Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine advises a woman navigating her friends’ divorce, and another whose mother is suddenly being distant

Our divorcing friends want us to take sides

A FEW weeks back, my good friends told me they are getting divorced. I've known them for longer than I've been married myself and it came as a real shock, as I thought that they were so well matched.

Over the years they have been such close friends, spending holidays with us and always willing to help if we had a problem. My husband gets along well with them too. However, they are going ahead, and the husband has already moved out into a B&B until he gets a permanent place to stay.

Understandably, we haven't seen much of them since they split. However, although they say the split is amicable, we are getting regular phone calls in which they seem to try to get us to take sides. We've managed to stay neutral so far, but it is becoming increasingly difficult as they clearly want to talk about what happened.

My husband is angry that they are dumping this on us, but I feel I want to help. I don't want to lose either one of as a friend so how do I deal with this? – RB

Fiona says: Let them know you're there to listen but not take sides

However friendly a separation is, there will always be an element of ill-feeling involved, and those affected will often want to talk with someone they trust about what went wrong. There's nothing wrong with this, in fact it's quite healthy. Just as you've found though, problems arise when they start to coerce friends into taking sides.

If you want to keep them as friends, tell them so, but you need to make it clear immediately that neither you nor you husband will be taking sides. You've done well so far, but it is likely that they will still want to talk about what went wrong, however neutral you've told them you'll be. That's fine too; you can listen but don't judge, no matter what.

If they say anything negative about their ex-partner, ask for your opinion or attempt to draw you into an autopsy of what happened, simply change the subject. And the more obviously you do this, the better. If they persist, explain that it's unfair to expect you to comment and that you have no intention of ever doing so. Then change the subject again and eventually, they should get the message.

If not, it may be necessary to keep a bit more distance from them until they've come to terms with what has happened, and the dust has settled a little more. You also need to be prepared for the possibility that your long-standing friendship might not survive this process.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you try and how well-intentioned your actions, one or both of your friends might see things differently. They might take your unwillingness to take their side as tacit agreement that you agree with their ex. I should add, of course, that if something comes out that does force you to take sides with one over the other - that's fine too.

If, for example, you find one of the two of them has been abusing the other or has had an affair, then it could well change your opinion. If you lose one friend as a result because you cannot condone their behaviour, don't feel bad about it. Finally, do chat with your husband about this and make sure that you're both happy to adopt the same strategy. The last thing you want is for your marriage to be affected by this sad situation.

I resent being left at home while my boyfriend plays football

I LIVE with my fiance and we both hope to get married soon. We both work and save when we can, but money is always tight. Despite this, he still goes out twice a week for football practice, which is always followed by a few drinks either at a pub or a snooker club.

I was OK with this as first, but now I resent the money he spends. He has offered to take me with him, to his credit, but I know that no other women go, and I hate football anyway. I also know he enjoys playing football and I don't want to force him to give it up, but I do resent being left at home. – ML

Fiona says: Find some activities of your own

Then why stay at home? I know you want to get married soon, but if you let this unfair arrangement continue, it will persist into your eventual marriage. Better I think to develop some outside interests of your own now, rather than sit at home and be resentful.

This doesn't have to involve spending money; it could simply be visiting friends or family. Although you might also consider an evening class, joining a sports club or some other activity-based club. What you do doesn't matter, as long as it gets out of the house completely for a few hours. These latter suggestions will of course mean spending money and, if your fiance baulks at this, remind him that if he's able to go out regularly, you should too.

Life's going well for me - so why is my mother acting strange?

I LEFT home a few months ago to move in with my boyfriend. Since then, I've passed my exams, got a promotion, and my boyfriend has proposed to me. I'm happy and life seems really exciting now.

My problem is my mother, who has been acting strangely since I left home. She seemed completely underwhelmed when I told her that I am engaged. If I call her, it seems she can't wait to get off the phone and I'm sure invents things so that she can hang up.

Last week we decided to pay her a surprise visit, and we'd barely got through the door before she was telling us that she had to leave for a hair appointment. I happened to know that she only does this once a month, and she'd had it done only a few days earlier. We left anyway and I haven't spoken to her since. What's going on? – TH

Fiona says: Could she be missing you or feeling unneeded?

SHE'S clearly upset about something. It may be that she's jealous of your new-found happiness, or the fact that your life has become so much more exciting than hers. Perhaps she's struggling to accept the reality that you no longer need her, which in turn reminds her that she is getting old. It is also possible that she simply misses you and, rather than look for ways to reconnect, she's getting angry or resentful instead.

Whatever the reason, you won't resolve it unless you can get her to meet with you. I suggest you try to set up a visit at a pre-arranged time, this should make it difficult for her to avoid you or invent an excuse, then ask her if something is wrong.

Don't get angry and don't dwell on the previous snubs, but instead explain that you love her and are worried about her. Hopefully, she'll be able to tell you what's bothering her and, once she realises that she hasn't really lost you or your love, be back to her old self.

My teenage daughter told me she was abused by her dad

MY 16-year-old daughter recently told me that her father sexually abused her. Although we haven't seen him for over four years, she hasn't told me before because she was embarrassed and frightened.

She seems remarkably calm about the whole thing and doesn't what to discuss it with anyone else. However, I worry that, while she seems OK now, I think she is scared that she may one day have to see him again. I am also shocked, upset and angry, and horrified that he could he do this. I feel that I should tell someone like the police but don't want to go against her wishes. What should I do - I can't just do nothing? – PK

Fiona says: Could you gently suggest counselling when she feels ready?

She's taken a big step already by telling you what happened. However, she's clearly not ready to re-visit the experience through the police and I believe it would be a mistake to force her into this. However, she could benefit enormously (when she's ready) if she was able to talk in confidence with a counsellor at Childline (

She can do this by freephone (0800 1111), though an online chat facility or by email (all anonymously if she'd prefer). She'd be able to talk through anything that is worrying her and give counsellors the opportunity to explain the importance of talking the matter further. Other young people may be at risk from this man.

In the meantime, give her all the love and support she needs. And if you need to unburden some of this too, I suggest that you contact the advice and support helpline at the NSPCC (

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.