Ask Fiona: My husband is at war with our neighbour – please help!
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose husband's feuding with a neighbour and another struggling with loss and depression
MY husband is usually very calm and is easy to get along with. However, he's now got into a dispute with our neighbour that is threatening to escalate into full-scale war.
It all started three months ago, when he popped next door to ask them if they could top out some trees that were shading our garden. Before I knew what was happening, the two of them were hurling the most unpleasant insults at each other and I have never seen my husband so angry. Apparently our neighbour refused to talk about the trees, saying they were there before we bought our house and that he had no intention of cutting them back.
Since then, he and my husband have had a running battle with each other. They both go out of their way to make the other's life difficult and my husband has even got our solicitor involved. I have tried to get my husband to let it go but he is determined to win at all costs. Yesterday was the final straw, when I caught him throwing slugs over the fence!
I used to have such a pleasant relationship with the other man's wife, but now neither of us know what to say to one another. I am at the end of my tether with my husband and can't cope with much more of this.
FIONA SAYS: It sounds like your husband and your neighbour are struggling to cope with the tensions of lockdown. Their dispute is probably an attempt at trying to re-direct their anger and anxiety into something more solid than an unseen virus.
There's something about boundary disputes like this that bring out the worst in people though. Why, I simply don't know – a fence that is over the boundary line by a couple of inches can bring people to blows. However, your husband needs to get his anger under control, because it's not good for his health – or you and everyone else involved – to be like this.
The trees may well have been there before you moved in, but trees grow and if they are obscuring your right to light then there is an issue to be resolved. It doesn't sound as if your husband wants the trees to be entirely removed, so a request to top them out doesn't sound unreasonable to me. Therefore, I'm wondering if there's been some kind of misunderstanding. Perhaps your neighbour thinks your husband wants the trees gone altogether – which would be unreasonable.
Both he and your husband are not helping themselves by being so intransigent, and as you used to have a good relationship with the lady next door, it might be that the two of you can help resolve this. I do know that it needs to be dealt with quickly before the situation really gets out of hand. If you and she could talk and perhaps sort things out between the two of you, you'd be helping both your husbands.
I know you say your husband has contacted a solicitor, but if he could be persuaded not to be so confrontational, mediation could help. I would encourage you to look at the government website (gov.uk), where you can read up on resolving neighbour disputes. There is a whole section on high hedges, trees and boundaries, and you can find out how to involve your local council. You will see that it states you can involve your local council if the height is affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden because it's too tall. You can also find details of a mediation service local to you, if you and the lady next door cannot get your two husbands to see sense.
At the end of the day, unless one or the other of you moves house, you are going to have to live next door to one another, so it's such a shame when relationships break down like this. Hopefully, when things are more normal again, they will, perhaps, grudgingly, accept that they both over-reacted.
I FEEL LIKE LIFE HAS FALLEN APART AND I DON'T KNOW HOW TO COPE
FOUR years ago, I had everything a person could want. I had the most brilliant job, a loving boyfriend and a close family. Since then though, my world has turned upside down and I am struggling to cope.
My mother developed a very aggressive form of breast cancer and at the same time, my father was made redundant. When mum's illness became really bad, for reasons I don't think I will ever forgive or understand, my father left her. My sister was living at home at the time and she said it was too depressing – so she walked out on mum too. I've not seen either one of them since – they didn't even come to mum's funeral when she died.
That was two years ago, and I then had two more funerals to cope with – an uncle who also had cancer, and last year my best friend who was killed in a flying accident. Now to cap it all, in the midst of this pandemic, my boyfriend has walked out on me. He said it was too hard to live with me full time and that I was never happy anymore.
I know I've been depressed, which I accept must have been hard for him, but I've had a lot on my plate. Now my doctor has put me on some medication, but it doesn't seem to be working. You're probably thinking I've made all of this up as nobody can be this unlucky, but I promise you, it's real, and I wish it wasn't.
FIONA SAYS: I am not surprised you are struggling to cope after all you've been through. Losing one parent is very hard, but you have, in effect, lost your whole family.
