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How Can I Help My Son And His Wife After Sudden Marriage Breakdown?

The problem…

“I don’t know how to help my son and his wife who have been going through a terrible time during lockdown. They only got married late last year and despite the age gap – he’s 11 years younger than her – we thought they were well suited and seemed so happy.

“He’d never been very confident before and the fact that he found someone to love, who said she loved him, made a huge difference to his self-esteem. She had been terribly badly abused by her ex-husband and seemed to have blossomed with my son.

“Her ex had attacked her almost daily and it had obviously had a profound effect on her and on her two children. Obviously, we didn’t expect her to forget her past, but we all thought she’d moved on. The children, aged nine and five, seemed to get on well with my son and the youngest had started to call him Dad.

“They’ve both been furloughed and have been stuck at home together as a family – which my son was really enjoying. Then last week, out of the blue, my daughter-in-law said she wanted him to leave. He has no idea what has gone wrong and he is devastated – as are we all. He is still living in the house with h
er and he’s hurting very badly, even though he tries not to let on to me. What can I say to him?”

Fiona says…

“Your daughter-in-law, with a terrible legacy of abuse to come to terms with, may have any number of reasons why she is struggling in this marriage. Unfortunately, she isn’t the one that has written to me, but she’s probably the one who needs help, advice and counselling the most. Much as you want to help, I don’t think she would take that from you.

“Something has triggered her response to reject him and to reject this developing relationship. Unless there is something he has kept from you, it could be due to something in her past – but the only person who can really answer this question is her.

It takes a long, long time to recover from abuse

“Perhaps it’s being forced together, day after day in lockdown that has reminded her of feeling trapped and unable to escape. I am in no way suggesting your son is also an abuser, but the stress and frustration could have brought up bad memories for her.

Because she hasn’t fully recovered from her past, she may have found this frightening. It takes a long, long time for someone to recover from that fear and I suspect she’s frightened – not of your son but of her inability to cope.

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Could you encourage both of them to seek counselling? (iStock/PA)

“As your son is still living in the house with her, perhaps he could encourage her to seek help? She most certainly seems to need it and if he could appeal to her on the grounds of his relationship with the children too, that might help her feel better about it. There is no reason why your son shouldn’t seek counselling and support for himself as well. You say he has lacked confidence in the past and this current situation could mean he struggles in the future, especially if they do separate. Even if it doesn’t help him to mend the relationship, it might help him realise he isn’t to blame and help him to believe in himself again.

“Whatever happens, developing his own self-esteem is important for him to be able to support his wife and her children. He needs to understand that, with the damage that has been done to her, there is probably little he could do to make this marriage work, unless she is willing to try too.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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