Ask Fiona: My husband is not seeking help for his bad back

My husband has had back problems for years. Most of the time, it’s a background pain he’s working through. However, there are times when he is in debilitating pain and unable to move for days, leaving me to take over the doldrums of his business while caring for him. The number of cases has increased significantly in the past year – but he will not see a doctor.

I’ve tried so many times to get him to seek help but he just shrugs and says there’s nothing they can do, it’s just something big men have to live with. I’ve tried to convince him that there’s no way he could know unless he actually asks, but he doesn’t want to hear it. The stupid thing is he has private health insurance so he doesn’t have to wait for a doctor’s appointment which I know is hard to come by at the moment.

As a result, I find it increasingly difficult to be compassionate and do the things He asks of me. I struggle to move him around when he’s having a bad fight and it takes a toll on my back too. It also affects our marriage as we are both scratchy and angry most of the time. Last month we had to cancel our holiday because he couldn’t drive, which led to a particularly nasty row.

We’ve patched things up, but I’m at my wits end and don’t know how much longer I can hold out. Why isn’t he getting help?


FIONA SAYS: I suspect he’s afraid to find out something is seriously wrong and is instead willing to put up with long-term pain. It amazes me how many people do this instead of facing the truth. Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions, and the sad thing is that it typically only gets worse the longer it goes untreated.

Men tend to avoid such health problems and there are probably several reasons for this. Maybe they don’t like appearing weak, or maybe they can’t accept the reality that they can get sick. Or it could be the treatment they dread, especially if it’s a serious or long-term condition. However, in the case of your husband, it’s hard to imagine how this could possibly be worse than the pain he’s now dealing with.

If he continues to be reluctant to ask for help for his own sake, could you persuade him to do it for you? It is possible that he is so caught up in his own pain that he is unaware of the effect it is having on you. Explain how upsetting it is to see him in constant pain and stress that your mental and physical health is beginning to suffer as well. Try not to get angry or confrontational and instead focus on improving the quality of your life together.

Alternatively, if he is averse to doctors, could he see a physical therapist or osteopath? He does not need a doctor’s referral and his private health insurance could cover it.

Finally, you could also encourage him to contact Backcare (, a charity that runs a network of local support groups and a directory of treating doctors.

The site has a lot of information about back pain and your husband might be interested to know that most of us will probably experience back pain at some point in our lives. Just because so many of us have it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. Please get him to check out the website as I’m sure he will gradually realize that if left untreated things will only get worse.


MY SON and daughter-in-law, with whom I have always been very close, got into terrible trouble with their marriage.

Neither of them could really talk to each other, but they would both talk to me. At various times they came to me separately and talked for hours – sometimes even staying instead of going home. I would try to encourage them to talk to each other but it seems they have never been able to.

They both have high profile jobs and I think they are both stressed and worried about the future. The tension between them was terrible and I could see it having an effect on my grandson. Thinking I was doing the right thing, I said they really should make a decision about the future, for his sake.

I don’t quite understand why, but this seemed to cause a terrible uproar. Instead of cleaning the air, my daughter-in-law moved out and took my grandson with her, and I haven’t seen her since. My son blames me and although I saw him it was only up to him to either be unhappy or blame me for her leaving.

I was just trying to help my grandson but it’s been two months now and she won’t even let me see him.


FIONA SAYS: How sad that your son and daughter-in-law are blaming you instead of trying to resolve the problems in their marriage. Trying to remain neutral in such situations is always difficult, and sometimes, as you’ve discovered, it backfires.

The couple were obviously in trouble, and of course that annoyed their son. What you said would have been said by any caring grandmother in the same situation, so it sounds like they both overreacted. They are both obviously very upset with how things have turned out for their marriage, which may indicate that they both still care. If that’s the case, perhaps counseling could help them and possibly reconcile them.

How they’re going to reconcile things with you, however, can be a bit trickier. Of course, I don’t know their side of things, but it sounds like they acted rather immaturely. Could you both write and explain that you just wanted your grandson to be protected from the difficulties they are facing? Tell both of you how unhappy you are about things and how much you hope to see them again.

Having seen how they have reacted previously, I would suggest that you avoid negotiating any sort of agreement between the two. Leave that to the professionals like Relate ( who could help them rationally discuss what they want to achieve. Hopefully they’ll both come to their senses soon and realize it’s unfair to keep you away from your grandson.

However, if the situation persists and you are still unable to see your grandson, you can contact Family Lives ( There is a section on grandparents – not all will be helpful to you but certainly some and I encourage you to contact their helpline if you feel you need to speak.


I’ve really suffered from bad breath for the past two years. It’s so bad that I see my girlfriend flinch when she comes close to me. She didn’t say anything, but I can see her flinch when it comes to a kiss. I suck on breath mints and chew gum but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

I’ve been trying to get a dentist appointment but the waiting list is awful and I can’t see myself ever making it to the top.

I also have a lot of catarrh – could that be part of the problem?


FIONA SAYS: Assuming you brush your teeth properly and floss frequently, then something else probably happened. Occasional bad breath can be caused by something you’ve eaten, but a persistent problem can indicate something else. For example, it could be an upset stomach, something in the mouth (inflammation of the gums or a decayed tooth), or a sinus infection.

Since you are currently unable to get a dentist appointment, make an appointment with your GP as you should not have ongoing catarrh. It could be the cause of your bad breath, but whether it is or not, it needs to be checked.

I strongly encourage you to stay on the dentist’s waiting list and try other practices as well. With it being so difficult to find an NHS dentist these days many people don’t care and as a result there are many bad teeth that need treatment. If no one comes up with an answer, they can at least recommend you more effective ways to treat the odor than chewing gum and breath mints.


THE last boy I dated couldn’t take it when I tried to get through with him and I ended up saying things that really hurt him. The guy I’m with now is wonderful – so wonderful that I hope he wants to marry me, but if something goes wrong I don’t want to hurt him the way I did my last boyfriend.

How do you tell someone when it’s over without sounding like a terrible person? You’ll probably think I’m crazy if I ask that if I want to marry the guy, but I love him so much that I want to make sure I don’t hurt him if something goes wrong and I have to call it off .


FIONA SAYS: I may be wrong, but I suspect your current happiness makes you feel a little guilty about how you treated your former boyfriend. While there is something to be said for planning ahead, I think you are overly concerned if you are trying to plan for the end of this relationship while it is still going strong. However, it wouldn’t hurt you to reflect on your previous breakup and see what you can learn from it—even though every situation and relationship is different.

Unfortunately, a breakup almost always hurts, no matter how gently it’s made. The best advice I can give you is to think about how you would hope it would be done to you. If you can treat people the way you hope they will treat you in life, there is at least a chance you won’t be able to hurt them and, with luck, maintain a friendship. But first, start thinking positively about this relationship—you don’t want to jinx it!

If you have an issue you need help with, email Fiona by writing to [email protected] for advice. All letters are treated with the utmost confidentiality and to protect this privacy Fiona cannot share your messages with other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot maintain personal correspondence.