Caroline West-Meads: ‘Nothing I do is good enough for her’

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Q. My partner has suffered from depression for decades, but has only seen the doctor once – and stopped taking the prescribed medication after a few years. She will not talk to anyone or seek help professionally or from family, not even me. Covid has had a major impact on her mental health and, to be honest, her behaviour is now affecting mine.

In the past I’ve been told I’m very positive and happy – I’m certainly not that now. I don’t want to go on medication myself and I’m stuck. It’s as though nothing I do is good enough for her. I try hard to get things right, but I’m not perfect – far from it. I’m always being told negative things or talked to as if I’m stupid, and when I respond I’m accused of being horrid or aggressive. This is not in my nature, but sometimes I have to defend myself. I’m criticised if I mention her behaviour and then made to feel guilty.

People have commented on the way that I’m spoken to. Years ago our son asked why she was so foul to me. I really didn’t know how to respond. She doesn’t have any close friends or hobbies and seems to resent me doing things. I would like to change the dynamic, but after so many years it’s unlikely. How can it get better?

A. I’m so sorry to hear this. It is a very difficult situation and one you have clearly been putting up with for years. When you ask ‘How can it get better?’ I can’t help wondering if you have had enough and want to leave. You are obviously very unhappy. To a certain extent, you can change the dynamic by refusing to put up with your partner’s bad behaviour. Unknowingly, you’ve allowed her to set up a pattern in which she makes you responsible for her happiness. You constantly walk on eggshells and are afraid of another outburst – or of making her mental health worse. You say you try hard to get things right. Does she show the same consideration to you?

Expecting perfection is unreasonable. So when she behaves badly and accuses you of being aggressive or horrid, make a stand. Leave the room if she is rude or shouts; say that you will talk when she is calmer. You could also tell her – gently but firmly – that unless she seeks help for her mental health and agrees to couples counselling, you may have to consider whether you can stay in the relationship. Explain that her behaviour is affecting your wellbeing and that you owe yourself a duty of care. She needs to accept more responsibility for her own mental health.

In the current situation there is no incentive for her to change. Of course, such an ultimatum is daunting and you may worry how she will cope if you leave, but your happiness matters too. It is not enough to stay with someone because you feel sorry for them or you feel you must repeatedly fix them. So urge her to see her GP and seek counselling for yourself to help you prioritise your own needs – try bacp.co.uk or relate.org.uk.

‘My daughter won’t accept my new man’

Q. My husband died six years ago, leaving the family business to me and my three children. My youngest daughter sold her share to her brother and sister, who now manage the company between them. They (and their spouses) sometimes argue about the business, but mostly it’s fine. However, three years ago I met a lovely new man and we are really happy together, but my elder daughter won’t accept him. I have tried to encourage them to get on but she is cold and distant towards him. I feel like giving up. It’s affecting my relationship with my adult grandchildren and son-in-law too.

A. However nice a step-parent is, children (even as adults) can find it hard to accept them. But it is worth considering where the conflict comes from. You say there are sometimes tensions between your two children and their partners in managing the business, but you don’t say if you have any remaining interest in the company. Maybe your daughter fears your new partner might interfere in its working either directly or indirectly through you. Or perhaps she is jealous of his role in your life. Maybe her sadness at losing her father means she would resent anyone who, in her eyes, might be taking his place.

So ask her if there is any reason why she doesn’t like him and make sure you listen without springing straight to his defence. Explain that you love her and that you don’t want this conflict to spoil your special bond. However, emphasise that you love him, too, and that it makes you sad that she won’t give him a fair chance. She can’t really want you to be lonely if you have another chance at happiness.

Find more of Caroline’s advice here