Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: I want to reunite with my husband, but his family divide us

In this week’s podcast, Viv discusses how to know when a complicated relationship has reached the end of the line

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By Viv Groskop on

Dear Viv,

My husband and I are trying to repair our marriage. We've identified that the breakdown was caused by differing expectations about my relationship with his family. It's a bit complex, but bear with me.

He’s from another country and I’m English. We met here. There have always been tensions in his family about whether I married him to get a second passport. And it’s also complicated because we both had a child from a previous relationship. After a whirlwind romance, I fell pregnant and we decided to marry and live in his country. Looking back, I do realise things went rather quickly. At first, knowing how important his family are to him, I threw myself into building a relationship with both his divorced parents. Maybe I was overly keen to become part of the family. And maybe this did create overly high expectations on my part that led to me taking things too personally.

Language has always been an issue as his parents both speak French and wanted me to raise all the children as bilingual. My husband’s family would also allude to my roots, saying that since I didn't have family left in England, I didn't really come from there any more. This was just one of many insensitive comments made over the years. In the first couple of years, I could brush them off more easily, but over time, I think they began to erode my sense of identity.

Our marriage lasted for several years but by the end I was finding it so difficult to manage everyone’s expectations that I started suffering panic attacks. When we visited England a couple of years ago, I decided not to return with him and stayed with our eldest child and the little one. During the time we spent apart, I rebuilt my life and career here. Most importantly, I attended therapy, learned to deal with my anxiety, regained my confidence and am almost back to my old self. I was upset about losing my husband and my step-daughter, but knew that it had been a matter of self-preservation.

The problem is, I still love my husband. He now lives and works within reach of me and we've started to build bridges again - very tentatively - but the issue of his family looms large. Now, he and his daughter are coming to spend Christmas with us. And he just announced that he's invited his sister along too. As I said earlier, his family are really important to him. But this has plunged us back into old problems again. I feel annoyed that he didn't consult me first, particularly because we only just got back together again last month and need space to work out our issues. His take on it is “the more, the merrier”. It makes me feel like history is repeating itself. It also makes me feel like I'm being an unreasonable spoilsport.

The wounds have almost healed, but in laying them out here, I can see that I haven't quite let go of the past yet. I want to sort this out in an adult way and, in the best case scenario, I'd like to re-establish some trust with my in-laws, so as to facilitate their relationships with the kids. Who knows, maybe we'll all come to understand each other better in the end. I know that the only way forward is to go in good faith. But I need to feel supported and appreciated by my husband in all this. And I need to feel that I'm understood.

I hope you can help me to see all this more clearly. I veer between guilt and exasperation. Guilt for being possibly selfish, denying my husband the happy family scenario he so craves. Exasperation for not taking my own needs seriously enough. Being on my own in this, it's hard for me to take my own side. Yet, in returning to England, I have managed to do that. I don't want to lose the sense of self I've worked so hard to regain.

You can hear the answers to this question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can now subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes

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