Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My wife gets clingy when I leave for work

It’s getting so there are only a few days that things are OK. It seems that my job is the problem, but I can’t do anything else, so what can we do to make things better?

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,


I’ve been married for two years and we have a small baby. But I’m a cameraman and have to be away quite a lot. The problem is that every time I leave to do a job, my wife gets extremely clingy and upset and yet every time I return she is moody and angry. It’s getting so there are only a few days in the middle of my return that things are OK any more. It’s as if we can’t stop rowing the rest of the time. It seems that my job is the problem, but I can’t do anything else, so what can we do to make things better?


Yours sincerely,



Virginia says...

There are so many couples who feel vaguely dissatisfied with everything in their relationship but can’t put their finger on what’s exactly wrong, but you’re lucky. You've got an identifiable problem that follows a regular pattern. That’s a great start. Another plus is that there’s a moment in these cycles when everything goes perfectly OK. And that’s the time to discuss what’s going on.

Now I suspect that your wife, when she was very young, felt abandoned by one of her parents. Oh, I know it all sounds so glib, but it’s astonishing how these childhood hurts come back to haunt you. You only have to experience something in your adult life that reminds you of the childhood pain, and you can go straight back to being a child again. Irrational. Hurt. Tearful. Angry. So your wife only has to think of your going away and it’s like pressing a button – she gets miserable, feels you’re being cruel, and, when you return, she takes it out on you.

I’m sure that Relate counselling would help you both enormously, but before going down that route, why don’t you try this? A couple of weeks before you leave, and your wife gets upset, why don’t you get upset, instead? You don’t have to feel it really. But pretend. Constantly refer to how anxious you are that you’re going away, say that you’re terrified she won’t be able to cope or will run off with another man. Ask her if she thinks you should cancel the job. Say you don’t know what’s come over you, but suddenly you’ve lost your nerve and can’t deal with these absences.

I’m pretty sure that, faced with this reaction from you, your wife’s attitude will change. She’ll be pushed into a nurturing mode. For her, it may turn out to be enough that someone is upset at the parting. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s you or her.

While you’re away, bombard her with anxious texts and phone calls. Say how you’re longing to get back and how much you miss her. Ask her if she can meet you at the airport. 

This all may be completely contrary to how you think you feel, but please, just give it a try. Because I suspect that there is a bit of you that really does feel distressed at these partings, but somehow you’re subconsciously getting your wife to bear all the pain and emotion. She becomes the loopy one. You’re the sane one. Try sharing the loopiness for once. Then she can share the sanity.

Virginia Ironside’s new book is No! I Don’t need Reading Glasses! (Quercus £14.99)

Readers say...

Share her burden

Your wife’s recent transition to motherhood is enormous and one which no woman can wholly be prepared for. The chances are that she is experiencing a range of profound emotions and swinging from joy to despair and back again. All this and the sheer exhaustion of looking after a newborn, especially as she is doing this mainly on her own. No wonder she behaves in the way she does.

Take some time out from work. Find out how you can support her during the times that you are away. It may be, for example, that having help with the baby two or three nights a week will give her a decent night’s sleep. I am sure there are many other ways you can help. But talk to her, listen to her. You are in this together.

Elisabeth Storrs, York

The job’s got to go

Clingy and upset? Moody and angry? She is one unhappy woman. If you love her and your child, change that job. It is a brave step, I know, and hard to think of doing something completely different, but you really have to do it if you do not want to lose the two people you love more than anything. 

Helen Bobuk, by email

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

I’m 30 and have been trying to get pregnant for five years now with no luck. We’ve done everything, and we’ve even been treated privately  – and it’s getting expensive. My partner thinks we should just forget about it and if something happens then fine, and if nothing does, fine. But I keep thinking it would be worth having one last attempt, even though we would have to get a second mortgage. All my friends are having children and I long for a baby. I know you’ve written about infertility. What would you advise?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Sonia to do?

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