Ask Denise Anything!

If you’ve got a problem, resident Candis agony aunt Denise Robertson can help. From money worries to family matters, Denise offers readers her unique brand of caring advice…

November 2010

“I cant forgive his affair”

We have had a long, and what I thought to be happy, marriage but earlier this year I found out that my husband was having an affair with a colleague at work. I was heartbroken and so were the children, even though they are grown up and don’t live at home. I hung on and he agreed to go for counselling. It was painful but in the end this helped. He explained that they were drawn together as she had helped him with work. It sounded as though he found himself caught up before he realised it was happening. I’m sure that the affair is over and he is doing his best to make up for what has happened and yet part of me still feels afraid and angry and it makes me act cold towards him, particularly when it comes to sex. I want to get over this and get back what we used to have but I can see that my attitude is having an effect on him. If I can’t overcome this I fear all will really be lost this time, which seems a pity as we have tried so hard. Gillian

DENISE SAYS: I don’t believe you can mend a marriage after an upset like this. However,
I do think you are able to build a new relationship that may be even stronger than before, but it takes time. No one can forget a betrayal in a few months and trust is hard to regenerate, but if what drew you together in the first place is still intact perhaps the old magic can be conjured up again. Be honest with him about your fears but stress how much you want this to work. Don’t be afraid to continue counselling, either together or on your own, if you need to. Go out on dates as you once did, make time to be together as man and woman and make sure the lead up to sex is both loving and prolonged. When two people really want something to work it usually can as long as they don’t get discouraged in the meantime.

October 2010

“I feel guilty that my mum’s in a home.”

My mother has Alzheimer’s and is in a home. It was a decision taken by the whole family to put her there as we all work. I live the nearest and visit every day if I can, but I have a growing family to consider. My brothers and sisters live further away and only visit a few times each year. The problem is that Mum says we are leaving her in the home to rot, and she begs me to take her home with me. She also presses my brothers and sisters to make me do this too, but there’s no way I could look after her and work as well, and we need my salary. It’s very emotional and stressful, and I’m also the one the home calls whenever there’s a problem. This also means taking time off work to calm Mum down. I feel at my wits’ end. Jenna

DENISE SAYS: My first impression is that you are not being well served by the home and your siblings are being unreasonable. Of course they’d sleep easier if Mum was safely tucked up with you, but they are not being fair or practical. Your mum has needs that must be addressed but children have rights to a carefree home atmosphere. The two are not always compatible. I know because I’ve tried it. I would contact the Alzheimer’s Association (, 020 7423 3500) for advice on finding a home where your mother will receive plenty of stimulation. If you can get a more responsive atmosphere for her, her need for you may diminish.
Talk to your siblings and explain why your mum can’t live with you. They must take more responsibility – several times a year someone else should be the contact so you can be off-duty. You need to take care of yourself so that you can be there to watch over her. Running yourself into the ground will be harmful to her, so find the balance between her needs and your own.

“I’m scared that we may lose our sisterly bond”

My sister and I were not very close as children, but later on we became inseperable and our husbands and children got along, which made for a very happy family life. Now, our children are grown up and we are both recently widowed. We do a lot of things together and are always there for each other. But now she’s suggested we should move in together and suddenly I’m not sure. In many ways it would be ideal, financially and in other ways, but I’m worried that it might spoil what has become a very valuable relationship. Anne

DENISE SAYS: You’re quite right to be so cautious, but if approached sensibly this could be a very happy solution. Financial and legal details need to be hammered out. For example, if it remains your sister’s house and she dies, leaving it to her children, what will happen to you? Who will pay all the bills for repairs etc? Who decides on décor and furnishings in the home, and will there be enough room for two people’s precious possessions? Who has charge of the remote control? Dealt with in advance, these things are easily settled. Left to ‘goodwill’, they can cause havoc. You also have to think about your children. They need to feel at home wherever you are living – will you have your own space? And the same goes for your friends. If it’s your sister who moves in to your home, you have the same problems in reverse. Once you have attended to the sort of details I’ve mentioned, you could always give living together a three-month trial period before either of you parts with their own home? Then, if you find you can’t coexist, you have an escape route. Good luck to you both.

“He’s lost that loving feeling”

For the last seven years my husband and I have had no intimate contact. I talked him into going to the doctors but they have found nothing medically wrong. Two years ago he was given Viagra, but he won’t take it or even talk to me so that we can try to work things out. I am only in my 50s and feel that my sex life should not be over yet! I love my husband and miss the contact so much. I just wish he’d talk to me. I have accused him of having an affair, but he doesn’t spend any time away and doesn’t go out in the evening either. Please, what advice can you offer me? Janice

DENISE SAYS: There are several possibilities – his love for you could have waned, but if he is still kind and helpful in other ways this is unlikely. Or he could have worries over work or be suffering from depression. Any of these would affect his libido. The most common cause of this situation is fear of failure. A man who has had difficulty sustaining an erection often fears he may not be able to perform next time and will try to avoid anything, even small loving actions, that he fears might lead to penetrative sex and failure. This is sad because, in all probability, his failure would only have been temporary. I suggest you tell him that you need him to be loving and demonstrative, but do not want full sex for the time being. If you can get back into loving ways, his desire may return or he may be more willing to accept help from the doctor, or from Relate’s trained sexual therapists (, 0300 100 1234). In other words, remove the fear of failure. If he is unwilling even to show affection when no more is expected of him, I think you need to talk to Relate yourself and discuss your future.

