BEL MOONEY: I’m scared my toxic marriage is harming our child11 min read

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Dear Bel,

I’ve been married 21 years. We have a lovely 11-year-old daughter who is a real joy — but I worry about the effect on her of our disorderly relationship.

Seven years ago my husband suddenly lost a job he loved. Our daughter was four; I was working part-time. It took months to find another job, although I don’t think he tried that hard.

He was very picky, despite limited qualifications. Although I have a degree, I’m not trained, and grateful for any work.

His new job was only temporary. Then he lost his mother unexpectedly, which was awful for him.

Thought of the day

On winter evenings when the mist hangs low

Over the reed beds and the reeds look blue

And chill, chill, chill

The wild ducks call each other,

I shall remember you.

Anonymous 5th/6th century Japanese

At the time, we were going through IVF treatment, but I decided to stop it because we couldn’t afford it, but also because I didn’t think he wanted it.

After more temporary jobs he got a permanent one, then proposed retraining. I was seeing a counsellor at the time (depression and anxiety) and we talked it through. I recognised a risk (he’s not the most dedicated worker) but thought it might reignite his motivation and help with his grief.

So I got a second job — thinking in two years he’d finally have his own trade and could be his own boss. I worked seven days a week. But he lost interest and dropped out very close to the finish line. At this point, I was exhausted and dropped my second job. Later he got a rubbish one as a driver. We have debts. He won’t change jobs and doesn’t contribute to our daughter’s school trips or presents. We don’t take holidays. We still can’t afford to replace the boiler that broke four years ago.

I’ve had to approach a debt management charity and my mum buys our food.

I was giving him money for the mortgage but recently found out he’s not bothered paying it and attended a court hearing without telling me. I’m now paying that; he doesn’t contribute or do anything around the house.

He’s technically self-employed but works little — often saying the car needs to be serviced. If I try to talk to him, it escalates. The rows are awful and he won’t move out.

I’m devastated that my daughter has to live with this situation. I don’t want her to think this is normal.

He’s changed so much that we’re like strangers — and sleep separately. My family knows the situation and is running out of patience. I know he’s unwell, but he won’t accept it and avoids all issues.

I feel bad for wanting to end the marriage, but the fights have taken their toll. He won’t have a pension and I get resentful thinking I’m going to have to support him when he’s retired. Surely men are supposed to provide for their families? Neither of us can move on and I’ve given up all my dreams.

JANE

Your uncut letter painted a picture of pain: your own, your husband’s and your daughter’s.

Let’s add the fact that you are menopausal, he is on useless anti-depressants, and you still harbour resentment against him for the fact that you stopped IVF largely due to his work and financial problems. It’s a toxic stew.

So you need to do much more than ‘worry’ about the effect of your rows on your 11-year-old child. It’s imperative that you both take some decisions soon — because this girl is far more important than your mutual resentment.

   

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Next year she will go to secondary school and then enter puberty — and living with two screaming adults could damage her permanently. You believe you’re stuck and it’s impossible for you and your husband to move on.

I hear the weary misery, but you still have to realise that not moving on cannot be an option.

This sad marriage epitomises the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse theory of the American psychologist and marriage expert Dr John Gottman. He identified four things likely to doom a marriage: criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.

Your longer description of life at home contains all four: total negativity about your husband, contempt for what you see as his uselessness, the fact that you both blame each other not yourselves, and his blocking out and refusing to listen.

It sounds as though you lost all respect for your husband many years ago and — given his lack of interest in hard work, his ditching of the retraining you were supporting, and his general fecklessness — it’s not surprising.

I imagine the stuffing was knocked out of him when he summarily lost that job he loved (receiving no financial compensation) and soon had to endure the shock and grief of his mother’s death.

It’s likely he has never recovered from that double blow, and his ongoing malaise (anger, lassitude and gloom) stems from that time.

I realise it’s impossible to talk to a man who denies all issues, but for the sake of your daughter — and your own mental health — you need to take the next step. This dying marriage must be put out of its misery.

harbouring your bitter disappointment will make you ill. So I suggest you get in touch with Relate (relate.org.uk) and National Family Mediation (nfm.org.uk).

Study both their websites, investigate possibilities, make phone calls and resolve to end this festering situation with action.

Have you talked to your daughter properly? An 11-year-old must know this isn’t ‘normal’. So make sure her school knows the situation (it may be causing problems already) and then respect her by being honest.

Insist your husband joins you to reassure her that she is loved and that Mum and Dad promise to do something about being so angry all the time. It’s vital she doesn’t think it her fault.

I sympathise with your grief over the loss of your dreams, but now your test is dealing with this reality.

