Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: jealousy, loneliness and being walked out on.
QUESTION: I’ve made friends with a man from my evening class who’s studying Spanish with me. A few times after class we’ve gone for a drink – he’s happily married and I thought I was too.
I mentioned it to my husband and he said he didn’t want me to go to classes again. I was so shocked by his attitude – it’s as if he doesn’t trust me. He says he does, but that he doesn’t trust the other man.
I don’t want to upset my husband, but I don’t want to throw away a perfectly good friendship, or my Spanish lessons. I’m tempted to just keep going and not let my husband know.
FIONA SAYS: I think that would be a mistake – you could very easily lose your husband’s trust completely if he discovers that you have been seeing your friend secretly.
Put yourself in your husband’s place for a moment and ask yourself whether you’d be happy about your husband having a secret female friend?
I do agree that it’s unreasonable for him to dictate who your friends are, and for him to try and stop you going to evening classes.
You say your friend is happily married, so perhaps it’s time to suggest that he and his wife get together with you and your husband – perhaps for a drink or a meal together?
Your husband clearly feels threatened by your new friendship and perhaps there is some reason for this that you don’t know. Is he feeling vulnerable about something? Has he recently lost his job, been passed over for promotion, had a significant birthday, put on a lot of weight?
I get the impression from your letter that he hasn’t shown signs of jealousy in the past, so something must have triggered this and you’ll need to persuade him to open up to find out what.
If he’s not one for talking though, it may take a little while to get to the bottom of his problem, assuming there is one.
Help him to understand, too, what it is you value in this friendship – even if it’s just the opportunity to practice your Spanish outside of class.
Above all, you need to get your husband to understand that your marriage is important to you and that he won’t lose you to a man whose friendship you value for very different reasons.
QUESTION: My partner and I have been living together for a few years now, but he gets funny moods that are really upsetting.
He’s never hit me or anything, but he can turn verbally cruel and be nasty to me, then he threatens to leave and even goes so far as to pack his bags.
I end up in floods of tears and that seems to break the pattern, because then he breaks down too. He says he’s really sorry for upsetting me and doesn’t know why he does it.
I keep telling him this has got to stop and he agrees – until it happens again. He’s making me ill and all I want is for us to be happy together. I love him but I can’t take much more of this.
FIONA SAYS: This behaviour isn’t normal and it’s a way of controlling you and testing your feelings for him. It’s entirely unhealthy both for him and for you and he needs help to break what has become, as you say, a pattern.
Perhaps he’s stressed about something or has a medical condition of some kind that is triggering this behaviour. He really needs to see a doctor and perhaps a relationship counsellor as well.
You could contact Relate to discuss this and perhaps go for counselling together. If he refuses to get help, some time apart may be the only way to convince him you are serious about this.
QUESTION: Two years ago, I was forced to retire on health grounds. While I’ve managed to come to terms with no job, no car, low income and the house going to pot, what has hurt is that people I thought of as friends have drifted away.
I have no family to turn to and all the resources for retired people assume you’re in your mid- to late-60s, whereas I’m only 47.
I’d like the company of people more my own age who wouldn’t judge me without getting to know me first. My social worker said she didn’t think singles groups would work for me, but do you know of any organisations I could join on a low budget?
FIONA SAYS: I am sorry to hear you feel neglected by people you thought were friends. People lead such busy lives that it is easy for them to drift away without meaning to.
It is possible they’re embarrassed by your change in circumstances and don’t know how to cope. That said, have you tried contacting them and saying that you’d like to keep in touch? An honest request for help and companionship might be all these people need. If you were to do so you might find they’d be happy to rally round.
Perhaps you could organise a pot-luck supper where three or four of them bring the food and wine and you provide the venue?
As for other companions, how about the local adult education centre? Many courses are discounted or free to people on low incomes, and the classes are likely to have a mix of ages and sexes.
You don’t say what your health problems are but, if they don’t prohibit you from doing so, how about volunteering? You can offer as little or as much time as you feel comfortable with to a local charity, your local hospital or even a local school.
Finally, I struggle to understand why your social worker thinks a singles group wouldn’t work for you. Most of the people in local singles clubs will be working and will be hoping to find love as well as friendship – it might be worth asking if you could go as a guest to see what you think.
QUESTION: Four weeks ago, my partner walked out on me. He’s left me with our 18-month-old son and another baby on the way. I know we’re both young – I’m 21 and he’s 23 – but I really thought he was the one for me.
He’s gone back to live with his mum and he won’t talk to me. My sister thinks I should contact a solicitor to make sure he pays for the children, but I think I’d like to try and rescue our relationship somehow. I am so confused and depressed.
FIONA SAYS: It sounds as if your partner can’t cope with the responsibility of a family and, as he is still young, that’s not unusual.
Your sister has a point – you do need to look after the interests of the child you’ve got as well as the one you’re expecting.
Someone needs to get him to understand that, even if he leaves you, he still has a responsibility to his children. If you don’t have a friend or family member that can make this clear to him, you will need to seek legal advice.
If you genuinely want to make a stab at rescuing your relationship, see if you can’t get him to come with you to talk to a Relate counsellor. That might be hard to organise if he’s refusing to talk to you, but if he can be encouraged to think about the children, he might be willing to try.
Write to Fiona Caine c/o Elise Brewerton, 1000 Lakeside, North Harbour, Portsmouth PO6 3EN or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence, nor pass letters on to other readers.