Life

Ask Fiona: Things don't feel the same after my husband's affair

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine a woman trying to save her marriage after an affair and another who is afraid to go back to her dentist because of the coronavirus risk

You and your husband need to think about counselling

MY husband had an affair last year that led to us splitting up. I was devastated and the kids were struggling too, but we battled on and things started to improve. Then the coronavirus hit, and what with homeschooling and trying to work from home, I was struggling.

My husband and his girlfriend split up at about the same time – I don't think she wanted him living with her full-time, to be honest. He then begged me to give him a second chance. He swore he still loved me and I realised that I still loved him too. As things were so difficult with lockdown, we agreed to try again, and we've now been back together since March.

However, I'm beginning to wonder if it was a mistake, as we don't seem to have the spark between us that we had before. We do have sex quite regularly but it feels strange and I can't help feeling that it's just to relieve the stress, and that he's now comparing me to the other girl.

If we were to split up again, I'm sure it would be painful and the children would be the ones who are hurt the most. I am so confused about what to do and say, and can't help but wonder if he only came back for the kids and to have a roof over his head.

LP

FIONA SAYS: I have a sense that you both still love each other and that getting back together was what you both really wanted.

So, I don't think your reconciliation was a mistake – but what was perhaps a mistake was not properly working through what happened and what drove you apart in the first place.

Counselling during lockdown hasn't stopped. Many counsellors have been working online using video platforms. I'm sure your husband wants to be there with his children, but I wouldn't mind betting he saw you struggling and wanted to help. He probably realised that he still cared for you and thought things would go back to the way they were – but without some kind of intervention, they can't.

Your self-confidence has taken a battering and you probably can't bring yourself to believe that he meant it when he said he still loved you. For the trust to return, your husband needs to understand how badly he hurt you, and also that you both need to work out what went wrong between you. Currently, there is a tension between you because neither of you quite knows what to say to put things right.

You need his reassurance; he probably thinks he's giving you that by being there. Neither of you have tackled the root of what drove you apart and without sorting this out, it will very difficult for your relationship to normalise again.

To get the process going, I suggest you both arrange to see a Relate (relate.org.uk) counsellor. There may well be a wait for this, as many people's relationships have suffered over the past months and they have seen a big increase in people needing their help. However, they have increased the availability of their counsellors in order to try and support people during this unprecedented time.

You can find more details about telephone counselling, webcam counselling or the live chat services on the website. Men can be notoriously reluctant to talk about their feelings and their relationships, so you may well have to start this process by yourself. I would hope, though, that if he really wants to see your marriage succeed, he will be willing to give counselling a try.

TERRIFIED OF GOING BACK TO THE DENTIST

I AM terrified of going to the dentist. For me, one of the good things about lockdown is that I haven't had to go. I'm really ashamed of my bad teeth though, and I only ever smile with my mouth closed.

I have asthma and angina too, which is another reason why I've avoided going, as someone told me that if you get an infection at the dentist it can affect your heart. I know this seems trivial, but to me, it is a big problem and I wish I knew how to overcome my fears.

FF

FIONA SAYS: You are not alone – there are many people like you who are terrified of going to the dentist; I used to be one of them. These days though, almost all dentists are a lot more aware of the anxiety some patients feel, and generally, are more than willing to treat them sympathetically.

You might choose to opt for private, rather than NHS treatment, at least initially, so that they have the time to spend with you. Talk to friends and get contact details for a number of dentists, then see how they react to you over the phone when you explain that you're anxious. Perhaps ask if you can come in a talk to someone first, just to see how you get on.

Modern dental practice considers all aspects of a person's health before giving treatment, so the dentist you choose will almost certainly want to know about your other medical conditions. Do mention your concerns about your angina.

There have also been studies linking chronic bacterial infection of the gums to heart problems, so it's never a good idea for anyone to forgo dental check-ups for too long. Not only does this means problems can go untreated, but it may mean you're more likely to need more extensive treatments.

It may take a while before you can get an appointment right now, as many practices are still working to catch up the patients they've been unable to treat whilst they were closed. But do persevere. There is no shame in being scared of the dentist – but they will handle you with care and I am sure it will be a big relief to get it done.

