Patricia Redlich

Tuesday, April 24, 2012 Extract - Sunday September 04 2011

Last Tuesday, we at the Sunday Independent lost our much loved colleague, Patricia Redlich. And Sunday Independent readers lost one of the best and the most valued advice columns in the newspaper world.

For the full article please go to

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My Husband Is Not Sociable


I got married a few months ago. I met my husband through a friend. He was always very quiet and never very sociable. That is now starting to become a real problem. He takes no part in organising any of our social life. Most parties, or gatherings we attend, are organised by me. What really bothers me, however, is that I have a better time without him. He doesn't normally initiate any conversations, leaving other people to talk first. Very often they then ask me what is wrong with him. This in turn means I enjoy myself less. I have seen him being sociable, so he can do it, but mostly he withdraws. This is embarrassing and makes me feel uncomfortable. Each time it happens I dislike him more and more. I'm now starting to think that I can't live with his behaviour and therefore must leave. After all, surely my husband should be allowed to be himself, shouldn't he? I am very unhappy and uncertain about what to do. If he doesn't change, how can I accept him? He also acts in a very distant manner around my parents. I'm at a loss to know what to do.

How on earth can you consider giving up on a marriage after only a few months? What are you, a woman or a mouse? And why on earth are you dodging like this? I understand only too well the desire to avoid conflict, with all the difficulties that go with that, but this is of a different order entirely. Where are the conversations with your husband about what's going on? I mean, have you had even one discussion with him about how he feels, why he is the way he is, how he sees things, anything at all?

I have no idea what's going on in your husband's head. The problem is, neither do you. Worse, you don't seem to have even thought about possible scenarios. The closest you've come to any kind of reflection is when you mention that your husband can be sociable, because you've seen him interacting, the implication being that he simply withdraws out of choice. Equally worrying, you don't seem to do much thinking about your own behaviour either.

You married a man who was always very quiet and never very sociable. Why, then, does it come as a surprise now? Or said differently, why is it only becoming a problem now? Had you absolutely no idea that his failure to be sociable might get you down with time? And how can you complain that he never organises any aspect of your social life? How could you not know what to expect? Where were you in your head when you were going out together?

Do you know if your husband is, perhaps, shy? Or does he lack basic social skills, perhaps because of his background? Is there a big difference between you in social terms, which could leave him feeling awkward when he's with your family and friends? Or is he, perhaps, sulky, or carrying a chip on his shoulder? What are the situations in which you've seen him being sociable? And what can you learn from observing them? What's he like when the two of you are together? Is he the strong silent type, or is he happy to chat?

Of course it's possible that your marriage was a big mistake. It happens. But you can't simply walk away uttering the trite little phrase that your husband should be allowed to be himself. That's a cop out which is beneath any decent person's dignity. And surely you can't wish to walk away knowing so little about what's really going on. Marriage has to be worthy of a little more input than that. It is an important institution, deserving of respect. And respect in this context involves some hard emotional work.

Yes, I know you're suffering. But you are also sleepwalking. Wake up and start communicating. You married the man. You owe him at least a hearing on what is going on in his head. Don't you think?

And you certainly owe yourself a shot at digging somewhat deeper into why things are the way they are.

Brother Ignoring debts


My father-in-law died recently. My husband took on the role of organising the funeral and financial arrangements etc. at the request of the family, for various practical reasons. My mother-in-law was in no fit state to deal with these matters at the time. The problem lies with one of my husband's brothers.

This guy has always needed a bail-out at various stages of his adult life, usually requiring a LOAN here and there and NEVER repaying his benefactor, who was usually his own father. And this has gone on despite the fact that he is by no means the most financially needy in the family. My husband requested a small amount of money from each of his siblings to cover a shortfall in the cost of the funeral. At the time all the siblings agreed and were happy to contribute. It was not a large sum. All bills were paid, and the money has now been collected from everyone - except the said brother. My husband paid his share instead and is now terribly upset, not because of the money owed to him, but because this brother is trying to get away without contributing to the cost of his own father's burial. It's the principle of the thing. And of course he's now avoiding all my husband's attempts to contact him.

The problem now is that the other siblings are putting pressure on my husband to force his brother to cough up and not let him get away with it, yet again. This leaves my husband caught between a rock and a hard place. If he puts on the pressure, his errant brother will unquestionably go to his mother and complain - and she, of course, knows nothing and would be complete devastated that her children were arguing over the cost of burying their father. On the other hand, the siblings are ringing us constantly, all fired up. All of this is adding distress to my husband's grief, and he doesn't know which way to turn.