How can I find time to work?

We have three children under seven, the youngest is just 11 months old. My husband has to work long hours to keep the home going and he keeps hinting that I should think about going back to work. Part of me would quite like a little job for the company and for the extra money but I’m not sure I could cope with everything if that happened. My mother would help a bit with childcare but friends tell me that childcare costs are enormous and times three it would eat up anything I earned. Sometimes I hardly get to sit down all day, so how would I be able to work? I know other women manage it but I’m not sure I could. Julie

DENISE SAYS: The first thing to do is to sit down with your mum and find out exactly what she can do to help. And why not ask your mother-in-law too. She might welcome seeing more of her grandchildren. And don’t forget grandpas. They can help with things like school runs. If they’re retired and have spare time they’d probably love getting closer to their grandchildren. Once you know what you can get from family, find out if you’re entitled to any free childcare from the Government.

Look up Directgov on the internet for details of what’s available or ask your local library to help with internet access. It will answer all your questions or point you in the direction of more advice. When you know how much free or low-cost childcare is available to you and how long you want to work for, you can look around to see what part-time work is available. Working, as long as it’s suitable hours, would help financially and you’d enjoy the change of scene, but only if you have peace of mind about home and childcare. Good luck.

“I can’t forgive and forget”

My husband had an affair in 2008 – we’d been married for eight years. Up until then I’d thought our marriage was rock solid; we had the usual squabbles about money, but other than that we were quite happy. After a year apart, and a lot of soul-searching, we got back together and he promised me it would never happen again. I know he is a good man and really regrets what he did to me and our two young children. He does everything he can to show me how much he cares but I can’t get over the thought of him and this other woman together. It’s making me shy away from intimacy with him and I know this hurts him. I’ve really tried to tell myself the past is past but 
I can’t seem to make the painful memory go away. I feel guilty about this and then I feel resentful because I wasn’t the one who started it so I am going round in circles. Grace

DENISE SAYS: Don’t feel guilty. You’ve been through an ordeal and, yes, he was the one who started it. But it sounds as though there’s a real chance of a happy united family so don’t give up. When betrayal enters our lives, it lurks inside us, spoiling everything. Gradually, when two people are each making an effort, good things come in and start to push the unhappy memories back and back until gradually they become manageable. You may never forget but you’ll cease to put the painful thoughts at the forefront of everything you do. That’s when the old closeness will return. I think it would hasten the process if you talked with a dispassionate third party and let out your anger and resentment. Marriage Care (; 020 7371 1341) will listen and support you.

“My husband’s phobia is getting out of control”

My husband of nearly 50 years is phobic about eating out in public – cafes, restaurants, parties. He just starts to perspire and shake. He is in good health otherwise and has an IQ of 187. On holiday this year, out of a possible 21 meals he only ate four. We once went on holiday with friends who insisted we ate out every night – my husband didn’t eat for six days. It’s got so bad now that when friends have a party or dinner they invite me, but not my husband. We are so desperate we are even thinking of trying hypnosis. Nora

DENISE SAYS: First of all, I hope you realise that invitations have dried up because they don’t want to embarrass your husband and not for unkind reasons. But this must be making you both very unhappy and needs a solution. I think your husband needs expert treatment for what seems to be a type of panic attack. These can be triggered by the tiniest of events – something you think you’ve forgotten – that then plays havoc with your subconscious. It was probably connected with food, hence his reaction.
The fact that your husband is very intelligent and probably extra sensitive may be making things worse. Talk to your GP. He or she can initiate the treatment your husband needs. You might also contact Anxiety UK – formerly National Phobics Society – (0161 227 9898, 08444 775 774, or Triumph Over Phobia (0845 600 9601, They’ll understand and offer advice. I’m sure that, with the right help, this can be banished from your lives.

