Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on family dramas, emotional issues and dysfunctional relationships. This week: a hoarding husband and learning to love and trust others again.
QUESTION: My marriage ended badly three years ago when my ex-husband left to live with his secretary.
Ever since, I’ve found it very hard to trust men and although I’ve had a few short-term relationships, I’ve always backed out when things look like they’re getting serious.
Now I’ve met someone I really care about and, although I’d like things to become more permanent with him, I still keep pushing him away.
I’ve explained and he seems to understand, but how long will he be prepared to wait while I dither?
I’m worried if I mess him about much more, he’ll get fed up and leave.
FIONA SAYS: The way your husband left you has seriously knocked your confidence, so it’s not surprising your ability to trust other people has taken a knock.
Try and rationalise this – your husband was just one man and this is a completely different person.
I know there are plenty of other examples of men like your husband, but there are plenty more of loving, lasting relationships where neither partner has ever cheated.
Men are not all the same – nor are women – so unless you want to cut yourself off from relationships for life, sooner or later you are going to have to be prepared to take a chance.
If this man has indicated that he is willing to wait until you are ready, he must care enough to give you the time and space you need.
Think of relationships like you might think of learning to dive; at the moment, you’re teetering on the edge of the water, afraid of what you’re facing.
You know you like being in the water, but still you’re scared of how you’ll hit the water.
Don’t turn away from the edge, dive in and see what happens. You might land badly and it could hurt a bit, but you’ve already proved you’re strong.
Then you might find the water isn’t perfect, but that’s okay. You know you’re strong enough to climb out of it and try again because now you’ve done it before.
Just don’t wait too long though or the tide might go out – in other words, no one will wait forever and, if you want a relationship with this man you’re going to have to take a chance.
QUESTION: I have always known my husband tended to hoard things and his mother even warned me on our wedding day that he finds it hard to throw things away.
I thought she was exaggerating so I ignored it but, five years on, our house is groaning under the weight of the junk that my husband insists on keeping.
Every room is full of box files, old computers, motoring magazines and cricketing memorabilia.
It feels like there’s no space left in the house for me, but when I asked him to consider throwing out some stuff, he looked shocked that I should even suggest it.
FIONA SAYS: People with a compulsion to hoard things do so for a variety of reasons, one of which is because it gives them a sense of security.
Your husband is unusual, as those with a hoarding disorder tend to have difficulty in relating to others – most are single, live alone and may have had a deprived childhood.
None of these would seem to apply in your husband’s case, but nonetheless something is triggering his behaviour and he probably needs help.
Your husband’s reaction to being asked to get rid of some of his junk is typical, but is he fully aware of just how concerned you are?
Explain that you are feeling squeezed out and that you feel you are taking second place to his hoard.
You might have to enlist help from other people – perhaps his mother – to persuade him to seek help, but it’s help he needs to make him understand this is a serious threat to your marriage.
Visit nhs.uk for more information on ‘Hoarding Disorder’.
QUESTION: Since my son and his wife split up last year he’s stayed away from his ex-wife and their four-year-old daughter.
I am sure this isn’t good for him or for her and, what’s more, he has stopped visiting me as frequently too.
I still see quite a bit of his ex-wife and my granddaughter and I think it’s why he’s staying away.
He and I have been fairly open with each other, so I’m surprised he hasn’t discussed it, and I’m really missing my son.
FIONA SAYS: You may well be right that he’s not seeing you because you are seeing his ex, but unless you talk to him about it, you won’t really know.
Don’t wait for him to make the first move, but call him and tell him you are worried about him and concerned that you don’t see him as often as you used to.
Encourage him to talk about his feelings regarding his separation – perhaps he feels you’re taking sides with his ex which is keeping him away.
Try and make it clear to him that your aim is to maintain contact with your granddaughter, not take sides in his relationship, and hopefully he’ll realise the importance of doing this. It might even encourage him to start re-establishing a relationship with the child himself.
If he still stays away, it may be because he’s hurting so badly he doesn’t want to share his feelings and that’s something you’ll just have to give him time with. I’m sure he’ll come around in time.
QUESTION: Over the past three years, I have suffered with a string of gynaecological problems; recurring cystitis, period problems and various other infections.
My male doctor has always been able to provide treatment, but I’m still left feeling that I don’t really understand what the problems are or what’s caused them.
It’s partly my fault because I’ve always felt too embarrassed about asking questions.
I don’t particularly want to change doctors as he’s very good, but is there somewhere I could go to discuss these kinds of problems, and perhaps how to prevent them? I can look them up online, but I’d rather talk to someone.
FIONA SAYS: As you’ve had a history of gynaecological problems, I’m sure your doctor would quite understand and not be in the least offended if you asked to speak to a woman doctor. He will realise that you need to feel comfortable about discussing all your symptoms.
I’d be surprised if there isn’t one at the practice you go to, even if you have to wait a while for an appointment. There might also be a specialist nurse at the practice too, so do ask.
You could also contact Women’s Health Concern, a charity established specifically to help women discuss the kind of problems you’ve been facing.
WHC’s website will explain how you can make contact and their factsheets could be very useful to you as well.
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.