Life

Ask Fiona: My parents think I should get a divorce – are they right?

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman whose husband has walked out on her and another worried that she's going through an early menopause

You need to think about what's best for you – not what your parents want for you
By Fiona Caine, PA

I AM 24 and have a lovely but noisy 18-month-old baby and another one on the way. Last week, my husband of only two years, who is 22, simply walked out and went back to live with his mum.

He didn't say why he was leaving but he's really been struggling with everything lately. He lost his job five months ago when his company went bust, and he's been so worried about money. On top of that, I think he was finding the reality of family life just too much.

My parents are horrified that he's done this, they've never really liked him and are putting great pressure on me to get a divorce. They think he is always going to be a weak husband and father and that I should cut my losses and run now. But I'm not sure that that is what I want to do, at least not yet.

My husband speaks to me almost every day, and I know he's struggling and is very unhappy. While he hasn't gone into any details, I think he would like to make at least one attempt to rescue our marriage, but my parents won't listen.

Are they right – is my husband just weak, or will he ever be able to cope with life? I'm just not sure what I should do.

CS

FIONA SAYS: I'm sure you're feeling a bit isolated at the moment and feel the need to turn to your parents for help, but please don't let them dictate to you what happens next. This is YOUR life, YOUR marriage, and if you allow them to override your wishes now, I am sure you will regret it later.

So many people have developed anxiety, depression and other mental health issues as a result of the huge economic and social upheaval the pandemic has caused.

For your parents to judge him as ‘weak' is hardly fair, when I'm sure he's desperately worried about life and how he's going to cope raising a young family without a job.

It's unsurprising he wants to feel like he's somewhere ‘safe' with less pressure, so if he had a happy, secure childhood, it makes sense that he would turn to his family home. The very fact that he's contacting you every day indicates that he still feels a responsibility towards you and the children.

For what it's worth, I think you are right to attempt a reconciliation, if that is what you want. As a first step, I suggest you maintain the contact with your husband and encourage him to talk about his feelings and what he wants from life. Whilst it may not be easy to find a new job, perhaps encourage him in this too; he might want to consider new or additional training.

As your parents are being so negative about him, I would also suggest you keep them apart from each another. If his mental health is fragile, a disparaging remark from them could set back any recovery he is making. That doesn't mean you and the children shouldn't see them, but do so without your husband for the time being.

I would also be quite firm with them, if they start pushing you on divorce matters. Whilst they obviously have your wellbeing at heart, they may not have been impacted in the same way, either economically or psychologically, so don't really understand.

It could well be worth suggesting to your husband that you talk to a Relate counsellor together (relate.org.uk).

It would give you a chance to talk through relationship concerns, as well as how you can support and help each other to prevent it breaking down again. That way, even if things do still eventually lead to separating, you'll know that you'll have done all you could to try and work things out.

COULD I BE GOING THROUGH MENOPAUSE AT 42?

I'M ONLY 42 – so I was shocked and really upset when a friend suggested I might be starting the menopause. I've been having some extreme mood swings over the past couple of months, but I put it down to anxiety about life as it is right now.

I know I've had times when I've got really angry, but she says I've been shouting at people for little or no reason.

I've just put that down to the fact I'm having trouble sleeping. I've also had times when I've burst into tears or simply wanted to be left alone, but I put it down to being pre-menstrual as I've always struggled a bit with period problems.

When my friend pointed out that I've been like this continually for over three months now, it was a bit of a shock. Could she be right? Surely I am too young to be entering the menopause? I checked with my mum and she was in her mid-50s when she went through hers.

PA

FIONA SAYS: While the majority of women start to go through menopause between age 45 and 55, it can start earlier – in some cases, much earlier. So, although you are only 42 and your mother was older when she had hers, that doesn't automatically mean you're not starting to show symptoms now. However, this is really a conversation to have with your GP.

