Life

Ask Fiona: I've had enough of my husband and his mum pairing against me

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

Your husband's relationship with his mum sounds unhealthy
By Fiona Caine, PA

MY HUSBAND has an alcohol issue, he can't control his intake and sometimes he doesn't come home or answer calls or messages when he's out. We've fought about this many times, and I've been sick to my stomach with anxiety and pain.

I've tried calling his mother to tell her, so she can talk to him. But she downplays the issue, saying he's not an alcoholic – even though his dad was, which was why his parents split. Somehow, she's ended up fighting with me and turning the situation on me, saying I must've done something to cause him to drink or us to fight. She tries to find anything and everything to go against me and deny her son's behaviour.

During lockdown, we were on the verge of breaking up, and she told me that if a wife doesn't do her husband's laundry and cook him dinner every day then she doesn't love him. I was the one working as a teacher (doing online schooling), and working with our daughter, but even so, I did do his laundry.

She only lives five minutes away from us and he's always round there – she literally doesn't care that he's leaving me and our children alone. She always blames me or turns on me, although my husband claims she loves me! She gives him money and then holds it over his head so he can't say no to her. He respects her more than he does me, and he doesn't understand what I am talking about, but they text and call every single day.

I've had enough; I feel she is manipulating and narcissistic and won't face up to the issues with her son's drinking. Am I crazy, or are they in a very disturbing and creepy relationship?

EZ

FIONA SAYS: The relationship between a mother and son can be very close. And if, for her, her son is ‘perfect', then anyone or anything that tries to deny that perfection can be hard to even consider. Your mother-in-law has lived with an alcoholic, so you'd expect her to be understanding, but she's obviously finding it impossible to believe that her son could go the same way as her ex-husband.

Perhaps she does care for you – after all, you are still trying to help him and care for him, in spite of the way he treats you. Living with an alcoholic is hard enough, but living with one where others around him are colluding with him makes it even harder.

I'd encourage you to join Al-Anon (al-anonuk.org.uk), the group for families and friends of alcoholics. Al-Anon has over 700 groups throughout the UK and Ireland, where you will find support and acceptance from others who truly understand your experiences. As they say in their information, they ‘can help you find a different way of coping with your relationship with an alcoholic'.

Whether you want to continue that relationship and continue to support him though, is very much up to you. Your mother-in-law is a different issue though. She uses her position against you in order to manipulate your husband, and that relationship certainly sounds unhealthy. Whether it's disturbing and creepy though, I really don't know; I think I would have to see their interaction together to get a better idea about that.

It is certainly not helping your husband that she won't face he has a problem with alcohol – have you explained to her that downplaying the problem isn't going to help him? If you tried the angle of being worried about his health and the state of his liver, rather than being upset about his behaviour, you might appeal to her better nature.

I'M PREGNANT AND IN A PANIC

I'M 30 and have been married for six years to a man I truly love. I have a good job, lots of friends and an active social life – but I've just found out that I am pregnant (unplanned) and am now in a complete state of panic.

I'm not at all sure that I want to have a baby right now, nor that I would make a particularly good mother. Initially, my husband was thrilled but he has now ducked the issue by saying that he'll support any decision I make – but all this does is put the sole responsibility on me.

Some of my friends have suggested that I have an abortion, but I've never liked the idea of that. Faced with my entire life being turned upside down though, I'm beginning to wonder. I just don't know what to do for the best.

HK

FIONA SAYS: You're going to think I'm ducking the issue too, because I'm not going to tell you what to do either. This is not a decision anyone else can make for you, and I would be wary of listening too closely to uninformed advice.

Unintentionally, other people, especially friends, often base their advice on their own needs, rather than what is best for you. I'd encourage you to make a list of all the pros and cons for you of having a child and what your worries are, of giving the child up for adoption, or of having an abortion.

As your husband was initially enthusiastic about the idea of your pregnancy, I doubt he would be happy giving the baby up for adoption – but ask him, especially if this is an option for you.

I don't think your husband should be allowed to simply duck this issue though. He should be involved, and I suggest you try and get him to visit the counsellor with you. Don't ask for anyone else's opinion on these things but decide for yourself, bearing in mind you might have to deal with their reactions later – no one has to see this list though. It's simply a tool to help you clarify your thoughts, but don't take too long making your decision.

