Life

Ask Fiona: My daughter's fiance called off their engagement

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas

All you can do as a mother is to be there to support your daughter

WHEN my 22-year-old daughter got engaged a few months ago, we were all thrilled and she was so happy and excited. We started making plans and she was online all the time, looking at wedding dresses and planning her big day. She wanted to be ready as soon as the shops opened, and she soon became very clear about what she wanted and who she wanted to invite.

Last week though, her fiancé called to tell her he wanted to break it off. He says he's confused and unsure about what he really wants, and that having been furloughed, he's been able to think long and hard about it.

Inevitably, my daughter has taken this badly, especially as he continues to tell her that he loves her. She has suggested they get together to discuss, but he says he doesn't really want to go out, as he doesn't believe it's safe yet. His father died las year – not from Covid, he'd been ill a long time – and I'm wondering if this is causing his reluctance to make a commitment to my daughter. Do you think this is the case, or has he just got cold feet? What can I do to help my daughter, as she's so unhappy?

CT

FIONA SAYS: I am so sorry to hear that this has happened to your daughter – it must be heart-breaking when someone who apparently loves you goes back on their commitment. But with all the trauma this young man has been through, it is perhaps not surprising that he doesn't really know where he is and what he wants.

Covid has depressed and caused doubt and anxiety in a great many people, and having to cope with the death of someone close as well could easily have tipped this young man over the edge.

Love and support are what your daughter needs now, and I suspect her fiancé could do with much the same. A reluctance to make decisions and socialise are classic symptoms of grief, and both suggest that her fiancé may well be finding it hard to come to terms with his father's death.

Perhaps encourage your daughter to share her feelings of devastation with you, rather than with him. If she can give him more time and be supportive of him and the way he is feeling – if that is what they both want – it may help put his mind at rest. Once he has had a chance to grieve for his father, he may well realise that she is the one for him.

If he still shows signs of anxiety and depression, then bereavement counselling may be needed. Your daughter could contact CRUSE Bereavement Care (cruse.org.uk) on his behalf for further information. They offer free help and advice to all bereaved people through individual or group counselling.

Grief is overwhelming and can be devastating, so it's really not surprising that he can't make a commitment at this time, but it's very positive that he says he still loves her. I hope, in time, these two young people will be able to tie the knot and be together.

HEARTBROKEN AT LOST TIME WITH MY KIDS

BACK in 2015, I left my babies' father, as he regularly abused me. I had tried to leave him before, but he wasn't going to let me take the children. We had three small children at the time and so, to try and stop me, he made sure he made me look like a bad mother.

In the end, the abuse was so bad I had to leave, and from 2016 until now, he hasn't allowed me to see them. I couldn't call them or visit them, and every day I lived with this empty feeling in my heart.

I've now been allowed to see them, and they know I love them with all my heart. What really hurts me the most is that I can never get back the time I have lost with them.

GR

FIONA SAYS: Being apart from your children for five years must, indeed, have been heart-breaking. Fortunately, they know you love them – so many children under these circumstances might feel rejected by an absent parent, especially if they didn't understand why.

I completely understand the hurt you feel for all those lost years, but there is nothing you can do to get them back. All you can do is move forward, positively, to build on the loving relationship you have with your children.

As natural as it may be to feel anger, and possibly even want revenge on your husband for depriving you of contact for all this time, please try not to act on this. Your children, presumably, still have a relationship with him. Perhaps when they are adults themselves, you can share with them what has happened, but for now, let them remain innocent and enjoy their time with you.

HOW CAN I MEND RIFT WITH NEIGHBOUR?

I RECENTLY asked a neighbour, who I'm friendly with, if she would witness my signature on a legal document. Being in lockdown, it was tricky to ask people I know better, and I did it with her looking over the fence.

She seemed quite happy to do it and I sent the papers off to my solicitor the same day. So, it was a bit of a shock when she knocked on my door the following day and said she'd changed her mind. She said she didn't want to be a party to the business in question and asked me to take her name off the papers.

I tried to explain to her that she's not involved or bound by the details of the document in any way. I told her that all she's done is witness that I am the person who signed the document. She was adamant though, and in the end we both got quite cross.

I pointed out that it was now probably too late and too expensive to go through the same process again. Since then, we've hardly spoken to each other and there is a definite coolness between us.

I hate what this has done to our friendship and wish things could go back to the way they were. Short of talking to my solicitor and getting him to reissue the papers (and incurring the extra expense that will involve), I don't know what to do!

TL

FIONA SAYS: Your friend sounds like a very cautious person, who is clearly frightened by the consequences of signing any legal document. Short of going back on what you said and having everything drawn up again, there is little you can do if your friend won't listen to you. Might it help, though, if you were to enlist the help of an impartial third party?

Would reassurance from a legal advisor at Citizen's Advice, for example, help her to understand what her signature means under these circumstances? He or she can then explain that all your neighbour has done is confirmed that it's you signing the document and not someone else.

I suppose it might depend, of course, on what the document is. If, for example, it was divorce papers, she might feel that it could be seen she was taking sides. If that's the case, then I doubt that even a third party's reassurance would help her.

In the meantime, try telling her how upset you feel over this incident. Tell her that you value her friendship and would like to go back to the way things were. This gives her the opening to explain what it was that so worried her, and you could then be well on the road to patching up your friendship. It will also depend on how far your solicitor has got with using the documents. Yes, this will mean additional and unnecessary expense (although it might not be as much as you expect) but it might be worth it, if it proves to her how much you value her friendship.

MY MOTHER-IN-LAW REFUSES TO ACKNOWLEDGE ME

ALTHOUGH I've been married for 15 years, my mother-in-law still hasn't accepted me. I think I could cope better if she was rude or argumentative, but she simply ignores me completely. It's literally like I'm not there and she can't see me.

I get no support from my husband, who doesn't seem to see it and sticks up for her every time. I know she's getting older and that I should have learnt to cope with it by now, but it's getting me crosser and crosser. So much so that I feel like refusing to visit her, and refusing to let the children see her either. Am I being petty?

LS

FIONA SAYS: I don't think you're being petty by considering refusing to see her yourself, but I think it would be a mistake to involve your children. Aside from the fact that they wouldn't understand, and that it would cause even further resentment, they really shouldn't be used as pawns in this game. The one person who I think you should be taking more of an issue with is your husband.

The next time you visit, ask her open-ended questions, in front of him, to see if she responds – make it hard, if not impossible, for her to ignore you. He should be on your side, and so if he cannot or will not stand up to his mother, you have every justification at being angry with him too.

Make sure he sees just how upset you are and point out that he is putting his mother's feelings before yours. I can see why he wouldn't want to cause a family rift, but that doesn't mean he can't give you more support and speak up for you when his mother is being rude.

He needs to know just how angry you are, and if he doesn't want you to finally blow your top, he must find a way of getting his mother to accept that you are now part of the family.

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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