Saturday 10 December 2016

Dear Mary: 'My brother's pregnant partner is living with us, and she's driving me mad'

Mary O'Connor

Published 22/06/2015 | 02:30

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column

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Question: For reasons that I don't want to go into, my brother and his partner are sharing our home, and will be for another few months. That is fine by me as  we  get on well, but she is driving me mad and I don't know if I can stand it.

She is happily pregnant with her first baby and has gone from a fun-loving carefree girl who likes her wine and also cigarettes, to a sanctimonious woman who keeps telling me about what is best for her baby. I can take that, but she expects me to do as she says. So I'm not supposed to have any drink in the house in case she might have a craving for wine in the middle of the night, nor am I to have any food in the house that would be bad for her, like unpasteurised cheese or shellfish, for the same reason.

The list goes on and on and I'm getting angry even writing this thinking of all her restrictions. I don't want to have a row because that wouldn't be helpful for anybody, but at the same time I should be able to live my life as I want to. The only good thing is that she has stopped smoking, and I'm really grateful for that. My back garden was littered with butts when she was smoking. What should I do?

Mary replies: Of course you should be able to do as you please in your own home, but at the same time you are very wise in wanting to keep the peace. So a compromise is by far the best idea. I'm sure you have already praised her for giving up cigarettes and emphasise how much you admire her for having done this.

So let's say you enjoy a glass of wine with your dinner on a Friday night. Next Friday bring home a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass and explain that you really don't agree that you have to do the same as she does. You are not pregnant and so are not under the same restrictions and while you appreciate that she may have a craving you cannot be expected to deny yourself because of her.

Offer to keep the foods that she does not want to be tempted by in containers that she cannot see through (and therefore will not be enticed by). Tell her you are aware that her sense of smell may be heightened and therefore if there are any particular smells that cause her to feel nauseous while you are cooking then of course you will do your best not to cook these items. This seems pretty balanced to me and she should feel that you are taking her pregnancy into account.

You don't mention your brother's views on all of this. If things get difficult you should talk to him on his own and explain that you feel you are being very reasonable and you would appreciate his help in putting your point across to his partner. I hope that peace continues to reign in the pregnant household!

I'm torn about going back to living abroad

Question: I'm struggling with a big decision and feel as though I have absolutely no direction or idea of what to do. Over two years ago my wife and I returned to Ireland with our children after many years in Canada.

We had a great life in Canada and miss plenty of things about it. But we've also had a great time here and it's been really good to be nearer to both families. However, we always said we'd decide whether to go back or not after a few years and now the decision has been made to go back. My job is flexible enough and we could fairly seamlessly slot back into the life we had beforehand.

I'm completely torn. I feel as though we never gave ourselves the chance to feel truly 'settled' here as we've been renting a house and we chose an area that neither of us had lived in before. We knew nobody but got to know some lovely people through the schools and various other things. The kids settled in really well, considering it was such a big move, but our oldest says he always assumed we'd be going back. He says he'd be devastated if we decided to stay.

My wife misses the weather and friends, and our younger kids say they want to go back - although I'm fairly certain they wouldn't be too upset about staying either. I think we subconsciously didn't try to commit to this move by choosing the area we did and not buying a house. We also kept our house over there and rented it out.

But now that time has passed, I think I feel as though we should stay here as we made the big move already, and leaving my elderly parents again is causing me great distress. My wife seems certain in her decision and I find I'm resenting her certainty. She's convinced the children's future would be better in Canada, and when it comes to lifestyle, it's hard to argue.

At the same time, if we made a hard and fast decision to stay, I'd be second guessing that too. I feel weighed down and directionless and completely overwhelmed with a decision that I feel as though I won't like either way.

I'm in my 40s. I'm bored with my well-paid job too, but feel trapped by it. I feel vaguely pathetic being in this situation at my age. I'm not enjoying work. I'm involved in a big decision that seems to be wrong either way. The move will likely mean being stuck with my job for the longer haul - even though I know logically that's not necessarily true.

I just want to feel free and in control and I have no idea how to go about this. I could write lots more about my thoughts. I don't sleep and worry about this all the time. Thanks for reading this.

Mary replies: Please be assured that you are not at all pathetic - you are being responsible. It's only natural that you feel torn as there are pros and cons for whatever decision you make, and you could spend your life looking back and thinking 'what if?' You agreed to make a decision after a couple of years and while your wife has made up her mind, you are very indecisive, and with good reason. I feel that the two things that are causing you problems are the thought of once more saying goodbye to your parents, and your unhappiness with your job.

Your parents must have been thrilled to have you back, thereby giving them a chance to get to know their grandchildren. Of course, they would be heartbroken saying goodbye to you all again, and it is particularly hard for you as you worry as they age. However, as parents they will want only for you to be happy and if they know that you truly are happy, in time they will once more get used to you being so far away. I presume they are set up with Skype or something similar, because technological advances mean that people can keep in touch so much more easily, and a regular chat online where everybody can see each other makes a world of difference. It's not ideal but it is a help, and if you do go back to Canada perhaps you could consider coming back to see them occasionally on your own, even for a long weekend.

I'm sure your children consider themselves to be Canadian, as Canada is where the majority of their lives have been spent. The younger they are the more adaptable they are, so it is not surprising that the eldest is the one who is most upset. If you were to stay here would there be a possibility of him going to college in Canada in a few years?

The big issue is your work. It seems to me that whether you are working in Ireland or Canada you will be unhappy because you are bored and unfulfilled. I appreciate your feelings of being trapped because you have a family to support - you don't mention your wife working outside the home - but there must be something you can do about this. If you have to stay in your job then are there other projects that you could take on that would appeal to you?

You spend roughly one-third of your day at work, so it is vital that you are happy. If not, then your general unhappiness will permeate into the lives of those around you and that cannot be good. Are you doing things outside of work that make you happy? A good balance of work and play is essential. If you don't already do so, volunteering to spend a few hours each week working for a cause that you believe in can bring huge satisfaction. Not only does the charity benefit but your sense of self does also.

Ultimately, it is essential that you and your wife are in agreement when your decision is finally made. You are a team, after all, and each one has an input. If you think differently to her then you need to have very good reasons to support your decision and you will have to be prepared to justify them to her. You likewise will have to listen carefully to what she has to say. Whatever resolution you reach, please stop second guessing what might have been and instead rejoice in looking forward. You have a lot to be grateful for.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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