Agony Aunt

Patricia Marie, MBACP qualified counsellor is a member of The British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, practising in Harley Street, Essex and Scotland. She has many years experience of dealing with domestic violence, relationship problems, bereavement, depression, addictions, post traumatic stress and many other emotional issues. If you have a dilemma, please email Patricia.Marie@lady.co.uk

I am missing my daughter

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 14 October 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,

My daughter left home two weeks ago to go to university. She will be living on the campus as she is now 6 hours' journey away, and I shall only see her in the holidays. Although we are conversing by text, phone and email, I desperately miss her physical presence.

She feels the same way but is trying hard to adjust. There is now such a gap in my life, especially as I am now living on my own, and I don't know which way to turn. I go into her room every now and then, and am struck by the emptiness and silence. No longer is there a constant stream of her friends in and out of the house, with their excited chatter. I did expect it to be difficult when she left, but just didn't imagine it would be this bad.

I also worry that when her studies are over, she will have made a new life for herself at the opposite end of the country, and is quite likely not going to wish to come back and live with mum.

How can I possibly adjust?

Patricia Marie says...

It's very common for parents to get emotional when their child leaves home to go to university, and many are left with an overwhelming sense of emptiness because they no longer feel needed. The more you've invested in being a parent, the stronger your sense of loss will be - so your extreme sadness is a sign you've been a good mum. Remind yourself that parenting is all about raising an independent and confident child who functions well without you.

You need to allow yourself time to grieve, and don't expect to pick yourself up and move on straight away. You are obviously greatly missing the interaction with your daughter and her friends, so I wonder if you have considered getting a dog, which would demand attention from you and also provide you with unconditional love. The key is to keep busy - you now have extra time to develop your own life - and hopefully may soon feel able to take up a new hobby or interest, or catch up with friends and family, as becoming more involved in their lives could help shift the focus away from your daughter.

With today's technology, it's easy to keep in touch regularly, but remember not to smother her as she needs to settle too. Talk to other parents who are experiencing similar emotions, as this could help enormously, and bear in mind that many who have been in this situation would agree that it does get better and you do adapt. Your daughter may, or may not, come back home, but also, your circumstances could change, and you could be the one relocating. Although there is uncertainty about the future, what you can be certain of is that wherever you both may be, the bond which you clearly share at the moment should remain as strong as ever.
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My fiancée doesn't want children

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 07 October 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,

I totally adore my fiancée but she is adamant that she doesn't want children. When we met three years ago, I was okay with that, but I have since changed my mind.


She says she is not the maternal type. I am 34 and she is a year younger. We both have well-paid jobs, so financially it would not be a problem. Now, when I see our friends with their young children, the thought of not having any makes me feel so sad.

I try to suppress these thoughts but they keep returning. How can I marry the woman I love and have her children? 

Patricia Marie says...

The problem is that you have changed your mind but your fiancée hasn't. At around 30, a woman's biological clock often kicks in, as she becomes aware that after 35, her fertility levels can decrease. This, however, doesn't seem to have happened with your partner.

You need to tell her how much you want children. Speak from the heart, but don't pressurise her, just try to discern why she doesn't want them. She could bring up some interesting points that you may not have considered, and which could help you understand her reasoning.

What is it is about being a father that appeals to you, and are there ways you can accomplish that without having children of your own? For instance, do you have nieces and nephews you could enjoy spending time with, as, for many childless couples, this can help fill an empty void, bringing the greatest of pleasure to their aunts and uncles.

Please bear in mind though, that if you give up your desire for children, you could end up resenting your fiancée and deeply regretting your decision. Also, most importantly, do you value fatherhood more than you value your married future together? If she remains adamant that she does not wish to be a mother, sadly, you have to ask yourself whether it would be better to end the relationship, and find yourself someone who does share your parenting dream. I feel you and your partner could benefit from seeing a relate counsellor for some help, support, and guidance on this situation before making any life changing decisions.

Relate: 0300 100 1234 www.relate.org.uk 
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My partner is still in love with his girlfriend who passed away

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Friday, 30 September 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,

My partner of three years is still in love with his girlfriend who died 5 years ago. He was only with her for a few months, but describes their time together as truly magical, until she died in a car accident. Although we have a lovely relationship, it saddens me that I doubt I will ever reach that height in his affections. I wanted to be the one truly special person in his life, as he is in mine, and it makes me feel second best, even though she is no longer around.

How can I stop thinking this way, as it is destructive and pointless, but still so upsetting for me. He has never had counselling for his loss as he says nothing can bring her back. Before he met me, he never spoke of her death to anyone, not even his family or close friends.

Please can you help me?

Patricia Marie says...

Losing someone close so suddenly can be utterly shocking, as there is no time to become accustomed to the space they ultimately leave in your heart and your life. This must have been very tragic for your partner, and I would draw comfort from the fact that he is able to confide his grief in you. Retaining love for his deceased girlfriend does not mean he cares less for you. Have you considered he may feel guilty that he couldn't have saved her. Focus on reassuring him that counselling could help him move on from his loss in a positive healthy manner, as no one should be expected to deal with such trauma by themselves.

Look at the positives - he sounds like someone who is trying to be honourable. He is showing he was committed to her, and is being honest, which is really important too. Be kind, try to imagine the pain he must have felt, losing her in this way, and let him know that you understand she meant a lot to him. Tell him that he doesn't need to forget her to embrace you.

