Virginia Ironside: Dilemmas

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Dear Virginia, My fiancée is always sulking. I find it strange that when she is in a sulk it is only with me. When she meets anyone else, she acts pleasantly, happy to smile and chat away, but towards me, she seems cold. When she is sulking and it is just us, the sulking is very evident, sour face, no communication. Is it best to leave her alone when she is like this? If she wants to communicate something to me, she'll write it down and hand it to me. Any advice you could offer would help.

Yours sincerely, Miles

I was depressed to see that most of the letters in reply to this dilemma are from men, who come down on your poor fiancée like a ton of bricks. Among the answers were comments like, "Tell her she's grown up!", "She's acting like a child and she must pull herself together!" – horrible authoritarian stuff that makes me think it's no wonder there are so many women sulkers in the world if that's how they're treated.

Yes, your fiancée is behaving like a child. And she must be treated like a child. Not shouted at and told to grow up, but listened to compassionately and sympathetically. She's suffering, too, you know, and probably a lot more than you are. And I should know. I speak as a one-time sulker of mammoth proportions. I once managed to quell a whole railway carriage by sulking. My furious silent looks made even people I bumped into in the corridor turn to stone. The power was terrifying, and it terrifies the sulker just as much as it terrifies and frustrates the person the sulk's directed at.

The reason your fiancée behaves like this is because she feels hurt. Now it might be over something trivial or something major – who knows. But her hurt is so great that she feels unable to express her anger and so, kindly I would say, instead of inflicting this anger on you, she shields you from it by withdrawing into herself. Almost certainly she's been brought up in a family in which problems are never aired. She simply doesn't know how to discuss feelings openly. And, worse, she's almost certainly been brought up in a family in which she hasn't been allowed ever to express any anger, even of the mildest sort. She thinks that just snapping at someone for not passing the salt is a mortal sin that will involve being sent to her room. It's not surprising that when she feels even mildly irritated with you she closes down like a clam. She's terrified that if she says anything you'll break off the engagement and never speak to her again.

What you must do, Miles, is to wait for your fiancée to get out of her sulk and then discuss the whole thing rationally. Emphasise how very hurt and upset you feel when she sulks and ask her how she'd like you to behave, and how to break this cycle – not me! I bet you're like a lot of people – when things are going well, you don't want to rock the boat by bringing up sore subjects, but you must.

You are the person with the key to this. If you can help release her from this syndrome you will be like a shining knight who releases a princess from a lifelong curse. But if pride and cowardice prevent you from facing this head-on – when she's in a relaxed mood, of course – then I fear your relationship won't last very long.







She needs help

I have to tell you that you are presently engaged to a small child. A very manipulative small child. If you didn't realise it before now, then it's high time you did. When she treats you like a moron (handing you bits of paper, etc), ask yourself why you pander to her childish drama, ask yourself what kind of man you are to stoop so low to play her ridiculous games. Ask yourself this question: who is the grown-up around here? I'm afraid there is a very uncertain future for your relationship until she grows up. She may need professional help in order to grow up. If so then will you still be around to see that she gets it?

R Brooks

By email







It's a character flaw

Please, Miles, take it from one who knows, do not marry this woman. I lived with a man like her for nearly 25 years, and believe me, it is a dreadful, corrosive experience. You will find your self-confidence is gradually eroded as you try to find strategies to avoid sending your partner into one of these sulks.

You will become unable to make decisions in case you make the "wrong" one. You will become more and more unhappy when you are complicit in the charade of the happy couple, which your wife plays so well in company. Nothing you say or do will improve this fundamental flaw in her character. Please leave her – you will be sad for a while, but you will be giving yourself the chance to find happiness with someone who will treat you as an equal and not as someone to be dominated and manipulated.

Name and address supplied







Get out while you can

There's a word that I kept on returning to in your letter – fiancée. Not wife. And with that, I keep on sighing an immense sigh of relief. There's still time, I cry! For isn't that the beauty of an engagement period? That you can still say, "You know what? This isn't a done deal. You go off and have your sulkathons with someone else while I find a woman who isn't still in the playground."

I grew up with parents who in their own ways could teach a masterclass in the art of the sulk – my father, the violent, enraged silence and my mother an expert in passive aggression. Neither type is pretty, both are unbearable to be around and let me tell you this – they never get better. It's too addictive a pleasure for them ever to want to really give it up. All that desperate hunger of the ego for attention.

I mean, passing notes instead of speaking? Is she nine years of age? Find a woman Miles, not some silly little girl. Call her bluff once and for all and say that you're not listening any more. Or else, mark my words, you're going to have a long and depressing life of sulky silence ahead of you. Get out now while you can!

Charlie

By email



Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I am very worried about my daughter, who is 14. She's become very infatuated with her art teacher at school. She emails him all the time and I know he emails her back, though I don't know what he says. She's got a photograph of him on her mobile phone, and has stored endless texts from him. She insists there's nothing in it, but I'm not so sure and I can't help worrying. The other day she came back very late from school and couldn't give a reason. I've tried to talk to the teacher, but he's broken the last two dates I made with him. Should I bring it up with the head? The problem is, I know my daughter would never forgive me and it might just be an innocent crush. What can I do?

Yours sincerely, Emma



What would you advise Emma to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent.co.uk, or go to www.independent.co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucer from the wine website Naked Wines ( www.nakedwines.com)

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