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)

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Production Operative

    £13000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to a period of sustained an...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Content Leader

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This role requires a high level...

    Recruitment Genius: Multi Drop Driver

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This food distribution company ...

    Recruitment Genius: Multi Drop Driver

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This food distribution company ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent