Dear Coleen: My father and my father-in-law are dying and it’s hurting our marriage


Dear Coleen

I’m a 42-year-old woman married for 15 years. Sadly, my father and father-in-law are both terminally ill and having palliative care.

Clearly, my husband and I are emotional at times and stressed by the situations out of our control. More often than not, this can lead to arguments over mostly trivial matters.

Over the years we haven’t had the most romantic of relationships and have lost each other along the way, bringing up kids and working without much family support to allow us time alone.

I know we are in for tough times over the coming months and I’m hoping that if we can get through these we can get through anything.

But I’m worried that what little romance there was can never be rekindled, and about how we move forward, console each other in our grief and support our families once our fathers have passed.

I’m a talker but am married to a man who really doesn’t do talking and is quite dismissive when I try to address things. ‘Well if you’re not happy you know what to do about it’ is his usual response.

I have a good network of friends, but he doesn’t have that and often seeks comfort in a bottle, which I resent greatly.

Coleen says

There is such an emotional hurricane going on here, and I think when someone close is terminally ill it can make you start questioning things in your own life.

You think about your own mortality and re-evaluate things – it happened to me when my sister Bernie died. And even if you had the strongest of relationships, something like this will test it.

For the moment, focus on getting through the next few months and being there for your dads. I think you have to accept there’s not going to be much space for romance, but you can still support each other as friends.

You could even explain to your husband that, while you’re serious about addressing your marriage, you think it’s important to be strong for each other while your fathers are ill. Deal with one thing at a time.

Afterwards, if he’s not willing to put in any effort, then I’m not sure he’s ever going to do it. The death of someone close is often a wake-up call.

It could make your husband realise how much he loves and values you, and that he doesn’t want to lose you – or it could work the other way and be a catalyst for complete change.

* More of our agony aunt Coleen Nolan’s advice on your sex, family, health and relationship problems


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