Ask Fiona: My husband won't seek help for his bad back

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

Talk to your husband about how you feel – he may be unaware of the effect the situation is having you
By Fiona Caine, PA

MY HUSBAND has had back problems for years. Most of the time, it's a background pain that he manages to work through. There are times, though, when he has crippling pain and is unable to move for days, leaving me to pick up the slack of his business and look after him at the same time. Over the past year, the number of times this has happened has increased significantly – yet he will still not see a doctor.

I have tried so many times to get him to seek help, but he just shrugs it off saying there's nothing they can do, it's just something tall men must live with. I have tried to convince him he can't possibly know this unless he actually asks, but he won't hear it. The silly thing is, he has private health cover, so it's not as though he needs to wait for a GP appointment, which I know are hard to get at the moment.

I am, therefore, finding it increasingly hard to be sympathetic and do the things he needs me to do. I struggle to move him around when he has a bad bout, and this is taking its toll on my back too. It's also affecting our marriage, as we are both scratchy and angry most of the time. Last month, we had to cancel our holiday because he couldn't drive, and this caused a particularly nasty row.

We patched things up, but I am at my wits end and do not know how much longer I can cope with this. Why won't he get help?


FIONA SAYS: I suspect he's afraid of finding out that something is seriously wrong, and is prepared to put up with long-term pain instead. It amazes me how many people will do this, rather than face the truth. Back pain is one of the most common conditions and the sad thing is, it will typically only get worse the longer it is left untreated.

Men can tend to be more likely to avoid resolving health issues like this, and there are probably several reasons for this. Perhaps they don't like to appear weak, or maybe they can't accept the reality that they can get sick. Or it might be the treatment they fear, especially if it is a serious or long-term condition. In your husband's case, though, it's hard to see how this could possibly be worse that the pain he is struggling with now.

If he remains reluctant to seek help for his own sake, could you persuade him to do it for you? It's possible he is so wrapped up in his own pain that he is unaware of the effect this is having you. Explain how upsetting it is for you to see him in pain all the time and emphasise that your mental and physical health is starting to suffer as well. Try not to get angry or confrontational and concentrate instead on the issue of improving the quality of your life together.

Alternatively, if it is doctors that he is averse to, might he see a physiotherapist or osteopath? He won't need a GP referral and his private health insurance might cover it.

Finally, you could also encourage him to contact Backcare (, a charity that operates a network of local support groups and directory of treatment practitioners.

The website has lots of information about back pain and your husband may be interested to note that most of us are likely to be affected by back pain at some point in our lives. Just because so many of us have it though, doesn't mean there is nothing to be done. Do please get him to look at the site as I'm sure he'll begin to realise that, left untreated, things will only get worse.


MY SON and daughter-in-law, with whom I've always been really close, got into terrible problems with their marriage.

Neither of them could talk to one another properly but they would both talk to me. At various times, they would come and see me separately and talk for hours – and sometimes even stay over, rather than go home. I would try to encourage them to talk to one another, but it seems they were never able to.

They both have high-powered job and I think they are both stressed and anxious about the future. The tension between them was awful and I could see it was having an effect on my grandson. So, thinking I was doing the right thing, I said they really ought to come to a decision about the future, for his sake.

I don't quite understand why but that seemed to precipitate a terrible row. Rather than clearing the air, my daughter-in-law moved out, taking my grandson with her and I haven't seen them since. My son blames me and although I have seen him, it has only been for him to either be miserable or else to blame me for her leaving.

I was only trying to help my grandson, but it's been two months now and she won't even let me see him.


FIONA SAYS: How very sad that, rather than trying to sort out the problems in their marriage, your son and daughter-in-law seem to be shifting the blame on to you. Trying to remain neutral in situations like this is always difficult, and sometimes – as you've found – it backfires.

The couple were obviously in trouble and naturally that was upsetting their son. What you said is what any caring grandmother would have said in the same situation, so it sounds as if the couple have both over-reacted. They are clearly both very upset about the way things have turned out for their marriage, which may possibly indicate that they both still care. If that's the case, then maybe counselling could help them and possibly see them reconciled.

How they are going to reconcile things with you, though, may be rather more difficult. Of course, I don't know their side of things, but it does sound as if they've acted rather immaturely. Could you write to them both explaining that all you wanted was your grandson to be protected from the difficulties they were facing? Tell them both how unhappy you are about things and how much you hope to be able to see them again.

Having seen how they're reacted before, I would suggest you avoid trying to broker any kind of agreement between the two of them. Leave that to the professionals, like Relate ( who could help them to discuss, rationally, what they want to achieve. Hopefully, they will both soon see sense and realise that keeping you from your grandson is unfair.

However, if the situation persists and you are still unable to see your grandson, you might like to contact Family Lives ( There is a section on grandparents – not all will be helpful to you but certainly some of it will, and I would encourage you to contact their helpline if you feel you need to talk.


FOR the past two years, I've really suffered from bad breath. It's so bad that I can see my girlfriend flinches whenever she comes near me. She hasn't said anything, but I can see her flinching when it comes to a kiss. I suck mints and chew gum, but it doesn't seem to make any difference.

I've tried to get a dental appointment, but the waiting list is dreadful, and I can't see me ever getting to the top of it.

I have a lot of catarrh too – could this be part of the problem?


FIONA SAYS: Assuming you clean your teeth properly and floss frequently, then the likelihood is something else is going on. Occasional bad breath can be caused by something you've eaten, but an ongoing problem may indicate something else. For example, it could be a gastric problem, something wrong in your mouth (a gum infection or rotten tooth) or it could be an infection in your sinuses.

As you can't get a dental appointment at present, do make an appointment to see your GP because you shouldn't have on-going catarrh. It might be the cause of your bad breath but whether it is or isn't, it needs to be checked out.

I'd strongly encourage you to remain on the dentist's waiting list and try for other practices as well. Since it is so hard to get an NHS dentist these days a lot of people are not bothering and as a result there are a lot of bad teeth out there needing attention. If neither can come up with an answer, then at the very least they can advise you on more effective means of treating the odour than chewing gum and mints.


THE boy I went out with last time wouldn't take it when I wanted to finish with him, and I ended up saying things that hurt him quite badly. The guy I am with now is wonderful – so wonderful that I hope he will want to marry me, but if things do go wrong, I don't want to hurt him like I did my last boyfriend.

How do you tell someone when it's over without sounding like a horrible person? You'll probably think I am mad asking this when I want to marry the guy, but I love him so much, I want to make sure I don't hurt him if things go wrong, and I do have to call it off.


FIONA SAYS: I may be wrong, but I suspect your present happiness is making you feel a little guilty for the way you treated your former boyfriend. Whilst there's something to be said for forward-planning, I think you're being overly anxious in trying to plan the ending of this relationship whilst it is still going strong. It would not do you any harm, though, to consider your previous breakup and see what you can learn – even though every situation and every relationship is different.

Sadly, a break-up will almost always hurt, no matter how gently it is done. The best advice I can give you is to think about how you would hope it would be done to you. If you can treat people as you hope they will treat you in life, then there is at least a chance you won't hurt them and, with any luck can retain a friendship. For now though, start thinking positively about this relationship – you don't want to jinx it!

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to 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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