BEL MOONEY: Can I find love after my bitter, seven-year break-up?

Dear Bel,

I’m 47 with a 12-year-old daughter and share custody with my ex-husband. I work full-time in a job where I’m valued. I own my own home, but money will be tight until I can secure a better-paid job once my daughter is old enough to work.

Considering the last six months of lockdown I feel blessed to be employed, to have the love and support of my family, friends and relatively good health. But on a personal level I’m stuck.

My decree absolute was finally awarded earlier this year after a seven-year battle with my ex-husband — he’s always been very stingy with money. Despite the pain of the past seven years, we actually co-parent well. He very swiftly moved on with a new partner and I know my daughter is happier because she can see he is happy.

But I’m not. I feel stuck and lonely — and scarred emotionally, even if I’m stronger for having broken free from a loveless, sexless (my choice) marriage to a man I no longer respected or loved.

He was a bully who never accepted his part in our marriage failure and even suggested I needed to see a psychiatrist because he felt I had changed so much. He made me feel unwanted and unloved.

I am a naturally caring, loving and nurturing woman who feels more comfortable as one half of a partnership, so I know that I don’t want to be alone.

In the past 18 months, I’ve had two short-term relationships with local, separated men whom I met online. Both were loving and honest, with younger children than mine, but neither had grieved the breakdown of their marriages — so sadly, because of their own personal battles, I could not see a future with either.

I miss being in a romantic relationship, one which is a true partnership. I’m sure you’ll suggest the usual options: try a new hobby, get out more often, develop friendships with men etc. But given the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and my own personal circumstances of being a full-time working single parent, these options are not there.

How can I move forward more positively to feel less lonely?

JILL

This week Bel answers a question from a 47-year-old woman who feels stuck and lonely and scarred emotionally after a seven-year battle with her ex-husband

This week Bel answers a question from a 47-year-old woman who feels stuck and lonely and scarred emotionally after a seven-year battle with her ex-husband

Well, now I can’t suggest those usual (sensible, it must be said) advice columnist solutions, because you’ve already knocked them down!

And with good reason. These are strange times and likely to become worse, so how can anybody go out and meet people?

You’ve tried internet dating and found it disappointing. So I will be honest and confess I have no easy solution to your need for love and companionship. Why then pick this letter?

Because, to be honest, you sound (in an email twice as long) almost desperate, and I believe that mindset should ideally change before you have any chance of finding contentment, romantic or otherwise.

Look at what you have been through. An unhappy marriage led to seven years of conflict through the courts — and then you were faced with the additional stress of Covid, home-schooling and so on. It’s been a grim year, and may yet become grimmer.

Meanwhile, you have a daughter of 12 who must require a lot of attention, even though the good news is that she gets on well with her father. What I am emphasising here is just how much you have to recover from and to deal with.

Are you actually ready for romantic turmoil? And isn’t ‘true partnership’ rather a different thing from romance?

It is absolutely understandable that you long for love, but I am gently suggesting that (given the toll on your emotions over the last seven years) it might be just too soon.

Try to live in the present without struggling against it. Yes, I know that is a hard task, but I believe it essential for you to rediscover equilibrium after all the stress, and to find out more about the identity of that ‘strong woman’ you mention.

You need to centre yourself and realise that there are exciting stages ahead. As your daughter becomes older, she will need you less and you can become more independent. In the meantime, you can continue to thrive at work — and look forward to the next stage in your professional life, too, when you (hopefully) earn more.

In the meantime, why not revisit the companionship of the two guys you met online? Not as lovers, but as friends?

You clearly expected a great deal from them, but if you pause, take stock and re-evaluate, you might find (since you told me you ended the relationships ‘amicably’) something remains.

I don’t necessarily think you should give up internet contact, just don’t expect to find a soul-mate.

Perhaps if you could school yourself to step back from your neediness, you will be able to grow within your own strength.

My beloved father-in-law’s cut me off

Dear Bel,

THOUGHT OF THE DAY 

Though much is taken, much abides, and though

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are:

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

From Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson (written October 20, 1833)

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I have been married to my wonderful husband for 30 years (with two grown-up children) and was very close to my father-in-law until February 2019, especially after my dear mother-in-law died in 2015.

I’d always viewed them as second parents. Then he took offence at something I did and cut me out of the family. It sent me into a deep depression.

