Caroline West-Meads: ‘I want to leave him, but I’m too afraid’

ask caroline

Q. I am in my late 60s and have been married for 37 years, but for the last 12 of these I have not had a sexual relationship with my husband. It is really depressing me. He does not like socialising and, because he’s made me refuse so many invitations over the years, we no longer get invited. He is content to stay at home and indulge in his expensive hobbies. I cook, clean, wash and iron his clothes – and look after our finances. He tells me that he loves me more than ever, but I feel more like a maid than his wife. The other issue is that I can’t get over the wrong decision not to buy a property, which would have been perfect for retirement and something for our children to inherit. It was such a short-sighted decision that still haunts me – I let myself be persuaded against my better judgment. I don’t have a good pension, so if I divorce him, I’ll be on the poverty line. In any case, I am not sure that I have the courage. I am scared, too, that if I do take that step, I will be even more unhappy. Also, in my culture, it will be seen as losing face. I can’t confide in my friends because I am ashamed that I am a failure. I am such a coward that I can see myself just existing and going through the motions. I also need to consider my children. My daughter got really upset when I mentioned that I’d had enough of her father. She said she wouldn’t be able to accept it if I separated from or divorced him.

A. It is sad that you are unable to talk to anybody because you feel ashamed. However, I assure you, you have nothing to be ashamed about. You feel this way simply because you are so unhappy and your husband’s lack of involvement in your marriage (both emotionally and sexually) has severely undermined your confidence and self-esteem. It is often much lonelier in a bad marriage than it is being single. But, as you say, it’s a big decision – and one with which you need a lot of support to ensure that you do what’s right for you. So do seek counselling because you really need to talk all this through (try or I think it would also help to confide in one or two of your closest friends, because you are not a failure. I don’t suppose for a moment that all your friends have perfect marriages, and I am sure that they would be sympathetic. Do not let your daughter’s pleas make the decision for you – she is not the one who has to live in this marriage, you are. She is a grown woman with children of her own – and she will cope. Yes, it must be galling to feel you should have bought a house, but try not to look back. Agonising over past decisions just pulls us into a downward spiral; you can’t change what has happened, so concentrate on moving forward. Contact Age UK’s free money advice line on 0800 169 65 65.

‘My neighbour let me down – now I’m angry’

Q. I have always thought that I got on well with my neighbour. However, a couple of weeks ago, I left work to go to hospital for an emergency and rang her to ask if she would pick up my three-year-old from nursery. I said my sister could come round later and take over. But she refused. She could hear how anxious I was, but just said that there must be someone else I could ask and that she wasn’t very good with children. I was so shocked and upset. A few days later, I bumped into her and she asked if I was better, apologising for not having been able to help. I felt it was a bit half-hearted and didn’t know how to respond. I still feel really angry and I don’t know how to treat her now.

A. It is always difficult when we think we know someone and then they let us down over something important. You could play this two ways. As you need to keep relations cordial, you could simply move on and recognise that she is not the kind of person with whom you want to be close friends. Treat her with politeness but keep an emotional distance in future. The other option is to risk telling her that you were upset she wouldn’t help and ask her if there was any particular reason why she couldn’t have given you a hand. Maybe she really was very anxious about the responsibility of looking after a three-year-old but didn’t explain herself well. If she has always been kind and thoughtful apart from this incident, then it might be that you choose the latter, but if you have always been the giver in this friendship while she has been the taker, then it might be wiser to opt for the first approach.