young when you got married and he might also be feeling trapped by the responsibilities of a young family. Your feelings are also probably just as mixed too.
If you could sit down and talk openly, I am sure you would see that there is a vicious circle going on that you both need to break out of. He needs to understand your problems and to give you some time away from the children. You need to be prepared to make a few adjustments and understand some of his needs; tackling your health issues is just the start.
If both of you were prepared for a bit more give-and-take, then I’m sure your marriage would stand a chance. You might be able to do this without outside help, but don’t feel you have failed if you decide you need to involve a counsellor.
It sometimes takes outside help to really get the two of you talking, so contact Relate (relate.org.uk) to get a better understanding of one another’s viewpoints. Don’t wait any longer - either start speaking or get help to do so. The longer you leave it, the more resentment will build on both sides.
MY HUSBAND’S TEENAGE SON RESENTS ME
My husband and I have only been married for a few weeks but I can already see problems on the horizon in the shape of his teenage son. We’ve both been married before and, aside from his son, I have a four-year-old daughter who lives with us.
Once we’re settled, the plan is to have his son stay with us every other weekend and for longer periods during the school holidays. However, the boy really doesn’t seem to like me at all and looks very ill at ease whenever he visits.
I’ve tried talking to him but all I normally get is grunts in return. At the moment, he spends every moment of his visit with his dad and seems to resent my daughter and I having any interaction with either of them.
I’m unsure whether I should be trying to involve him in our family or just let him be with his dad - which is OK every other weekend, but the long visits will be unbearable! What should I do?
FIONA SAYS: DON’T JUDGE HIM TOO HARSHLY
Whilst blending families can bring their problems, I have to say your stepson doesn’t sound vastly different from a lot of teenage boys! He’s probably quite uncomfortable with the new arrangements and will be unsure what it’s OK to talk about and what is off-limits.
For example, he won’t know how you feel about his mother and whether talking about her will cause any upset. Please try not to judge him too harshly because he will almost certainly adjust given the time and space to do so.
Meanwhile, I suggest that rather than let him spend all of his time alone with his dad (which could be seen as you ignoring him), try to mix-up his visits. Give him some time alone with his father but also try to get him to engage in activities with the rest of the family too.
Continue to make him feel welcome and, if possible, let him have a private space in which he can store his belongings between visits, or where he can retreat to if he wants to be alone.
If you need any help and advice about step-parenting or about teenage boys, please contact Family Lives. The website (familylives.org.uk) has whole sections on step-parenting and on parenting teenagers, which I’m sure you’d find helpful. If you need more advice, you can always phone them for help.