Q. My daughter is in her early 30s. Her marriage failed after less than two years. She was a difficult child and nothing has changed. Since her marriage split, she has had a string of boyfriends. She is constantly sniping and, when she visits, she is always making unkind remarks and saying I’ve not been a loving mother. We’ve given her thousands of pounds over the years and helped her to buy her first home. My husband has always indulged her because he’s scared of her and her behaviour is causing tension between him and me. Our son is the opposite. When my daughter was young, she was always falling out with schoolfriends. She is flawed and can be extremely nasty. I think she needs help. What do you think?
A. This is so hard for you because you are torn between wanting to love, protect and help your daughter but also finding her so difficult that your feelings are being eroded. She has clearly been very challenging from a young age and finds it difficult to manage relationships. You say she is flawed but it might help you to look at that from a different perspective. Rather than flawed, it is possible that she might have a condition that has been overlooked and for which she needs help.
I can’t diagnose because I am not a psychiatrist and she would need a proper assessment, but sometimes children who present such problematic behaviours can have conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autistic spectrum disorder, which makes it hard for them to fit into the world. It can create a vicious cycle because if you and your husband then felt at sea and afraid of your daughter, the dynamic between you all could have been one of tension and anxiety. This could have set up a negative pattern that has continued into her adult life.
When she tells you that you have not been a loving mother, this feeds into your own insecurities and makes it worse. I’d argue that you have been a loving mother – the fact that you have spent thousands on her and that you are still asking how to help her now, even when her behaviour is vile, is proof of this. But it may be that because things have been difficult for so long, it is hard for either of you to know how to express or receive this love.
So yes, she needs help, but so do you and your husband. Unfortunately, you can’t make her get help unless she’s ready, but you can receive support to stop her coming between you and your husband – and to learn how to handle the situation. I strongly suggest having family therapy and ask her if she will come. She probably won’t at first, but if you and your husband start sessions, it will strengthen the bond between you and hopefully give you the skills to know how to cope with her challenging behaviour. Try Relate (relate.org.uk) or the Institute of Family Therapy (ift.org.uk).
‘I’m jealous of his friendship with his ex’
Q. I’m getting married next month for the third time. My fiancé has been married once before. When we got engaged he wanted to tell his ex-wife in person, even though they split up nearly 20 years ago. He occasionally contacts her and seems to still care for her. I’m jealous and worried about his feelings for her. Should I be concerned?
A. Without having met any of you, this is difficult to say. I know some people who have friendly relationships with their ex-spouses or partners that are no threat to their new relationships. But I have also met some for whom their ex remains the love of their life. It is perfectly normal to still care about people who you were once married to – especially, for instance, if she is the mother of his children (you don’t specify). Your fiancé might feel guilty that he has found happiness while his ex is single – especially if he left her.
As you have been married twice already, I am guessing you have been hurt before, so I can understand you feel uncertain. What you don’t say is whether you’ve told your fiancé about your worries. This is something you need to talk to him about before you make that commitment. Because he wanted to tell his ex in person, I think he was probably worried she would be upset, so it sounds as though she is still holding a candle for him rather than vice versa. You should also ask if you could meet her, which might allay your fears. If you do decide there is nothing to worry about, don’t let jealousy spoil your relationship. If he cares for her, he isn’t going to stop and if you try to make him, it will only alienate him.