I don’t want to go into details but what I did had the collective agreement of the whole family — following a discussion about his health and our concerns. I was just the one who ‘pushed the button’.

In spite of my hurt, I encouraged his son (my husband) and grandchildren to keep in touch.

My father-in-law is now 88 and, at this time, should want his family close, but he never rings or contacts anybody. Last year, he didn’t turn up for Christmas at my son’s. He has turned himself into a lonely old man.

My husband visited him recently and offered an olive branch saying I would forgive and forget. He said he’d ‘think about it’. This was another blow — as if he could just wipe me from his life.

Looking back, I acted in good faith but the falling -out has left me feeling guilty. My family are very supportive and my husband is my rock, but can’t change how I feel.

I worry my father-in-law will die a lonely, sad, old man and I can’t stop my old feelings towards him. It’s devastating to remember how close we were all those years. Do you have any advice?

THERESA

This kind of family dispute is (sadly) all too common — and the fallout can be disastrous. Over the years, I’ve read versions of your story again and again, and it’s heart-breaking.

I understand why you give no details of your offending action (though naturally we can’t help being curious). But presumably you and other family members decided you knew better than the old man, and for some reason you were the one who chose or was asked to ‘push the button’.

That is my first problem. Why you? Your husband is surely the one who should have intervened to stop his father doing something (or perhaps seeing somebody?) judged bad for his health and wellbeing.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

What you present to me as a sort of family court, a consensus, resulted in father-in-law excommunicating you and withdrawing from the rest of the family, too. That sounds pretty serious.

And while I have every sympathy with your evident hurt — the worse for the memories you have of happier times — the guilt you also feel suggests to me that maybe a little voice inside you is whispering that he had some reason.

And might you also think that you were too ready to be the one to muscle in?

Those two questions need to be pondered before you find a way forward.

Within families, the question of when to intervene nearly always presents a terrible problem — whether the issue is disapproving of a daughter’s boyfriend or noticing Dad is drinking too much or disliking the idea of Grandad’s lady friend.

When family members decide to speak up, they can have right on their side, yet at the same time commit wrong.

There’s no blanket advice anybody can give. I urge readers to be tactful in such situations. You are distressed and with Christmas nearing will feel so much better if you can sort this out and alleviate the loneliness of this angry, hurt 88-year-old.

You tell me your husband offered ‘an olive branch’, saying you were willing to ‘forgive and forget’. Put that way, it laid blame squarely at the old man’s door.

My only suggestion is that you flip the implied blame within that approach. By that, I mean that you request him to forgive and forget — even if you believe you have right on your side.

I would dig out a couple of old photographs from those happy times and write a letter telling him how much you miss him, how you thought of him and his late wife as another set of parents, and how sorry you are. Ask him if he can put it behind him now. Let your husband read it before you send it and get him 100 per cent on side. He needs to help you make up with his Dad and put the old man’s needs before your pride. I believe you can make this right.

And finally… Are we now a country of snitches?

A question comes from Mr F in Glasgow. He writes: ‘Our next-door neighbours have totally ignored the lockdown since the beginning, having friends and family round regularly and some staying overnight.

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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‘My wife and I are elderly and worry about getting the virus. I wanted to report these selfish people, but my wife doesn’t want me to cause any animosity between us if they discover it was me that contacted the authorities. What would you advise me to do?’

It reminded me that at the start of April, in a debate in Femail Magazine about reporting neighbours for having a party during lockdown, I (reluctantly) said I would. I wrote: ‘In these extraordinary circumstances I firmly believe personal liberty is less important than the public good.’

How long ago that seems. I also asked, ‘Why should selfish individuals who think only of their own pleasure be allowed to get away with it? Would it be right to stand by?’ To which my answer was ‘No’ — and I meant it.

But so much has happened since then and now I have grave doubts about that position.

This is not the place to discuss policy or the extent to which the country has actually been let down by the NHS (you all know the figures about other grave conditions), but what I will say is that questioning is essential. And, horrified now by a culture of snitching and Government diktats, I have changed my mind.

I can see why ‘elderly’ Mr and Mrs F are upset by their neighbours, but why can’t they keep their heads down and shield themselves, since their fears are about their own health? Is it wise to make a potential enemy of a neighbour?

You’ll all have your own answer to that question and (as I assured another reader, Vicky) I respect individual choice.

I agree with American thinker Benjamin Franklin: ‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.’

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