If you're going to continue the pregnancy, you need antenatal care sooner rather than later, so you and the baby get the best chance of good health. If you opt for abortion, the earlier you obtain it, the easier and safer it will be. You can't predict the future or be certain about all the consequences of your choices, but you can consider your plans, your values, and your feelings, then make the best decision for you at this time.

MY MOTHER IS ALWAYS AT OUR HOUSE

MY mother moved to live nearby when my stepfather died. I thought this would make things easier for us all – we could keep an eye on her, and she could visit occasionally for a meal and see the grandchildren. Instead, she has virtually moved in. She turns up quite early in the morning and then stays all day until my husband gets home from work. I'm trying to work from home but it's sometimes impossible to get anything done – she just doesn't seem to recognise I have a job to do. Sometimes she'll leave when he gets in, but at other times, she expects to stay for dinner too!

If she were unobtrusive, this wouldn't be too bad – but she's often critical, morose, and sometimes downright rude about me and my family. I'm an only child so haven't got the cushion of a brother or sister to step in occasionally.

She never stops moaning about how lonely she is, so even though it was expensive, we took her away on two holidays with us – one last year and one a couple of weeks ago. She was so disruptive that hardly a day went by without an argument.

The kids are fed up with her and when they get in from school, they fly straight up to their rooms to avoid seeing her. Since we got back from our holiday, I've tried to be out every day to avoid her, but I just end up feeling guilty. If only she could be more pleasant to have around!

MW

FIONA SAYS: I suspect your mother is still mourning the loss of your stepfather – she's miserable, probably missing him, and could very well need some kind of bereavement counselling. I'd suggest you contact Cruse Bereavement Care (cruse.org.uk) and discuss things with them.

Grief can be overwhelming and can definitely change someone's behaviour – anger, for example, can be one of the stages people go through, which could be where she is now.

What started out as an idea to make all your lives easier has become a nightmare for you – and probably for her too. By moving away from her old home, she has lost her support network – presumably she had friends and various kinds of involvements where she used to live?

She's moved to be near you and, in time – if she becomes more infirm and needs help – you'll probably be grateful for this. Now though, she needs to rebuild her network, find new friends, and stop relying on you. She can't continue behaving like this and I think that perhaps the time has come to point out that her behaviour is unacceptable.

Rather than look at everything you have difficulty with, I suggest you start with one thing at a time. The rudeness will probably be the clearest thing to tackle, so the next time she speaks out of turn, tell her you think she is being rude and that you are not prepared to listen. If she continues, I suggest you adopt the practice of walking out of the room whenever she starts. Hopefully she will eventually get the message and adjust her behaviour accordingly.

You could also encourage her to make local friends of her own age, and at the same time discourage her from dropping in whenever she feels like it. Think about what she used to do – what she used to be involved with and see if there isn't a version of something similar closer to you. If there isn't, encourage her to try something new.

You don't indicate how old she is, but could she consider taking on a job of some kind? This could either be paid or voluntary – it just needs her commitment and to get her out of her house (and yours). I'd also investigate what clubs and societies there are around you that she might find interesting. It might take a bit of time and effort on your part now, but hopefully she will turn a corner, find a life of her own and become less morose, critical and rude.

SHOULD I TELL MY FRIEND'S BROTHER I FANCY HIM?

I REALLY fancy my friend's older brother. He's 19 but, as I'm 16 and her friend, he doesn't seem to notice me. I've known him for about two years and although I've tried to let him know that I like him, I've just learned he's planning to go to Australia as soon as he can do so.

He's planning on staying there for at least a year, maybe longer – so do you think I should do something before he goes? I don't think I could cope with not telling him how I feel and never seeing him again.

DM

FIONA SAYS: It hurts feeling serious about someone who doesn't even seem to know you're around. It may be that he's aware you're attracted to him, but he probably thinks of you in the same way as he thinks of his ‘little sister'.

At present, I'm afraid all the signs point to him not being interested. Making a move now, before he leaves, could end up seeing you getting hurt, whichever way it goes. If he rejects you, it will not only be painful, but you'd probably be embarrassed as well. If he is attracted to you in return, then you're both going to be hurt by an imminent parting. It might be better to wait until he returns, when he's more likely to see you as a young woman rather than a young girl.

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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