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Hell of Christmas with my daughter’s wife 

Dear Bel

I love my daughter dearly and have no problem with her. But she’s in a gay marriage, and my problem is with her partner who is so opinionated I’m dreading Christmas with them.

My health isn’t good and in the past I’ve tended to spend the holiday on coach trips, but can’t manage it this year. So my daughter insists on them coming to ‘look after me’.

On their recent visit, I was told my darker hair rinse, was ‘better than the brassy barmaid look’!

I bit my tongue so often it was a wonder I could speak.

If I were to say how I feel it would cause a rift with my daughter and she’s happy with this woman, but I am worried that spending the coming festivities with them would spoil my (last?) Christmas.

I’m quite happy to be on my own, rather than sitting quietly while they read books. Do you have any ideas?

PAMELA 

Despite all the evidence to the contrary I cling to the idea of family love — that’s why I’m celebrating your letter. I have written thousands of words about loneliness, estranged families, bitterness between partners, depression, neglectful children…It all makes me sad as well as jaded.

But now you describe a situation where an older lady in poor health who lives alone has a daughter she loves and who loves her right back.

This lucky woman has people who want to ‘look after’ her. Who notice the shade of her hair! Who will (presumably) cook Christmas lunch. Who want to talk, even expressing their views on this and that, instead of sitting in silence. Or sit comfortably reading instead of insisting you watch whatever dreadful Christmas shows they choose. Wow!

Oh, but wait…What’s this? You are ‘dreading spending Christmas with them’.

Can it be true? I ask you to imagine how many men and women are reading this and yearning for a family visit and just the kind of Christmas you describe. You, on the other hand, have relished all those festive coach trips with a bunch of strangers. Good for you. Independence is a fine thing for those fortunate enough to have it.

Your problem, I suspect, is not that you don’t want your daughter to visit (how could you not?) but that you dislike the fact that she’s gay. I hate to say this (because I don’t like thinking it) but it sounds as if this may be more significant than the personality of her partner. Your capital letters (‘BUT…’) are revealing. I wonder whether you’d prefer it if she were married to a bloke. You should think hard about that.

Believe me, I know women who simply can’t stand their daughters’ unpleasant husbands. What can be done? Vow to make it work and so on — for the sake of mother-daughter love.

If it’s not the partner’s gender that bothers you but her opinions, I suggest you do less irritable biting of your tongue and perhaps engage in gentle conversation, using that useful muscular organ to spread a little lightness of heart.

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If your hair comes up again you could ask your daughter-in-law: ‘D’you reckon I should go pink next time?’

Seriously, try not to be so grumpy, critical and rejecting. It will only make you unhappy in the end. You could choose to make it all wonderful — if only you can open your heart.

Did you play board games in your youth? Why not get hold of one and suggest a few laughs? Ask about what they are reading and chat about why. Ask your daughter-in-law about her childhood and get to know her.

Get out old photographs, tell stories, mull some wine. If this were to be your ‘last Christmas’ (I sincerely hope not, although we should live as though each day were our last) then may you find blessings in their company and make it full of warmth and light.

And finally… Sharing the gift of a life together

A week ago my husband Robin went on a jaunt with his friend to the Vintage Motorcycle Club Auto Jumble at Shepton Mallet in Somerset — and came back looking excited. ‘I bought you a present!’ he said, delving into his pocket.

Hearing the magic word ‘present’ some women might expect (say) a pair of earrings or a rose — and certainly flowers, chocs, scented candles, trinkets and jewels are right up my street. But from a bike show? Hardly.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]

A pseudonym will be used if you wish.

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

With a flourish he pulled out a little paperback published when I was ten. The Daily Mail’s comprehensive guide to motor-cycles proved that this newspaper always has its finger on the pulse of what British people want! My father and Uncle Dan rode motorcycles and so did a huge number of British people, making the industry great.

I love my little vintage book, which contains a picture of the sidecar I rode around in as a child. It also provides a little message about marriage. For my birthday Robin found me (in a charity shop) the vintage 50s board game Scoop — all about journalism. I love it more than anything expensive. And now it’s a 1956 DM motorcycle guide! Both presents cost very little money yet show imagination. Both reveal why our marriage works.

In many ways we are opposites: an unlikely pair. I’ve never believed couples should share every interest — although it’s great when you do. What’s vital is to have respect and curiosity about your partner’s.

I’ve dragged myself around aircraft and motorcycle museums with Robin and he will always flog up a hill to visit yet another church in a place like Lisbon.

The point is we both get to appreciate what the other likes. That’s all it takes . . . well, not quite ‘all’, of course. But the tolerant, entertaining sharing takes you a long way towards the companionable contentment that’s the best of marriage.