ASK CAROLINE:  I’m stuck in the middle of a family rift

ASK CAROLINE: I’m stuck in the middle of a family rift

If you have a problem, email Caroline at Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally

If you have a problem, email Caroline at [email protected]. Caroline reads all your letters but regrets she cannot answer each one personally

Q: I’m really upset about a family rift. My adored younger brother died five years ago, leaving behind a son, daughter and wife – my lovely sister-in-law. While my nephew is doing OK, with a good job and a nice girlfriend, my niece and her mum are struggling emotionally. 

My sister-in-law deeply misses my brother and doesn’t seem interested in finding a new relationship. My niece is now in her early 30s and desperate for babies but is still single. She is also stuck in a job she hates with colleagues who ignore her opinion. 

My sister and her husband are losing patience with her. My niece can be a bit emotional and oversensitive – recently, at a family lunch, my sister suggested she needed to stand up to her colleagues and that it would be better to leave her job if she hated it that much. It wasn’t meant to be unkind but it was a little harsh. 

However, my niece was in tears and her brother defended her by telling my sister to back off and be kinder. My sister-in-law was clearly very upset too. Now neither ‘side’ is speaking to the other. No one will apologise and I am stuck in the middle. It’s heartbreaking.

A I am so sorry to hear about the death of your brother. You say your niece can be a bit overemotional and hypersensitive, and it’s not surprising. Some people are more emotional than others – and on top of that it sounds as if she and her mum are still struggling with grief, having had their lives turned upside down. 

Your niece needs to be granted leeway – and I don’t blame your nephew for standing up for her. He clearly feels protective towards his sister. Unfortunately, your sister does sound a bit bullish. To some extent, she’s right – your niece is finding life tough and probably does need to develop a thicker skin. 

But she needs help to do this. She and her mum would both benefit from more support, so please encourage them to contact Marie Curie ( or Cruse ( for help and perhaps guidance on finding longer-term counselling. It is difficult for young women whose body clocks are ticking, but your niece is far more likely to meet the right man when she doesn’t feel so overwhelmed. Appeal to your sister’s better nature. Tell her that you know your niece is oversensitive but could she back down a little and allow her to be that way for a short time while she struggles? 

Ask if it is worth taking the moral high ground and demanding an apology – could she send out an olive branch instead? She is probably struggling with the loss of your brother too, so gently remind her how important it is that you all stick together and find a way to let arguments go.

How can I  convince mum my ex has changed? 

Seven years ago, my husband and I divorced after he had an affair. My mum, who has always been a huge support, was amazing and I poured everything out to her. In spite of the pain, my ex and I managed to remain amicable for our children’s sakes and, over the past year or so, we have fallen in love again.

 We’re taking it slowly – having counselling together to explore the reasons why he had the affair – but we are both so happy and excited to be getting back together. I had other relationships when we were apart, so I haven’t just been waiting for him. However, my mother is still furious with my ex. While they used to get on really well, she is now cold and formal with him – and clearly disapproves. How can I convince her that he’s changed?

AI can understand your mother being over-protective. Having seen you hurt, she is worried your ex will do the same again. Falling in love with anyone involves risk, however – but it does sound as though your ex husband has changed. By going to counselling, he is showing a commitment to making it work. 

Affairs happen for many reasons and your mother will see only your point of view – not what caused his infidelity. Perhaps (with your ex’s permission) you could share with her a little of what you have learnt in counselling. He and she could also have a discussion about it. 

Understanding why something has happened is the route to acceptance. Hopefully, with openness and more time, she will see that you and your ex can be happy again – while also rebuilding her trust in him.


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