“I can’t forgive my sister”

My parents split up when I was a child. I stayed with my mum and my sister lived with our dad. He died when she was 16 and, when my mum offered her a home, she refused it, saying my mother had abandoned her as a child. Then, when my mum was ill, she wouldn’t help and left me to handle everything. My mum died soon after and I tried to forgive my sister for the pain she’d caused. We kept in contact at Christmas and birthdays until she found out she had cancer and her marriage ended. I’ve taken her in and helped her get medical treatment but I can’t give her emotional support or feel sorry for her. I work and have my own family and we’ve made sacrifices to help her. I think what has happened to her is awful and I want to help but I’d gladly not see her again if she was to recover. I don’t know what to do but I’m not happy with things as they are. Mo

DENISE SAYS: Firstly, accept that you do love her because you’re behaving so well to her, doing more than is expected. We can’t help our feelings and should only feel guilty if they make us behave badly, which you haven’t done. Macmillan Cancer Support (; 0808 808 00 00) will give her emotional and practical support so that will ease your burden, but I think you also need to assess the future. At some stage she will need a place of her own. Shelter (, 0808 800 4444) will advise you on her right to accommodation and who might be prepared to help, given her circumstances. If you can, let the old, justifiable resentment fall away. If you can’t, accept that you have behaved marvellously and, however this turns out, you will have no need for regrets.


My mother-in-law always undermines my authority and questions my judgement. My husband’s attitude is, “Don’t let her get to you.”

Recently she upset my son, who failed the eleven-plus, by saying he could have gone to university if he had gone to a grammar school. We know he will have job satisfaction in his chosen trade but my mother-in-law is appalled. Both my husband and I have 
to work and she always makes comments about working mums not taking time to bake bread and cakes! She doesn’t comprehend that we need the money I earn to run our household and never acknowledges that we’re doing well. My mum thinks she’s just jealous and out of touch, but I think she’s becoming quite vicious and we’re heading for a huge row. How can I avoid this happening? Lauren

DENISE SAYS: Firstly, stop being afraid of her and see her for what she is – a sad, unfulfilled woman who is trying to live again in your life instead of making her own life more satisfying. She can’t undermine your authority because she has no power, so she can only criticise. Secondly, you need to develop more pride in what you and your husband have built.
There will be times you will be frustrated but, if you accept that she has no power, you will cease to be afraid, and that is what is at the basis of the way you feel now. If your son sees you aren’t affected, it will be easier for him to take what is good in his relationship with 
his grandmother and let the nonsense go over his head.

“What happened to the man I married?”

My husband and I dated for a couple of years and then two years ago we decided to get married. Before we were so happy together – he was always affectionate and showered me with compliments – but as soon as we got married that all seemed to change. I suppose my ideas that how we felt about each other would last until we grew old together were a bit unrealistic but I feel my husband has changed from the warm and loving man that I fell in love with. At home he’s quiet and moody and when we’re out he puts me down at every opportunity, making jokes about all my short-comings.

I know I’m not perfect but comments about a dinner disaster or a bad haircut are really hurtful. I try not to show how upset he makes me feel in public and just laugh it off but when we get home I break down. To be fair to him, he does apologise and says it won’t happen again but I know it will. I feel angry and humiliated. How can I make him stop? Suzanne

DENISE SAYS: This kind of behaviour occurs when someone is unsure of themselves, and making someone else seem smaller makes them feel bigger. He picks on you because he counts on you not fighting back. Has anything changed at work for your husband so that he might be suffering low self-esteem? Are your friends making him feel inadequate so that he fends them off by disrespecting you? You need to let him know it’s affecting your marriage but it’s also important you ask him why he’s behaving this way. Giving him the opportunity to open up to you will help turn this from a blame-laden argument to a calm discussion. However, if there are no underlying reasons, then you need to tell him that it has to stop or you will be forced to consider separation. Marriage Care ( ; 020 7371 1341) will give you advice and support in the meantime.

“We’re so ashamed of our son”

Please help me as we don’t know where to turn. Our son, who has always been a credit to us, is facing a charge of assault. It all happened during a night out for a friend’s 18th birthday and he says he was defending himself against a gang who attacked his friends for no reason. However, they had all had too much to drink and that has shocked us as he’s always been sensible. Nothing like this has happened in our families and telling the grandparents was the worst experience of my life. I’m worried about the effect on his young brother and sister and I feel so ashamed. I feel he has jeopardised his entire future. Judith

DENISE SAYS: I know this must seem like the end of the world but it isn’t. Yes, it’s a setback but a lot depends on how you all handle it. First, make sure he has good legal representation then you have to let him see that, although you are upset and disappointed, you believe this 
can be dealt with. Nothing would be gained by making him feel he has crossed some kind of Rubicon from which there is no return. He is the same boy you have always known. He may be telling the truth when he says he acted in self-defence or he may have behaved foolishly but one foolish act does not mean he has begun a life of crime. It could well be that he has learned a valuable lesson and will be more careful in future. If you need support through all this, Parentline Plus on 0808 800 2222 will provide that support and a listening ear. They will have heard this story over and over again. ‘Perfect’ children are not often seen outside of stories. I’m sure Parentline will agree with me that there can be a happy outcome if you all pull together.


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