Dear Virginia, My husband runs a business and I work part-time, and look after our two children. The problem is that he's so worried about the recession and whether his business will survive that he can't sleep, and has become snappy and bad-tempered, lashing out at the kids. I've explained everything to them, but they're becoming scared of him. I'm as understanding as I can be, but I'm starting to worry the children will be really affected. I have a very "que sera, sera" attitude to life and can't really understand the extent of his anxiety. I'm sure we'll cope, whatever happens. What can I do?
Yours sincerely, Geraldine
I'm afraid, Geraldine, that there is nothing more designed to inflame someone who is riven with anxiety and worry, as your husband is, than a partner who just whistles a happy tune and says, blithely, "Oh, everything will work out! "
I know that in theory that such an attitude should balance out the worrier, and perhaps reassure them that their worries though not, perhaps, unfounded, are certainly exaggerated, but in fact it has the opposite effect. It enrages them. Not only are they convinced that the sky is falling, they are also living with someone who says she can't see the sky is falling, and anyway if it did, what would it matter? Because you're not worrying, your poor husband is having to worry for two. No wonder he's frantic.
Now, I'm not suggesting you start worrying, because if you're a totally laid-back sort of person, you can't. But I think you could at least pretend to worry. By not worrying you are, in his mind, dismissing his fears. You're saying, effectively: "You're stupid for worrying". You're diminishing him and writing off the responsible part of his personality, a part that, presumably, has actually served you and your family rather well over the years.
Try to ask him more about the business. Say, "I really understand how worried you are!", and if he says, "No, you don't", say "Well, it's true, I can't feel it as profoundly, but I'm trying to understand because I can see how worried you are and I trust your feelings." Discuss with him what plans you should make together if his business does go bust. Suggest going out to work yourself and taking some of the responsibility away from him. And instead of not mentioning the problem, thinking that if he doesn't bring it up it will go away, initiate conversations about it. Try to talk about it so much that eventually it's he who says, "Oh, I'm fed up with discussing it. Let 's change the subject."
As it is, I'm sure one of the reasons he's snapping at the kids is because he'd really like to snap at you. They're fooling around and having fun, but why, he feels, can't they see the abyss that's looming? Why can't you? Why does his whole family seem to be denial?
He'd love to be the one who had a "que sera, sera" attitude. It would be like a warm bath he could sink into, to refresh him for the days of anxiety ahead. But how can he experience that role, even for an hour or so, when you're hogging it for yourself? If you share the anxiety then you can share the moments when you relax about the whole thing together.
His being more relaxed might not only help him salvage the business but also realise that there's an element of fate about everything.
Share his load
While sympathising with your worry about the impact your husband's bad temper is having on the children, might it not be that your own "que sera, sera" attitude to life is a contributory factor? In this economic climate, he may well have a very real cause for worry, and your telling him that you're "sure you'll manage somehow" is not likely to reassure him.
You need to give him some concrete reason for your optimistic attitude, some plan or ideas, to show you have thought the matter through and that you take it as seriously as he does. Otherwise, what seems to him your wildly unrealistic approach to life will be yet another burden for him to carry.
Find him a mentor
Has your husband got someone who could act as a mentor? Someone older, experienced in business, whom he could talk to, confident that he or she would understand? This could help him clarify his thoughts and problems and find his own solutions. It might also help calm your husband to have thought through how the business could be wound up, still under his control, if it came to the worst. If he can see a way of keeping control of his life, whether or not this business survives, he is more likely to gain some of your confidence that he will be able to cope with whatever happens.
You or the mentor or both of you will then need to get your husband to recognise that the stress he is suffering from is a problem, which needs to be dealt with as it is affecting his children. Hopefully he will by then have more of a sense of perspective, allowing him to put the children first.
Confront his fears
I wonder if your husband sees you as feckless and patronising, because that is the way you strike me. It's not very reassuring to an adult to be told, "There, there, everything will be all right," especially when the corpses of recession-struck companies are strewn all over the landscape. What helps a very worried person is not soothing noises but facts and plans. Have you discussed what the two of you might do if his fears come true? Will you get a full-time job? What sort of work would he do? Is he worried about his employees? If so, how could they be helped? Would your home be at risk? If so, would you let it and move out, or sell it? Where would you go?
Discussing these strategies and gathering information about them will give your husband something specific to get his mind working on, rather than feeling helpless and terrified. And wouldn't it make you feel better too? Are you really calm and carefree, or is the "que sera, sera" attitude your way of avoiding anxiety? It would make you not only a more mature person and a better wife but also a better mother.
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Next week's dilemma
I don't know what to do about my sister, who is three years older than me. We see each other about twice a year and on every occasion she makes it her business to be horrible to me. She criticises me in front of my children, she tries to turn my husband and include him in jokes that make fun of me, and she constantly tells me I'm hopeless and drags up old stories to illustrate it, and although I've tried as hard as I can to be friends with her, it just seems a hopeless task. Do you think it would be best if I just cut her out of my life? Our children get on fine and enjoy seeing their cousins, so it would be a shame. But each year I dread our meetings more and more. If I try to talk to her she says I'm paranoid and then laughs at me for it.
Yours sincerely, Faye
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