Life

Ask Fiona: How can I get on better with my ex's new wife?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective to a confused divorcee, and a single man who is unlucky in love

Looking after children is exhausting and the only way to deal with it is to get help from your partner, family or friends
Fiona Caine

SINCE my ex-husband's remarriage, our 11 year-old-son has always got along well with his stepmum. I'm on a perfectly friendly footing with my ex, but I struggle to talk with his new wife, and as she and I are the ones that tend to organise the visits, it's really hard for me.

I'm normally great at talking to people, so I have no idea why I feel like this – especially as she's gone out of her way to be polite and friendly on the phone. I could really do with some advice as to how to get along better with her as it's obviously important we maintain a good relationship for my son.

Why can't I do better at this?

SR

FIONA SAYS: I'm really not that surprised that you find it difficult to deal with your ex-husband's new wife. In a real sense, she's taken your place and, however amicable your divorce was from your husband, it must feel strange. Although you don't mention it, could there be a little jealousy that she has managed to bond with your son too? You have both got important roles to play in your son's life and, whilst your husband might not really like the idea, I wonder if it would help if you and she met face-to-face? It might help to put an end to those awkward telephone calls where you don't quite know what to say to one another.

As I suggested, your ex might not feel entirely comfortable with this and might even feel threatened - as one of the topics of conversation between you is likely to be him. However, I'm sure you could convince him that getting to know her better (assuming she is willing of course) wouldn't be a bad thing.

This is, after all, the woman who - in your husband's absence – is likely to be looking after your son, and if both families can get along together, it will certainly make things easier for him. Many young children of divorced parents think they are, in some way, to blame for their parent's separation, so the fact that you and your ex are still friendly with one another is great.

He will, though, I'm sure, start to sense your discomfort about his stepmother and this could cause him confusion. He will start to wonder if he's being disloyal to you if he enjoys being with her and will also wonder if he's betraying his father if he likes being with you. That could end with him not knowing what to do for the best and a troubled child can become a troublesome one.

Whilst you could cut this woman out of your life altogether, by insisting that all discussions about your son be conducted between you and your ex, I'm sure you can see this wouldn't be practical. In fact, it would almost certainly cause a lot more problems, and certainly wouldn't improve things between you and her.

The next time you have to speak to her on the phone, why not ask her if she'd be willing to meet you for a coffee? If she asks why, tell her that you think it's important for your son that you and she get along together. Even a single meeting would make future conversations easier, as you'll know a little more about the person you're talking to.

If that's not possible, then try and start future phone conversations with a friendly greeting and a chat, rather than immediately launching into the practicalities of your son's next visit. Try and pretend to yourself that you're phoning a friend, ask about what she's been up to before talking about practical arrangements.

There's a saying - 'fake it till you make it' - that applies beautifully here. You and she may never be best friends, but if you can be friendly acquaintances, it will make life easier for you both.

WHY DON'T WOMEN WANT TO DATE ME?

I'm a 25-year-old single guy and I have always been the friend that women come to with their problems, rather than someone that they want to date.

People, especially my parents, tell me I'm being too nice for my own good and that others will always take advantage of me. It's true that I have been used a lot in the past, but I wouldn't want to turn away someone who needed help. I'm shy around people I don't know and I guess that's why I am overlooked all the time, but I'm tired of being single. It seems nice guys finish last!

JJ

FIONA SAYS: The fact that you're single doesn't mean that you're incapable of having a relationship – it just means that you haven't, so far, met the right person. What's more, as you are already someone that women feel they can talk to and trust, I think it's only a question of time before you meet someone that's right for you.

I don't buy into the idea that someone can be too nice and what on earth does that mean anyway? Surely not that you have to be nasty in order to be happily in love? Talk to the girls you are friends with and ask them for advice on changing your image to make yourself more attractive. Tell them you want a relationship and perhaps they'll start introducing you to their friends.

If you want to give love a chance, don't listen to people who seem to want to undermine your confidence by accusing you of being too nice. Instead, develop lots of new interests and try to meet as many new people as possible, which will increase the chances of you meeting the right person for you.

Nice guys really don't always finish last, but sometimes it can take them a little longer to make the right choices.

MY NEW EMPLOYER ISN'T TAKING THEIR RESPONSIBILITIES SERIOUSLY

I've just changed jobs and the company I've joined is small and relatively new, so it's a very exciting time to be involved. However, because it's a start-up, no one seems to be aware of things like safety procedures and first aid.

At my last company, which was bigger, we all knew who the first aider was and knew to go to them if anyone had an accident or injury. I mentioned this in passing to one of my colleagues who just laughed and said that if anything happened, they'd just call an ambulance.

I know that's not good enough, but I don't want to make a fuss. What should I do?

ML

FIONA SAYS: I think you're right to be concerned, and while I understand you don't want to be seen as a troublemaker, I think you should speak up. Talk to your immediate manager and ask if anyone is responsible for first aid - it may just be that people don't know and that there is a qualified first aider on the team.

If there isn't, then why not offer to take on the role yourself? Point out how much you like the company and how you hope to stay, then ask if they'd be willing to support you doing a first aid course.

St John's Ambulance (sja.org.uk) offer workplace first aid training. I'm sure your new employers would appreciate your enthusiasm and willingness to take responsibility.

I'M STRUGGLING TO COPE AS A MOTHER

My partner and I have two kids and I'm really struggling to cope. The eldest is two-and-a-half and the baby is 10 months old.

Even though the older one goes to a playgroup three times a week, I still can't cope with getting things done and I'm so exhausted all the time. So much so, that I have to ask my husband for help when he gets in from work, just get food ready.

I barely manage any housework and the house is a tip. I feel I'm a failure as a mum and as a wife. Although I know my husband loves me, I'm sure he's getting fed up of me being like this.

He must wonder what I'm doing all day (although he's not said anything) and the truth is, I don't know - the days just drift by and I feel as though I am going nowhere.

SG

FIONA SAYS: The fact that you're struggling like this doesn't mean you're a failure at all – many mums with young children do, unless they have help. Looking after children is exhausting, but the more you blame yourself for not doing more, the more you risk becoming even further depressed than you are now.

Do please see your GP to make sure you're not struggling with post-natal depression, which is an incredibly common result of all the hormone changes your body has been through. Looking after children is rewarding, but it can also be very isolating.

While you mention a playgroup for your son, are you mixing with other mums and if not, is there a parent and toddler group you could go to? Your health visitor would probably know about these and can help you to find one in the area. Or could you get together with other parents at your older son's playgroup?

Talk to your husband about how down and depressed you're feeling, as he may be unaware of just badly how you feel. I'd also suggest you contact Home Start (home-start.org.uk) as this national charity has, among other things, a network of support volunteers who perform home visits.

They could really help you both practically and emotionally, as at the heart of what they do is helping families cope with problems before they become a crisis.

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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