CARING FOR MY GRANDCHILDREN ALONE IS A CHALLENGE

I AM in my early-60s and after my daughter was sectioned with mental health problems earlier this year, I've been looking after my three grandchildren. She is still in hospital and is likely to be there for some time, but social services have said they are happy for the children to stay with me and my husband.

I won't pretend it hasn't been difficult at times, as they are hard work, but I love them to bits and enjoy every moment I am with them. It's been particularly difficult since the pandemic started as my husband has been shielding, so trying to entertain three little ones has been challenging, to say the least.

Now things are easing a bit, I have been trying to find things to do with them. Luckily we are close to some lovely parks, where I've been able to take them to let off steam. As I'm new to this, I thought about the mother and toddler groups I used to go to with my own children were little ones, but I feel I'd be out of place. I'm sure I'm not the only grandparent caring for small people, so why is finding something for people my age so hard? I can't find any groups locally, although I've asked around.

My husband's employers have been very good – they furloughed him, even though they would have rather he stayed working, but this can't continue for much longer.

Once he goes back to work and I have to manage the children on my own, I know I'm going to struggle. Worrying about this is getting me down and I wish I knew where to turn for help.

JS

FIONA SAYS: You are by no means the only grandparent taking care of their grandchildren. There has been research to show that four out of every five children are cared for by a grandparent regularly, and that more than half of all childcare is done by grandparents. That's an enormous number of people who are in a similar position to you.

While not all of them will be full-time carers for these children, you certainly aren't alone. That means that whilst your own experience might have been young mums and toddlers meeting together, these days the range of carers is far more diverse.

While you've been trapped at home with the children because of the pandemic, I'm sure you'll find plenty of opportunities exist locally once you can start exploring properly and things reopen more fully. There's bound to be playgroups and toddler groups and you may well find other kinds of groups too – there are music groups and soft-play centres, toy libraries and more. Church halls, village halls and other centres will almost certainly have options available where your little ones can play with others. Most these days refer to ‘carer' rather than ‘mother', so you'll find fathers, grandparents, nannies, au-pairs, and childminders too.

You are already involved with social services, so ask them for ideas too – they know how important it is for little ones to interact with others, so don't be frightened that they'll think you're not coping.

I don't know if you know SAGA (saga.co.uk) but their website has a magazine section, which has a lot of helpful and useful advice for grandparents. They even have a section for grandparents looking after grandchildren, where you will find lots of helpful advice and useful links.

One of these is Family Lives (familylives.org.uk). This is another great resource where you can find lots of helpful advice and information, including advice on how to set up your own grandparent and toddler group.

I would also particularly encourage you to look at the section on looking after yourself, not only your physical health but also your emotional health. In particular, don't neglect your friendships – your friends will still want to see you! They are also amongst those you can talk to and ask for help – you might be surprised who would be willing to babysit occasionally, so you and your husband can get out together.

MY HUSBAND HITS ME AND MY DAUGHTER

I THINK my husband has bipolar disorder, as he is a really nice person, loves kids, loves jokes and everyone thinks he is perfect. I just love when my family respect him as their in-law – but he has an incredibly short temper. He can hit me in front of my daughter and sometimes can even hit my daughter too, who is just two-and-a-half.

That's insane and he never says sorry afterwards. He ends up saying if I want to leave, I can leave, but I can never take my daughter with me. My baby is my weakness and I can't survive without her. I'm confused and seriously unhappy.

SM

FIONA SAYS: This man is not the nice person your friends and family think he is! He is manipulative and abusive and you need to leave him as soon as you possibly can, taking your daughter with you as she is not safe there either. Bipolar disorder can be associated with shifts in mood, but what you are describing sounds like abuse.

He displays a clever front to other people, so that they like him and believe well of him, but it's a very well-known fact that abusive men who can be charming like this can also be very dangerous.

The National Domestic Abuse Helpline is a freephone 24-hour helpline which provides advice and support to women and can refer them to emergency accommodation. Call 0808 2000 247 and get help as soon as you possibly can.

Your husband may say that you can never take your daughter with you, but she cannot stay with a man who has shown himself to be abusive and a danger to her.

Social services would ensure your safety and hers and will help you, so contact the helpline now and let them help you find a safe place to go.

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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