Avoid comparing yourself to someone who is no longer here, and assuming you fall short. You could never take her place, just as she could never had been who you are, and have what you and your partner share. Acknowledging her memory is far healthier than trying to banish it, and could enrich your relationship. Nevertheless, if the thought that there was someone else he cared about that much before you met still bothers you, then perhaps you are the one not ready for the relationship. It is only you who is allowing the past to affect your present, and jeopardise your future happiness.
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I favour one of my children

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Thursday, 22 September 2016
Dear Patricia Marie,

I'm worried that I love one of my children more than the other. While one is sweet-natured, funny and full of character, the other is sullen and unresponsive. My husband doesn't seem to notice the difference, but to me it's obvious and I find it hard to treat them in the same way. I hate myself for it, but I'd rather spend time with one than the other. Is it really such a big problem, and, if so, how can I stop this cycle?

Patricia Marie says...


If you think favouritism is no big deal - think again. The consequences for both the golden child and the least favourite can last a lifetime. Many adults embark on counselling due to the psychological damage of having either been the rejected, or indeed the favourite sibling. That early message of 'you are the special one' to a child can give a distorted view of themselves and their place in the world. For those parents who show preference and turn a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour, the child can then grow up struggling with rules, as well as lacking in morals and may struggle to find a partner who cherishes and spoils them in the way their parents have.

Whereas, the least favourite can go through life never feeling good enough, constantly feeling they are undeserving of love and kindness - often embarking on partners who treat them poorly. Step into their world and try to imagine how they are feeling - indeed, both are victims of your favouritism, and unless you see things more clearly and break the cycle, you could jeopardise any future relationship with them.

Your letter indicates you are feeling guilty for your behaviour - this recognition is a good step towards promoting positive change. Starting to treat your children equally, losing comparisons and begin celebrating, rather than criticising their differences, will allow you the opportunity to turn things around and create a healthy, happy family.

And finally, sibling love is unique. Who but your brother or sister remembers, the family rituals, the good, bad and crazy fun times - all those childhood memories that help to bond this special love. Favouritism can ruin a relationship between siblings, depriving them, sometimes forever, of a precious resource, one of the best gifts you, their parent, will ever give them; one another.
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The Helen Titchener trial

Posted by Patricia_Marie
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on Monday, 12 September 2016
Helen and Rob Titchener's domestic violence storyline in the Archers on Radio 4 has utterly gripped the nation, touching so many people in the real world. Almost five million listeners tuned in to last week's dedicated week long trial, to see if Helen would be found not guilty of the attempted murder of her husband, Rob. The opening episode began with Rob taking his place on the stand, shedding crocodile tears, and portraying himself as the loving, devoted husband he clearly wasn't. He'd underestimated the determined Anna, Helen's defence counsel, who put it to him that he'd passed the knife to Helen, stating the only way she could escape was to kill herself, and daring her to do just that before he lunged at her young son, Henry...

As the trial continued, gasps were heard from the gallery when Helen finally broke her silence and admitted that Rob had repeatedly raped her in a bid to have a child. Many listeners took to social media to comment on this powerful episode, praising Helen for being brave in revealing the truth. Although distressing, observing other people's lives, either from listening to radio productions, watching soaps, or indeed, in real life, can often allow us to see our own situation more clearly. Helen's mother, Pat Archer, was clearly overwhelmed on hearing her daughter's heartbreaking evidence, confirming that it isn't only the victim who is affected by domestic violence, but their families too.

It was only when Rob's ex-wife, Jess Myers, took to the stand and spoke of their acrimonious marriage, revealing that she had also been raped by Rob when they were together, that gave the glimmer of hope Helen's supporters needed to hear. Rob was questioned on his ex-wife's evidence, giving an Oscar-winning performance, and insisting both Helen and Jess were needy, unstable women. In Anna's heartfelt summing up, she put it to the jury that Helen did what any one of us would had done under these intense circumstances - protect herself and her child.

In Sunday's unique hour-long episode, the jury found Helen not guilty. Social media was at meltdown with messages of relief and joy at the result. Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, immediately responded "thankfully the judge and jury saw Helen's actions for what we all knew they were - the actions of a woman in fear of her life and fearful for her child. We don't know what will happen next - but we know that she will need support from a specialist domestic abuse service, to help her and her children to rebuild and recover. She is free - but the invisible prison of domestic abuse will stay with her for a long time. Helen, Women's Aid is here for you. We stand in solidarity with you - and all survivors of domestic abuse."

For every fictional Helen there are real ones, and as this plot has shown, abusers are often initially charming and loving, until their partner is fully committed to them. Then begins the gradual process of controlling and intimidating their victim, and, just as Rob did with Helen, gradually isolating them from family and friends, and making them wholly dependent on the abuser. There are many reasons why women struggle to leave in these circumstances - fear of retaliation, having young children and nowhere to go, no money of their own, worrying they won't be believed, as in the case of Helen, when Rob came across to others as a caring, loving, man - a pillar of society. Often victims convince themselves that their abuser's behaviour will improve, and indeed, question if it was their fault, that they in fact, deserved this.

The skilful writers have been praised for their realism, which at times many listeners found disturbing and uncomfortable, never expecting anything quite so shocking to happen in The Archer's tranquil village of Ambridge. Raising awareness through this emotive storyline, that domestic violence can happen in any community, and to anyone, has encouraged others to reach out for help, and set themselves free from abuse.

The Helen Titchener Fund, which was set up by a fan of the show, reached its target of £150,000 as last night's unmissable episode aired. The money raised will go to Refuge, the domestic violence support charity.

Women's Aid can provide both practical and emotional support, and, alongside the love of family and friends, victims can survive to enjoy the abuse-free life they very much deserve.

Women's Aid: www.womensaid.org.uk 0808 2000 247

The Archer's can be heard on BBC Radio Four every day Sunday to Friday at seven p.m. And they're repeated the following day at two p.m. - except on Saturdays.
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