Why your father and sister behaved as they did, I cannot imagine. While it seems unconscionable, I am not privy to your father and sister's relationship with your mother, which could have been unhappy for some time. I also don't understand why they cut themselves off from you, too. Could it be that they felt you had taken sides against them?
Tragedy can be dealt with in many ways. For some, the easiest thing is to run away, which, it seems, is what those around you have largely done. The other is to try to come to terms with what has happened, confront grief, and work to get back on track. That's never easy but it seems to be the route you have chosen to try and take.
You don't have to do it alone though, which it sounds like you've been trying to do. You imply your doctor has only recently put you on medication, and most anti-depression medications take a while to kick in. Please give them time to start to work; once their effect kicks in, you may find things start to feel easier to cope with.
If your boyfriend thought you weren't doing anything to help yourself through these awful events, he could have felt shut out. If he sees you are now trying to get help, he may be willing to give your relationship another chance.
If he doesn't though, it is yet another hard thing you will have to move on from. And right now, it really is a time to be putting yourself first and being kind and patient with yourself.
I am not suggesting that you will forget all you've been through, but medication may help to bring you back to yourself. Having said that, medication may not be enough, and you could well benefit from some sort of talking therapy too. You've got a lot to process here. Your doctor can help with this too and refer you, so consider speaking to them again.
I would also encourage you to contact Cruse Bereavement Care (cruse.org.uk) as grief counselling would probably be beneficial for you. And don't forget, if and when you need to talk, you can call the Samaritans (samaritans.org) at any time, so try not to bottle things up as you may have been doing up to now.
IS MY SON DRESSING UP IN WOMEN'S CLOTHES?
WHEN my son came home from university, he brought two huge bags of washing, which he dumped in the kitchen for me to deal with as usual! In one of them I found several items of women's clothing, some jewellery, and a lipstick.
I washed all the clothing and put them back in the bags but, ever since, I've been worried about this. I am concerned that he is a transvestite, and don't know if this was his way of telling me.
Should I confront him? And, if my thinking is correct, how do I help him?
FIONA SAYS: If your son dressing in women's clothes (and this doesn't automatically mean he identifies as a transvestite, necessarily) and feels open enough about it to leave his things in the washing that he gives to you, then he probably doesn't need help – just your acceptance.
However, could it be that you've jumped to the wrong conclusion and the things you found belong to a girlfriend? Your son would hardly have left the items for you to find if he had anything to hide – although I suppose it could have been his way of trying to tell you something.
Rather than confront him with assumptions, perhaps simply mention what you found and then leave it him to explain, or not, as he chooses. Being offered the chance to talk openly with you, without any judgement or pressure, might be a very welcome gesture.
Finally, why are you doing his washing anyway? Surely at his age it's time he learned to work a washing machine!
MY MOTHER-IN-LAW SHOULD BE ISOLATING
MY mother-in-law lives about half a mile from us and is supposed to be isolating, as she is at high risk with chronic asthma and bronchiectasis. In spite of this though, she's developed a habit of dropping in on us without warning, two or three times a day.
She never stays long and always refuses food or a drink, even though it's clear she would like to! My husband and I are both trying to work from home and are struggling with these interruptions, but I'm sure she'd be terribly hurt if we told her not to call so often. The thing is, we don't think she should be out and about so much anyway, but what can we do?
FIONA SAYS: I suspect your mother-in-law is struggling to cope with isolation. She is probably unsure of her welcome and thus feels she constantly needs to test it. What she really needs, by the sounds if it, is a bit of company – and I wonder if you could help her to find this by helping to set her up with video conferencing?
Most of us have got used to this in lockdown and it's been a great way to stay more in touch with friends and family.
Point out to her that she's putting herself at risk with these regular outings and that you're worried about her.
If you could arrange a specific time that would suit you to call her each day (perhaps more than once) for a short video chat, she may be happier to stop dropping in at other times.
Also, help her to set up groups she could virtually meet with – any old school friends, for example, and other groups she might have been involved with – this would keep her busy and less lonely.
The fact she turns down the offer of hospitality when she visits shows she's aware that she is imposing on you and wishes she weren't, or perhaps she's trying to keep aware of minimising infection risk. There must be a happy medium to address this in a way that works well for everyone.
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