My ex-boyfriend has made me scared of intimacy
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on a woman who is struggling to move on from an abusive relationship and a husband whose childish behaviour is becoming unbearable
I have recently split up with the boyfriend I'd lived with for almost two years.
Although everything was great at first, he gradually became nastier and nastier to me.
None of my family and friends liked him, which has meant that I've now completely lost contact with many people who were close to me.
He was very cruel and made me take part in some very unpleasant sexual games, which I loathed.
The result is that I'm now so terrified of any intimacy, I feel frightened if a man even speaks to me.
I used to be such a bubbly, outgoing person, but I can't see myself ever having a relationship again.
I'll never forgive him for what he's done to me, but how can I move on from this?
FIONA SAYS: After being so cruelly treated by your ex-partner, it's no wonder you're petrified. The hurt and fear you feel, though, are a normal reaction to the past.
While I hope that you'll feel less fear in the future, I hope you don't lose your caution; that will protect you from being drawn into the web of another unscrupulous, dangerous man.
Deep down, you know all men are not like this, but at the moment, you don't have the confidence to tell the good from the bad.
Rebuilding confidence will take time and you should make contact with the family and old friends with whom you've lost contact. They can help you through this difficult period.
While you are still feeling weak and vulnerable, it's not the time to seek out another relationship. You're likely to make bad choices and would run the risk of being a victim again.
I hope that once you've rebuilt some of your former close friendships, you'll feel better able to put this man behind you.
But if you feel you need more help, try talking to a Relate counsellor (relate.org.uk).
Their counselling can cover sexual issues, so don't be afraid to discuss the abuse you experienced – as talking about it will help you understand it for what it was.
Talking to Relate or to a counsellor of some kind should help you develop the confidence to start looking at new relationships again.
You need to believe you are worthy of a loving, equal relationship where your wishes are respected.
MY PARENTS ARE REFUSING TO MOVE HOUSE
My parents are both in their 80s and have lived in the same house for the past 32 years.
It's an old house and, although they both have small pensions, they simply cannot afford to keep up with the amount of maintenance the house needs.
I've suggested they sell up and move into a smaller place, which would give them some extra capital, but they're determined to stay in their house until they die.
I'm willing to help them maintain the house, but I can't afford either the time or expense of doing it for them.
What other help is available?
FIONA SAYS: This is a perennial problem and there's no one solution, because everyone's needs and expectations are different.
I suggest you contact Age UK (ageuk.org.uk); aside from their numerous helpful publications on all manner of issues, they have people you can talk to, who will support you in helping your parents.
They can tell you about possible grants and refer you to any local schemes that may be operating in their area to help them with things they might need to stay put.
It's also worth considering freeing up some capital by taking out a mortgage against the value of their home, but please be careful as there are good and bad schemes available.
Again, Age UK can advise on this.
Sometimes it helps to think outside the box, too; if they have a big house with lots of space, why not consider taking on a lodger or a student?
The government's 'Rent a Room Scheme' would let them earn up to £7,500 each year tax-free from letting out furnished accommodation in their home.
This would increase their income and also give you the security of knowing there is someone else around.
HOW CAN I HELP MY LONELY MOTHER?
Ever since my mother separated from my father 18 months ago, she's gone to pieces.
She calls me several times each day and expects me to drop whatever I am doing to help her, or provide a shoulder to cry on.
She's not sleeping well but won't take the tablets the doctor gave her, and she cancelled her visits to the counsellor he suggested after just one session.
I love her and I want to help, but I'm beginning to resent this constant demand for attention and the strain it's putting on my own marriage.
This has to stop, but how do I get her to realise this?
FIONA SAYS: No matter how much two people love one another, it's always healthy to form friendships and connections outside the relationship.
That's because if and when bereavement or separation strikes, they have other interests and other people to fall back on.
It sounds as if, sadly, your mother is one of those who has focused her life on her husband and family, and now has nowhere else to turn.
You've been very patient, but perhaps the time has come to be firmer with your mother.
Choose your moment and explain that helping her is affecting your own marriage and that you cannot just drop everything for her.
I suggest you agree on a daily call at a fixed time, and a weekly visit, but encourage her to see that she'll never regain her independence if she continues to depend so heavily on you.
Encourage her to see that if she helped herself more - by seeing the counsellor and taking her prescribed medication – she will get through this faster than by trying to manage without.
MY HUSBAND WON'T TAKE THE BLAME
My husband has always been quick to blame someone else whenever things went wrong – even when everyone knows he was at fault.
He's always been like this, but over the past few years, his childishness seems to have got worse.
He left the oven on last week and when I gently brought it up, he swore blind he hadn't done it. When I pointed out that I hadn't been into the kitchen until that moment, he flew off the handle and stomped out of the house for three hours.
I am finding this sort of childish behaviour really tiresome and it's getting me down.
Why are we drifting apart over this?
FIONA SAYS: You don't tell me a lot about yourselves, but I wonder if you're an older couple.
It may be that he's become more difficult as he's got older – a lot of us do – but it's also possible that you've become a little less tolerant.
If he's always been this way and you've managed to put up with it, then couldn't you both be honest with one another and talk it through?
With a little tolerance, understanding and humour from you both, I'd like to think you can work through this.
Instead of both getting angry about things, try laughing at each other's little quirks, and I'm sure you'll find things will improve.
If you have a problem and you'd like Fiona's advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org