Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

 

Dear Virginia,

I've only been married for a year and my wife has cancer and it seems she only has six months to live, if that. It's so sad – we're both under 30 and don't have kids. Her sister asked if we'd like her to come and help as my wife's had chemo and is very ill. We were delighted, but my sister-in-law has now taken over the house, organised all the furniture in different places, laid down rules about taking shoes off before coming in, and my wife is too weak to resist. I feel my last few months of my married life are being blighted. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Alan

Virginia says...

It takes two to be bullied. One to do the bullying and the other to play the victim. Now, of course I understand you're not playing the victim willingly. In any other circumstances I imagine you'd stand up for yourself. And presumably you're hesitant to say anything for fear that your sister-in-law would retaliate by saying: "Well, you asked me to help. Do you want me or don't you?" Or she might pull a weepie and say: "My sister's dying and you're spoiling our last moments together by telling me to go away!"

To be honest, whatever you do is going to result in a wobbly, I feel. Her nerves must be as ragged as yours. It sounds as if your sister-in-law is incredibly angry (understandably, if her sister's dying) and is desperate to keep control of a situation over which she has no control. Unfortunately you are feeling exactly the same.

Myself, I would come home one day and simply say: "Now, I'm going to put all the furniture back as it used to be. My wife feels more comfortable in familiar surroundings, and so do I, so I'm sorry, but that's how it is." Underlying this is the message: "It's my house!" In other words, I would bully back. Keep your shoes on in the house, and say: "In my house I keep my shoes on." There is no arguing with this.

However, as a sop to your sister-in-law, you could, if you felt kindly, give her power in a specific area in which you don't mind her taking control. Could you bear her to organise all the food and the cooking? Could you bear her to supervise the pill-taking? Perhaps she could "do" the nights while you "do" the days, or vice-versa. You could behave like king who, fed up with having a pretender to his throne making trouble, gives him a bit of land to keep him busy instead.

Failing all this, of course, you could try to have a sensible, calm, mature talk with your sister-in-law, explaining how you want the last weeks of your wife's life to be peaceful, how you need time alone together, and how, though you appreciate her help, you feel she's taking over and that makes you feel bad.

The prospect of having a sensible, calm mature talk with anyone in your sister-in-law's position (or, probably, yours come to that) is pretty much pie in the sky. But at least you could give it a try. It'll probably end in tears but the result will almost certainly be better for you than the horrible, tense situation that exists at present.

Readers say...

She needs control

I think your sister-in-law's need to take over your house and life is her desperate effort to try to control what is uncontrollable. You need to help her recognise what lies behind her frantic activity and acknowledge that you can both work together to make your wife's final few months more bearable. I feel that once she realises what she is doing, and why she is doing it, she'll be able to let go and begin to come to terms with facing the future.

Georgina Mallalieu

By email

Let her do this

You say she's taking over your marriage. She's not. She's taking domestic control. Let her – it doesn't matter and it's all she can do to show her love. You'll have complete control of your home in the future. Your wife's needs are paramount. Don't add to her burden by expecting her to "deal" with her sister. Make light of it, joke about it.

It's tough, Alan, it's unfair. You are all so young to have to cope with this. Be strong. Spend this summer taking your wife to pleasant places, either mentally or physically.

Helen

By email

Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, I'm getting married this summer, but I'm starting to have second thoughts. The thing is, it turns out that my fiancé can't swim, or even ride a bike. He doesn't know how to change a plug, and when I asked him to bleed the radiators he didn't know what I was talking about. True, he can always fix my computer, but I'm starting to get irritated by his inability to do anything practical. My father was always fixing gates, repairing machines etc. It's preying on my mind and I'm starting to feel he's not a man. Do you think it's just pre-wedding nerves, as my mother says? Yours sincerely, Carla

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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

    £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

    £96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

    Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

    £32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee