ASK ZELDA: Our relationships expert Zelda West-Meads answers your questions
If you have a problem, email email@example.com. Zelda reads all your letters but regrets that she cannot answer them all personally
My relationship with my children is falling apart
I live with my two sons, aged 19 and 14, and my partner of three years. They have all enjoyed a great relationship until recently, when I had a heated argument with my sons resulting in the youngest one swearing at me. My partner told him not to speak to me like that. My eldest son stepped in and told him that he had no right to discipline his brother. Since then, they have gone to live with their father despite my best efforts to get them to come home. My eldest says that he doesn’t want to return, as he no longer likes my partner. To make matters worse, their father is using this as an excuse to try to get full custody of our younger son.
Discipline is an extremely tricky subject for step-parents. Your partner was probably right to defend you (as long as it was done without anger) and it is sad that your sons have reacted like this. However, your ex-husband is making matters very difficult for you. Talk to him or, if he won’t listen, ask a friend or family member to explain that broken relationships with parents can be damaging to children. Your ex-husband can help your sons by encouraging them to reconcile with you and dropping the custody battle. Then you and your partner should talk to your children and explain that you love and miss them very much. Remind them of how well they got on with each other before this argument. It’s best that you ask them to talk about what happened so that you can learn how to overcome these differences in the future. Remember to stay calm and loving. Contact Family Lives (0808 800 2222, familylives.org.uk) for further help and advice.
His OCD is wrecking our marriage
My husband and I have been married for 55 years and are comfortably well-off and retired. The past five years have been hell as he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Because of his fear of water and electricity, he has become controlling. I have now turned to drinking a bottle of wine every evening because of the loneliness. He goes into the garage every night for two to three hours and talks to himself. He is in darkness apart from a torch, but he thinks that the garage lights are still on. He turns the water off every night in case of a flood. He only allows me to have a shower and take the car out once a week. I have left him twice, but he comes after me, crying and saying that he can’t live without me. He lies to his doctor, telling her that he is improving. She knows that he is lying and tells me to defy him regarding the car and the showers. We have two married daughters, but I hide a lot from them.
Unfortunately it is challenging to help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves, but you shouldn’t have to live like this. First, I advise you to enlist the support of your daughters. Stop hiding things from them and spell out the severity of the situation. See if they can persuade your husband to seek more professional treatment for his OCD. Explain to him how much you all love him, but that you are finding it impossible to live with his volatile behaviour, which is harming the family environment. OCD can often be successfully treated, usually with a combination of antidepressants and a type of cognitive behavioural therapy called ERP (exposure and response prevention), which helps patients confront their obsessions and resist the urge to carry out compulsions. The doctor is right that you should defy your husband – don’t let him control you. You must live the way you choose and maintain your social life. If you overcome your loneliness, you may be able to cut back on drinking, which is essential for your own wellbeing. If your husband is willing to make these changes, you may find that your marriage is more tolerable and sustainable. Contact Mind (0300 123 3393, mind.org.uk) for more information about OCD.
Motherhood has killed my wife’s sex drive
I love my wife of five years, but since our son was born three years ago things have been difficult. I have a good but demanding job and I work hard to provide well for the family. My wife has returned to work part time. Before our son was born, she was in contact with another man. It didn’t go as far as having sex, but they were in touch every day. When I discovered this, she ended the relationship. I still check up on her as it’s difficult to rebuild trust, but I genuinely don’t think that they are in touch. I still really fancy her, but since giving birth she has had no sex drive. Before that, it was a good part of our marriage. What should I do?
You need to talk to your wife and try to understand why she is avoiding sexual intimacy. She may be simply exhausted trying to juggle a young child and a career. However, the fact that she was in touch with another man before your son was born suggests that there may have been something missing in the marriage for her. I know that it’s a painful question, but has she lost all sexual desire or only in relation to you? For most women to feel sexually close to their partners, they need to feel emotionally connected, and I wonder if she feels neglected or resentful because you have such a demanding job. Or have you somehow both stopped really talking to each other about how you think and feel, your hopes, fears, needs and dreams? I recommend relationship and psychosexual counselling with Relate (relate.org.uk) to help you both resolve this situation.
- If you have a problem, write to Zelda West-Meads at: YOU, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TS, or email firstname.lastname@example.org