WHEN cats return home after a spell away they go round the house wiggling their tails and spraying in every corner. They want to re-establish their territory. It sounds as though Diana's husband, after his absence, is indulging in similar kind of feline behaviour, making his mark on the children, by disciplining them over little matters. He has to make his presence felt.
Lots of part-time partners do the same. Some come home and make it party time - "Hey I'm back, relax everyone!" - which can be equally irritating to the partner left at home if she has spent weeks trying to cobble together a status quo.
It sounds as though Diane's husband is terrified of not being needed after his long time away, too, so he creates things to do, whether they're appropriate or not. He wants Diane to himself for similar motives - he wants to surround her with his presence like a fog, and not risk meeting anyone else who might entertain her or leave their mark on her.
On the other hand, Diane probably feels, at some level, extremely angry at being abandoned for a month at a time. Plus, it's been a struggle for her to keep going alone, and every time her husband comes home he appears to delight in mucking up her carefully constructed routine.
How can they improve matters? It sounds as though they don't communicate a lot when he's away. Maybe they feel the time-difference is too hard to maintain proper contact, or it's too expensive to make endless long- distance calls several times a day. But it's worth it.
That way Diane's husband can do a bit of his spraying over the phone. Diane should ask him if he'd like to be consulted on domestic matters and my guess is that he would. He'd like to be rung for his advice when the fridge starts to leak; he'd like to be told what homework had to be done when the kids came back from school; he'd like to be asked whether he thinks lime green is the right colour for the kitchen; he'd even like to be asked if he thinks she should cut the grass.
Of course, maybe he would not like to be consulted. Maybe his life is one long round of meetings (What does go on in meetings by the way? I've never been to one. I imagine they're a lot of waffle going in a boardroom with clipboards and glasses of water and new pencils). Maybe he is so pre-occupied with writing minutes (another baffling area) that he has no time to discuss household matters. If so, Diana's perfectly justified in getting furious when he comes home and starts moving the furniture around.
Whatever they do, they should do something out about the children, who will otherwise get extremely baffled by the double standards imposed in their home and, worse, dread their father's return as he struts about like a petty Hitler. And why Diana can't maintain a social life during her husband's absences is beyond me. Maybe she'll worry about being called a fair-weather friend if she cuts off every so often for a fortnight, but most friends can hang on that long.
At the moment this marriage is not a happy one. Ultimately, it might be worth considering her husband getting a job nearer home even if it means a cut in pay. It all depends whether both Diane and he consider the maintenance of their marriage as a real priority in their lives.
I work away from home a lot of the time, but my partner keeps in touch all the time. We ring each other sometimes three times a day, send e- mails and faxes and write letters. She has a full social life and I trust her completely, and it's always wonderful to be back at home - like a honeymoon every time. Diane's husband sounds like a control freak. Even if he were at home all the time I think she'd find things difficult. She says she loves him, but does he love her? They need to sort things out - quickly.
I'd have a rip-roaring row with with him for being so unappreciative of my efforts to manage family affairs in his absence. But a more subtle approach is necessary. Perhaps he is trying to re-establish his identity and impose his own personality on the family each time he comes home, and in doing so wreaks havoc. Like a child he needs reassurance that he is needed and loved. Diane should stress how much they miss him and need him. If this doesn't improve things she might show him a list of the points in her letter. He may not realise how much trouble he is causing. Then, he probably does, in which case straight talking may help him grow up.
My husband is quite different to Diane's. He comes home at weekends and expects everything to be done for him. He lives in a hotel during the week and sometimes I think he sees his home as just another hotel. He indulges the children and refuses to discipline them, so I feel I am the monster of the family. He also expects me to get them out of the way when he wants a rest. Also, he's very social and often he's down at the pub with old friends. If I were Diane I wouldn't worry. She's lucky to have a husband who seems to want to contribute to family life, even if it is rather over the top.
next week's dilemma
We have taken a house in the country for a month during the summer. The problem is our cat, who is very dependent on us. Should we put him in a cattery for a month? Of should we leave him at home with someone popping in to feed him? Or should we take him with us? I am terrified he might get lost if we do. Yours, Mandy
Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments and suggestions to Virginia Ironside at the Features Department, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning. If you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.