Life

Ask Fiona: Could I go back to my husband and children?

Trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers advice to a woman wondering if she should go back to her cheating husband and another worried about friction with her sister-in-law...

Every failing marriage deserves at least one attempt to rescue it
Every failing marriage deserves at least one attempt to rescue it Every failing marriage deserves at least one attempt to rescue it

A little over a year ago, I walked out on my husband and children. My husband had been having one affair after another and I'd just had enough. The final straw came when he slept with someone I thought was a good friend. I wanted badly to take the children with me, but all I had to move into was a small flat and little or no income to support them.

They would probably have been upset if I dragged them away from their school and friends anyway. I also knew they'd be safe with my husband, as he adores them. He'd treated me badly emotionally, but never abused me physically nor the children. I didn't see them at all for about five months after that, and it's only recently that I have been able to be with them for a short while every couple of months.

As we get close to Christmas, I realise I miss them all so much, even my husband. I haven't really made any new friends, and being around old ones just seems too awkward. I can almost hear them thinking that I am a bad person for leaving my children, with no real understanding of what I had had to put up with for so many years. We didn't get divorced, so do you think there is any way back for our marriage?

RD

FIONA SAYS: THERE'S A LOT TO TALK ABOUT

There's always a chance. I like to think that every failing marriage deserves at least one attempt to rescue it. However, before you do this, please be clear about your reasons for it. Is this a genuine desire for a marital reconciliation? Or are you willing to return to a serially unfaithful husband simply because you are missing your children so much?

If it's the former, has your husband shown any remorse, or given any sign that he is open to the idea of getting back together? That perhaps needs to be your first conversation. If yes, you'll then need to explore some ways to avoid previous mistakes and that would probably best be achieved by speaking to a Relate counsellor (relate.org.uk). High on the agenda for these sessions should be a frank acknowledgement and discussion of why your husband cheated. You will also need to be clear about what you'll do if he does it again.

If, on the other hand, your motivation is all about reconnecting with your children (and I suspect that it is the case) then a different approach will be needed. The easiest and cheapest route would be to talk with your husband and agree a plan that allows the children to spend more time with you. For example, part of each week with you and part with him, assuming you are now in a position to have them with you. Alternatively, one that allows you see them more regularly, perhaps once or twice a week for a few hours.

If your husband is not receptive to this, you may have to instruct a family solicitor to act on your behalf and seek a solution in the courts. This could be costly, unless you qualify for Legal Aid. Mediation is another option - this can be a drawn-out process but, even if it fails in your primary aim, you will almost certainly get better access to your children than you currently have.

Set aside your differences with your sister-in-law for the sake of your husband's parents
Set aside your differences with your sister-in-law for the sake of your husband's parents Set aside your differences with your sister-in-law for the sake of your husband's parents

MY SISTER-IN-LAW HAS NEVER LIKED ME

My in-laws will be celebrating their ruby wedding anniversary in the New Year.

I have liked them ever since I first met them 16 years ago, and they have always made me feel like one of the family. I can't say the same about their daughter though. She's made it clear many times that she doesn't like me. She even went so far as to say to some guests at my wedding reception that her brother was marrying beneath himself. To this day, I don't know if she was just dumb saying it to one of my best friends, or did so knowing full well it would get back to me. Either way, it's soured how I feel about her ever since.

Unfortunately, she's the one in charge of organising an anniversary party for her parents and her brother has had no say in anything. We have been instructed to go to the venue at a certain time, and that's it. We have no idea whether food is being served or if we have any say in what to eat. Her attitude has made me so angry that I just don't want to go. Apart from being hypocritical anyway, I am not sure I could keep my temper in check.

My husband knows how I feel about his sister but still thinks we should go. I am not so sure and have suggested that we could instead invite his parents down to us for a separate celebration. What do you think?

LE

FIONA SAYS: DON'T LET IT SPOIL THEIR SPECIAL DAY

I am not sure that sends the right message to your parents-in-law. It's a very special day for them, made even more so if they can have their entire extended (and hopefully happy) family with them to celebrate it. Ill-will between their children will undermine this and probably spoil the day. I can understand your feelings towards your sister-in-law, what she did at your wedding was hurtful. However, could you not find it in yourself to rise above it for just one day?

I don't see going to the party as being in the least bit hypocritical. After all, it isn't for your sister-in-law, it's for the benefit of her parents. Being there for them will make them happy. I agree, not being told about the food and other arrangements is somewhat frustrating – but the venue may know, and failing that, could your husband call his sister?

Try not to let this annoy or frustrate you too much, if the result is happy parents, does it really matter? And if your husband is otherwise happy for his sister to do everything, what harm is done? Finally, keeping you in the dark about the arrangements and the food may have been her clumsy attempt to deter you from going. If that's the case, imagine how frustrated she'll feel if you not only show up, but sail through with it a happy smile on your face. You have every right to feel aggrieved about your sister-in-law's behaviour in the past, but please don't let this spoil the day for her parents.

Anxious thoughts can often be dispelled by sharing them with a trusted friend
Anxious thoughts can often be dispelled by sharing them with a trusted friend Anxious thoughts can often be dispelled by sharing them with a trusted friend

WHY CAN'T I STOP WORRYING?

I'm worried I might be mentally ill. I can't stop worrying about everything, even when it's something that doesn't affect me. People tell me stuff about their problems all the time, and although I'm already fretting about my own stuff, I get hung up on their problems. I can't get them out of my head until they are sorted. They even keep me awake at night.

This must sound stupid to you; the world is in a terrible state, and I fret about other people's silly little problems. Am I mad or what?

PW

FIONA SAYS: CAN YOU SPEAK TO SOMEONE?

No, I don't think you are mad, but it does sound as though perhaps you are a very anxious person. Anxious thoughts can often be dispelled simply by sharing them with a trusted friend. They don't all have to be solved – sometimes just talking about them is enough to calm them. If you think about it, it's probably the reason all these other people share their worries with you.

However, while they've found someone to confide in, I suspect you haven't, and this ought to be the first remedy you try. If this doesn't work, or you feel you don't have someone you can trust in this way, please consider seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist. Your GP practice can refer you to services in your area.

It can be hard to find the right words when trying to comfort a bereaved friend
It can be hard to find the right words when trying to comfort a bereaved friend It can be hard to find the right words when trying to comfort a bereaved friend

WHAT SHOULD YOU SAY WHEN SOMEONE IS GRIEVING?

Over the last year, three people I know have died. None of them were family or close friends, but I knew them well enough to attend their funerals. What was particularly hard at these times was talking to the families. I never knew what to say or do for them. I'm pretty sure I just mumbled something about being sorry, which afterwards just felt so inadequate. What do you say that isn't going to upset or offend?

JE

FIONA SAYS:

People often struggle to find the words to express sympathy to someone who is bereaved. However, it's not necessarily what is said that counts, so much as the fact that something about being sorry is said. So don't worry about finding the exact words. You can't heal the pain they are experiencing, so just keep it simple and be prepared to listen.

Some will want to talk, others may be overwhelmed and not able to say much.

If you feel that you would like more information on dealing with these situations, bereavement support charity Cruse (cruse.org.uk) has a useful page on talking to a bereaved person. It also includes guidance on a few phrases that are best avoided: for example, 'I know how you feel' and 'Time is a great healer'.