Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


Ever since I married four years ago I've wondered whether my husband is the right man (we have a small child we both adore.) He's totally undemonstrative, a workaholic, and doesn't understand where I'm coming from. We were going to go for counselling, but then I got a job that means I work nights three times a week and, though I'm tired, we're getting on better – probably because we don't see each other so much. I'm worried, though, that the job is just a distraction, a plaster stuck on, and we're not facing up to the real problems. What do you think? Yours sincerely, Celia

Virginia says...

We're so hung up on the idea of romantic love overcoming all, that we often forget, as I think you have, that the environment of a marriage really can have a huge effect. Marriages don't break down necessarily because people fall out of love. They break down because he retires and hangs about all day, asking what's for lunch, or because she gets a job as a croupier and sleeps all day. They break because he's made redundant, or suddenly her son by a former marriage moves in with them. In other words, they break because there's a huge shift in the whole arena in which the relationship is played out, and although there are marriages that thrive under adverse circumstances, on the whole love does not necessarily conquer all.

And anyway, some marriages only work because one partner works abroad for half the year, or because the partners live in separate houses. This doesn't mean the marriages are useless. Indeed some of these may function better than most.

Now, just because you've worked out a modus vivendi that means you're rubbing along a bit better doesn't mean to say that it wouldn't be a good idea to go for counselling. Though from what you say, it sounds as if the result of counselling would, in the end, simply involve you accepting your husband as he is. "Undemonstrative, a workaholic, doesn't understand where you're coming from" – they're all male characteristics that are difficult if not impossible to change. It doesn't prevent him from being, however, a kindly and reliable man and a good father to your child.

Why do you feel so critical of the new situation? You've got a new job and you're getting on better. Great. Don't try to sabotage a very good prescription for saving your marriage by describing is as "just a plaster". I know what you're saying, but a plaster is what you put on a wound, and it's a very useful piece of kit in your first-aid box. Sometimes, if it stays on long enough, you'll find that, when you take it off, the wound has healed.

Don't be seduced by the idea of always getting to the bottom of a problem. Sometimes it's a good idea but sometimes, particularly when a child is involved, a series of distractions, plasters, changes in circumstances, whatever, can be a very good way of muddling through and ending up with a marriage that, because you don't expect too much of it, becomes at least as good as most and often better.


Readers say...

Make time for him

My guess is that your hubby is the right man, and that your adorable little child proves it. You can't expect to live with wedding euphoria for ever, and I guess you may have just started to realise that. With two demanding jobs and a young child, your life together could well be tough, and you won't be the first to discover that. What I'd suggest, though, is that you give yourselves some long weekends away together and let someone else do the babysitting, if circumstances allow. This would give you a more relaxed environment to sort yourselves out without the need for counselling.

Don Manley By email


Face this together

It seems to me that you need to take a long hard look at why you married your husband in the first place. Only you can decide whether this marriage is worth fighting for, and if it is, then you both need to take responsibility for it and find ways of dealing with whatever issues are between you. Avoiding seeing and talking to each other is not the answer.

Elisabeth Storrs By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, Last year Christmas was a disaster. We went round to my husband's mother and stepfather and he was so rude and critical of the children that I never wanted to see him again. This year we're going to have Christmas at home, and my husband wants to ask them, too. I'd love to see my mother-in-law, who adores the children, but the idea of having her husband in the house makes me feel ill. I don't see why I should have to put up with having my Christmas ruined again. How can I somehow make it all right? Yours sincerely, Dottie

What would you advise Dottie to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent., or go to independent Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

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