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Ask Fiona: My mother-in-law is still angry after godmother row

Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her perspective on a woman struggling to cope with her critical mother-in-law and another who has issues with her sister

Your mother-in-law has acted out of place
By Fiona Caine, PA

MY husband and I have been married a year now, after being together for eight. My mother-in-law has never really acknowledged me and always had a coldness to her, only engaging with me minimally. But I then fell pregnant, and suddenly she was there for all those ‘bigger' moments. She helped my mum, sisters and sister-in-law organise a baby shower, then there was to be a baptism. That's where things went wrong.

I needed surgery after my daughter was born – and while I was all loopy afterwards, I told my sister-in-law that maybe she could be the godmother. However, I'm a Catholic and a godparent cannot be living with someone out of wedlock and has to be practicing the faith, etc – so unfortunately, she couldn't be godmother after all, so I chose my younger sister instead.

My mother-in-law got so angry when she found out and started yelling at me in front of my husband and others – saying how could I do something like that, and that I'd hurt her daughter. I told her I was sorry and that I didn't know when I suggested it. My husband did not say anything, just let her yell at me. Then when it came to who to invite, she wanted to control that too.

Since then, every time we meet, she says something about not letting her daughter be godmother and refuses to listen when I try to explain.

ER

FIONA SAYS: I'm guessing that your mother-in-law has been used to having her own way over things and doesn't like to be questioned. Your husband is clearly still used to doing as she says, and the fact that he didn't intervene when she was yelling at you isn't good at all.

It was, perhaps, hurtful that – after being asked to be godmother – you had to take that away from your sister-in-law. But if those are the rules of your faith then it makes sense that you choose to live by them. Had you written to me before the event, I would have suggested you had a second ceremony at the reception where your sister-in-law took on the role of ‘guiding adult'. This is the title often used in non-religious baby-naming ceremonies and would have probably helped ease the tension. Is it too late – could you still ask her to take on this role?

I somehow suspect though that, whatever you do, your mother-in-law will never truly accept you. Your husband is her ‘boy', and probably no-one will ever be good enough for him.

MY TWIN SISTER HAS SIDED WITH MY ABUSIVE EX

MY twin and I were once close, but as we grew older, it became apparent our relationship was strained. I married her husband's college roommate, something she and her husband encouraged, and it seemed like a match made in heaven – until the abuse started.

I endured emotional, physical and mental abuse at the hands of my ex-husband. I found videos that he secretly took of our family and friends naked in our bathrooms – my twin was one of his victims. The divorce was extremely nasty, stressful, and taxing for me – but my twin told me that my divorce was ‘very difficult' for her, as it disrupted her and her husband's group of friends.

What bothers me the most is that she still hangs out with my ex-husband – a lot – she knows what he did to her, yet she still spends time with him. She and her husband have taken my ex-husband's side, and I just don't understand how this could happen; it doesn't make any sense to me.

Why would she choose my perverted, abusive ex-husband over me, her twin?

CC

FIONA SAYS: I can't answer that question definitively, but I do have some questions for you to think about. Could it be that your brother-in-law – your sister's husband – is cut from the same cloth as your ex, his close friend? Could it be that your sister is controlled by a husband that, unlike you, she has been unable to walk away from? Or could it be that your ex-husband has a hold over your brother-in-law in some way, and that he is unable to stand up to his former roommate?

It seems extraordinary to me that your sister could accept being a victim of this man, and still allow him to be an integral part of her life. Your voyeuristic ex-husband has broken the law by videoing people naked. You have done the right thing in walking away from a man who can treat you so badly – but it takes a lot of courage to do that. I am so pleased to hear that you have obtained a divorce and managed to move on from that part of your life, even if he is still close to your sister.

If she is also being abused, then perhaps she isn't yet able to make a move to separate herself from those who, it would seem, are controlling her. It is very sad for you that someone you were once so close to is now estranged from you. You need to continue to build on the life you have made for yourself, and if it means doing so without your sister, then sadly, that's how it must be.

It may well be that, at some point in the future, your sister needs your help to step away from what is happening in her life. Instead of feeling sad and angry that she seems to have take this man's side, please consider the possibility that she is being forced to. Why else would she remain in close contact with someone who, by photographing her naked in the bathroom, has broken the law and turned her into the victim of his perversion?

