Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine offers her advice to a grieving widow, and a woman whose father and boyfriend don’t get on.

MY dad has never liked my boyfriend. In the first few months of our relationship, things gradually went from bad to worse between the two of them, until my boyfriend had a furious row with my father about me and basically threw him out of our flat. That was three years ago, and they have avoided each other ever since - and when I say avoid, I mean they have not said a single word to each other. I had thought things would eventually calm down between them, but both still seem determined to never make contact again.

My boyfriend will not answer the phone if he recognises my parent's phone number, even though it's always my mother who calls - my father won't even telephone our house. If I visit my parents, my boyfriend is always on edge until I get home. I have told him that everything is fine with my parents, but he still gets stressed. I don't know how much longer I can deal with the need to tiptoe around these two.

I'm tired of always having to arrange things so they never talk or meet, and now my boyfriend has suggested that we start a family. In truth, I would love to, but the thought of children being exposed to this toxic atmosphere makes me hesitant. What can I do? – JW

Fiona says: You are right to be concerned

This is tough on you and I am amazed that you've been able to mediate between these two for so long. I also think that you're right to be concerned about starting a family. You haven't said what caused the original argument. However, as you say that things are now fine with your parents, I assume that you've long since forgiven your father and, if you can, why can't your boyfriend?

I suggest you make a start by talking about this with him and explain that you'd love to start a family, but that you are worried. Tell him it's exhausting having to constantly tread carefully around him and your father, and that the only person being hurt by this is you. Then ask if he's prepared to try to get along better with your father.

You should also consider having a similar conversation separately with your parents. Emphasise that you love them but that you also love your boyfriend and that this situation is hurting you. You might also consider asking your mother to put some pressure on your father if she is willing. With all of them, make it clear that you are not expecting them to suddenly become the best of friends. All you want is from them, at least initially, is to get along a little better and behave courteously when they are together; not just for your sake but for your children too, when you have them.

Finally, if they can't or won't change, you may have to accept that they might never get along and, in some families, this is simply the way things are. If this ends up being the case, please keep in mind that none of this was your fault and that you've tried your best to resolve the problem. You also shouldn't have to worry about deliberately keeping them apart. If they meet by accident, so be it. You never know, it might just get them talking again.

I can't get over the death of my husband

MY husband died three months ago and I still can't think about anything else. I've stopped doing anything around the house, I only eat when I have to and I'm probably drinking too much too.

My cousin, who stayed with me for a couple of weeks, said that I should get back in touch with my friends and try to get out more. The problem is that, although I do feel so alone, seeing people is the last thing I want to do. Everybody seems embarrassed to be around me, especially as I usually can't stop crying. I also can't deal with the awkward silences - what should I do? – LA

Fiona says: Don't cut yourself off from your friends

The awkwardness and embarrassment stems from the fact that most people simply do not know what to do or say when faced with someone who has experienced a bereavement. They want to help, but have no idea how to. The irony is, in most cases, they really don't need to do anything but be with the bereaved person and give them time to talk, cry or simply sit in silence. So please, don't cut yourself off from your friends, but accept that they will be awkward and they may sometimes say things that upset you. It won't be deliberate - they are just trying to help. You might also consider contacting Cruse Bereavement Care ( which has a network of local support groups as well as phone and email counselling services.

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I've cheated - and I'm worried I'll do it again

MY FIANCE'S job requires him to do a lot of international travelling. His last contract had him in the Middle East for three weeks and, while he was away, I slept with another guy. I know what I did was wrong, and I didn't set out to get laid, but I think I resented being left alone for so long and simply wanted a night out. Now I'm getting anxious again because he is off to Australia next month. I am also confused because we should be getting married at the end of the summer. What should I do? – TM

Fiona says: End the relationship if you can't commit

I think you know you need to be cautious here. Your email doesn't mention anything about your boyfriend changing jobs once you are married, so I assume he will continue to leave you alone for extended periods. If you felt the need to go out and sleep with someone else during a relatively short three-week absence, how will you cope if he has to go away for a month or two? Your fiance would no doubt be hurt if he knew you had been unfaithful and might well want to call off the wedding. Imagine then how much worse he would feel if you were married. So, if you're uncertain that you can cope with his absences, perhaps you should consider ending this relationship now.

I've lied about my age

I LOVE my boyfriend very much but when we first got together last year, I lied about my age. I said I was 34, when in fact, I was 38. I know it was silly, but he was 32 at the time and I simply didn't want to lose him. Over the last year, our relationship has got serious very quickly and we are talking about getting married and starting a family. Now I'm terrified that he's going to find out and leave me. What should I do? – WB

Fiona says: You need to tell your boyfriend

Sooner or later - and almost certainly if you get married - he's going to find out. As such, you have nothing to gain by keeping it a secret any longer and, the longer you try to do so, the harder it will be to eventually tell the truth. You don't need to make a drama out of this, just explain that, when you met, you were concerned that your age might put him off. Now that you are in love and making plans, you feel confident to tell him. Generally, I think age gaps don't matter, but I can't promise that he will not be upset. What I do know, though, is that it will be a whole lot worse if finds out from someone else or when he reads your marriage certificate!