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Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas

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My wife has never liked my friends but has tolerated them coming round occasionally. Now we've moved house and I want an old friend who lives abroad to see it when he's over here. But she particularly dislikes him, for no good reason. He has always been polite. I've suggested she go out for the day, but she refuses. She has in the past driven away so many of my friends I feel I need to make a stand. It is my house, too. But she just throws such tantrums and says if I loved her I wouldn't do this. Otherwise we get on perfectly well. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Mike

Virginia says... There is a strong temptation to advise you simply to put your foot down. And who knows, it might work. Your wife is behaving life a fractious child and dealing with her, to use that terrible phrase, "kindly but firmly" might be a successful strategy to use to deal with her.

"Now now, this is ridiculous, of course my friend is coming over, we won't hear any more about it. If you don't like him, you can go out, but he's coming over. You know perfectly well it's got nothing to do with my not loving you – I adore you – so stop being so silly. It's only for a day. Let's go out and let's do something nice together to show you how much I love you, and we won't talk about it any more."

Surprisingly, this might have the desired effect. When people are in the grips of some childish emotion it sometimes can be rather a relief to have all the boundaries laid down firmly. They're not going to get their way. That's it. Tough but fair.

However, it's a risky strategy because this approach could reduce your wife to paroxysms of anxiety and stress. And this is, perhaps, what she's suffering from.

You might try thinking, "in what situation would her reaction be understandable?" Perhaps if she'd come from a repressive regime where she was always fearing the knock on the door of the secret police. Or if her father had always, as the ultimate punishment, told her that she would have to leave home for good. Or if her parents had insisted on inviting friends over to play with her who had bullied and tormented her when they were alone. Or if she'd been pushed from pillar to post in her childhood from one relative to another, never knowing what to call "home".

In all these cases I think your view of her reaction would be more charitable. I suspect that there is some version of these scenarios in her background. Perhaps you could try to find out or suggest, since it upsets you so much, she sees a counsellor to help her deal with her unreasonable behaviour. If she refuses, you can use her own emotional blackmail back at her. "You don't love me enough to do this for me," you could say, stamping your foot.

But if not, perhaps, since you get on so well in other ways and you've managed to cope with her unreasonable behaviour until now, it might be best simply to shrug your shoulders and not make an issue of it. Otherwise it may well be make or break time for your marriage.


Readers say...

Stand your ground

Saying that you get on "perfectly well" despite her sustained campaign to leave you dependent on her for companionship is not very reassuring. You do need to stand your ground on this one, but you'll also need to be prepared for her resistance. Staying in a relationship where your partner doesn't respect you enough to let you choose your friends is toxic – perhaps it's time to quit.

Sarah Rudston By email


Find out why

Why does she feel so threatened? You must get to the bottom of this; or your resentment will grow. I don't particularly care for some of my husband's friends. But I know why (they're very right-wing), and he respects my reasons, as I respect his friendships. Sometimes he does things with them singly; occasionally I join in. I would never refuse any of them houseroom! In a late-ish second marriage we've worked hard at developing new, mutually enjoyable friendships – the best balm of all when past lives throw up perceived threats and differences.

Alison H By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia, At 45, my older sister is nearly blind. She is also confined mostly to a wheelchair. She lives in special accommodation. I try to visit her most weeks but my problem is that her life seems to be based only around these visits. When I arrive she tells me how lonely she's been, then she rings later to say that now I've gone she feels bereft. I've tried reassuring her, cheering her up and phoning most days, but I hear nothing but how lonely she feels. There is a limit to my sympathy, I'm afraid, and I'm starting to feel really resentful. And yet I feel so selfish. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Philippa

What would you advise Philippa 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)