Make sure she understands you still care for her and miss her, but also make it clear that you do not accept her relationship with your ex willingly.

WHY WON'T MY PARTNER FINALISE HIS DIVORCE?

I STARTED dating a man over three years ago, but didn't find out that he was still married and had not finalised his divorce until after a month of dating him. We fell in love very quickly, but I told him I don't want to date a married man.

He and his wife haven't been together for seven years now, and don't communicate with each other. He told me he isn't going back to his wife and that they both want the divorce, but it's still not happened. His wife started dating someone else, but when he found out her divorce wasn't finalised, he broke up with her. She then asked her husband to get the papers together and I helped him with it; she signed it and sent it back, but that's as far as it went.

This has been an issue throughout our relationship, and he tells me that he loves me and doesn't want to be without me. We had a plan to move in together, but I do not want to get financially involved with him while he is still tied to another person. He promised he would get the paperwork over to his wife but still has not done so, and every time I bring it up, it ends up in a fight or we break up for a bit. He comes back promising me again that he wants only me.

This is also causing an issue with his adult children not respecting me or wanting me at family functions. People that know him think he is still married – they don't know about our relationship. What could possibly be stopping him from wanting to move on with me? Please let me know your thoughts.

BC

FIONA SAYS: You may have been together with this man for three years, but it would seem he isn't willing to commit himself, for some reason. Either that or he's just lazy. It doesn't sound as if he is still hoping for a reconciliation with his wife, and it certainly sounds as if she has moved on. She might be the best person to help you, as she's already lost one relationship because her relationship with her husband hasn't been ended officially. Asking her for help, though, would be controversial and probably difficult.

He keeps promising you that he wants to be with you, but he doesn't keep his promises. He allows his children to show you a lack of respect and furthermore allows his friends to think he's still married. In my view, it's not just his children who are showing you a lack of respect – he is too.

I think you're absolutely right not to move in with him and you certainly shouldn't get financially involved with him.

Whatever his reason may be for not finalising his divorce and moving on, he is hurting you. Either you put up with this and continue to feel hurt, unsupported and unrecognised, or you call a halt to it. You say that when you bring it up, you end up in a fight and break up – well maybe it's time to take a stand. Bring it up – tell him you've had enough and are tired of waiting for him then, when he tries to come back to you, refuse to let him, until he is available to do so.

Yes, it will hurt – but you're hurting now. Yes, it may mean the end of your relationship – but what sort of a relationship is it, if you are being treated this badly? Time to call a halt and move on to someone who appreciates you – and who is properly available to do so!

MY HUSBAND IS SUCH AN AGGRESSIVE DRIVER

I THINK my husband is a very aggressive driver, although he'd never agree with this, despite the fact he shouts, swears, and often make rude hand signs at other drivers.

He drives too fast and too close to the vehicle in front as well, but says he can do this because he's good driver.

Good driver or not, he's had three accidents in as many years and I'm fast becoming a nervous wreck – every pun intended. I can drive, but he rarely lets me do so because (yes, you've guessed it!) he hates being a passenger! We have to drive together, so I can't simply avoid it. What can I do?

BL

FIONA SAYS: When someone thinks they're a good driver, it's hard to persuade them otherwise, as they'll take it a personal insult if you criticise them. Road-rage has been linked to several tragic deaths – even murders – but it's difficult to see how you can calm your husband's aggression down.

When you're not in the car together, why not broach the subject of wanting to drive more – you could even consider taking the Advanced Driving Test to show him you're keen. You could do this through RoSPA (the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents; rospa.com) or the Institute of Advanced Motorists – known as IAM Roadsmart (iamroadsmart.com).

If you could possibly persuade your husband to join you on one of these courses, he might well learn that he's not such a great driver after all – what if you passed and he failed? You could certainly argue that it would probably help with the insurance premiums, which must have taken a knock after three accidents, as qualified ‘advanced drivers' can get a reduction.

As long as he continues his aggressive behaviour, the only way you are going to reduce (not stop) your anxiety levels when you are travelling with him is to do more of the driving yourself. I hope you can persuade him to let you drive more.

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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