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.


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., or go to independent. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?