You mention mood swings, which are significant enough for your friend to make a comment. You don't mention whether you've experienced any other possible signs and symptoms that may be related to menopause, such as irregular bleeding, urinary problems, vaginal dryness, hot flushes and sudden sweats – these can all be indicators. Sleep disturbances can also be an indicator of menopause – so while anxiety, as you say, could certainly be causing your sleeping difficulties, it's worth bearing in mind that it could be linked to something else too.

I suggest you arrange to see your doctor and discuss it all. They may want to do a blood test to check your hormone levels. If it turns out you are entering the menopause, please don't panic. There are numerous treatments available to help manage the symptoms, as well as helpful lifestyle advice and complementary therapies.

Although it's been around a while, you might also find it helpful to read the book Is it Me, Or Is It Hot in Here? A Modern Woman's Guide To The Menopause by Jenni Murray. It might be a little dated but I think it's still one of the best books on menopause.

Whatever happens, it sounds like it could be a good idea to talk to your GP anyway. There are also lots of things that can help with things like anxiety and sleep problems. You might consider counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which is a type of talking therapy that can help with low mood and anxiety.

SHOULD I TAKE THIS DREAM JOB OVERSEAS?

I LEFT University two years ago and struggled to get a decent job, so I'm back living at home where, to be honest, I'm happy and comfortable. I could chug along in the rather dead-end job I've got, but I've been offered a dream job which means moving abroad.

Obviously, I'm excited but I'm also nervous. What if I mess it up? Will I be able to cope without my friends and family around me? Certainly, the thought of leaving them all behind is upsetting, but this is a tremendous opportunity with accommodation thrown in and I'd be a fool to waste it.

Everyone is encouraging me, but I still feel very confused about what to do.

SM

FIONA SAYS: I think you know you should take this opportunity but I can understand why you feel apprehensive – Any new job carries with it an equal measure of excitement and doubt.

One that involves moving to a different country will, of course, carry additional anxiety – but what's the worst that can happen?

If it doesn't work out, you can always come home, so all you really need is to make sure you have enough money for your return airfare. You could find out if the company offers regular return trips as part of the package – these are probably only likely to be annual though.

The company obviously has confidence in you, so try and have a bit more faith in your own abilities. Find out as much as you can about the job you'll be doing and about the area you'll be living in. Look at what leisure facilities and social activities are on offer and whether you'll have local colleagues to guide you. Once you're armed with a bit more information, I'm sure it won't seem as daunting.

If you do go and start to feel homesick, try and stick it out for at least six months because homesickness almost always passes once a new lifestyle kicks in. Here's wishing you the best of luck for success in the future.

WHY IS IT SO HARD TO MEET SOMEONE?

WHY is it so hard to find somebody to share my life with? I've had two failed marriages and several failed relationships. My second marriage ended because my husband knocked me about, and of the two children from that marriage, the younger one still lives with me. He has epilepsy and learning difficulties and will always be dependent, but I feel I need a relationship with someone my own age.

The trouble is, whenever I meet someone. they seem to want sex straight away and I just want to be able to meet people without having to get involved immediately. I have been on my own now for 10 years and I think it's time I tried again.

EM

FIONA SAYS: I wonder whether it's worth trying a different approach to dating? Some people do want to have sex right away or might be after something casual, but there are also plenty of people who want to take things slowly and are focused on meeting the right person – it's a question of finding suitable matches for you and being clear about what you are looking for.

Obviously, it's tricky right now and the focus may be on dating apps. But this could perhaps be a chance to get to know someone at a distance maybe, since meeting up and going out with strangers isn't as easy anyway?

Alternatively, could it be time to stop thinking about meeting someone to share your life with and think, instead, of finding new friends? If you were, for example, to try to introduce some other interests into your life, such as a hobby or craft, a sport of some kind, an education class, or even some voluntary work (these may be on hold until restrictions allow things to open up again, of course). It doesn't matter what you do, just as long as it brings you into contact with potential friends. Then, once you've established the companionship you need, you'll be able to think more clearly about a serious relationship – and one might grow out of a friendship that you've made.

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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