Much is made of toxic family dynamics at Christmas, when the scattered clan come together and tear each other apart. It fades into insignificance beside the difficulties a family death can bring, particularly when a parent dies.

Two things may be happening in your husband's family. At a simple level, the siblings are trying to establish some sense of justice, having felt angry over the years that their father effectively favoured their errant brother. Even if he didn't love this particular son more, and didn't prise him more highly, he certainly indulged him. Sisters and brothers never entirely lose their sense of fair play, so they feel entirely cheesed off when one individual does a disproportionate amount of taking. And of course the chances are that he also gave less, thus compounding everyone's sense of grievance.

At a more complicated level, they may all have tried really hard to protect their father - and by extension their mother - from the financial burden. They may have worried about how things were going to pan out for their parents as they got older and more financially vulnerable. They may well have felt hugely frustrated in their attempts to advise, or intervene, when their father put his hand, yet again, in his pocket. They may even have gone to bat for their mother against their father, tried to fight her battle for her, even if this was not explicitly stated by any of them. And now the renegade has shown his true colours again, failing to be grateful, or to play fair, even in death. So they are angry.

The battle, however, is not theirs - not then and not now. It was their father's business then. He did what he wanted to do. They can't win the fight posthumously. Fairness cannot be achieved retrospectively. They have to live with that. And it is your husband's business now. He's the one who is out of pocket. Hence he is the one who has to decide what to do. He cannot be asked to fight a battle on behalf of the others.

I think your husband is wise in wanting to let things be. There is no point in pursuing this brother. He will not cough up. His type never do. And just for the record, if this brother does start approaching his mother for money, or even just with the story of the funeral costs, neither your husband nor his other siblings will be able to control that situation, anymore than they could control what their father did. It's important your husband should never feel guilty about that. Your husband needs to explain firmly but gently to his siblings that he's letting this go - and then quietly retreat into a place where he can grieve.

I Don't Fancy My Husband


I've never found my husband physically attractive and, to be completely honest, the worst sex I've ever had was with him. The reason we started dating was because he was unlike the other men I'd been out with. With hindsight, that may have been a mistake. The real problem is that I do love him, but ever since my son was born three years ago, I've been repulsed at the thought of any kind of physical contact with my husband. I know there's nothing wrong with my libido and I still find other men attractive. I don't want to leave my husband, but how do I reconcile my love for him with my inability to feel comfortable making love with him?

Yes, of course you can love someone without being sexually interested in them. I'm just not sure what kind of marriage can be made out of that particular scenario. How do you envisage your future together? What kind of fate, exactly, are you planning for your husband? Or for yourself, for that matter? Is this to be a celibate existence, for the rest of your lives? Are you planning on having affairs? And what are you offering your husband? Are you suggesting he should play happy families with you but go wandering for sex?

I can understand that you don't want to leave your husband. It's a scary world out there, particularly as the single mother of a young child. But at the risk of repeating myself for the umpteenth time, marriage is based on sexual love. It's about endless other things too, but sex is central to the emotional contract we make when we walk up the isle, or enter the registry office. So what you're suggesting is that you end your marriage and enter a different kind of agreement - well that's the reality if you edit out the sexual contact. Yes, of course couples accommodate differing sexual needs. And yes, some marriages are celibate. For that to work, in the sense of both partners being happy, it has to be consensual.

And what's this about bad sex? Maybe I'm missing something, but you sound as though you think good sex is something a man gives you, rather than something two people create together. Is he inept? Does he come too quickly? Has he no notion of the need to set the scene? Is he conservative? And aren't those all things that you could do something about? Especially as you say you love him, which means, amongst other things, that you are fundamentally on his side, feel kindness and respect for him, and want things to be right for him, as well as for yourself.

Finally, I do have to ask you. What on earth were you thinking of when you decided to go out with, get engaged to, marry, and have a baby with a man you didn't find physically attractive? Or asking it a different way, what has changed? Why does the sex put you off now? Why are you feeling uncomfortable now, but didn't then? Or if you always felt uncomfortable, why does your discomfort suddenly matter so much that you're trying to bend your whole marriage out of shape? I think you have a bit of figuring-out to do, don't you?

My Lover Threw Me Over


I've made a right mess of my life and I need help on how to go forward. It all started four years ago when my best friend died. This man was also my wife's cousin and close family friend and left a wife and a young family after him.

I coped by throwing myself into doing all I could for my friend's wife and children. There was much sorting out to do in relation to his business. Unfortunately, this led to an affair with his wife and I fell deeply in love with her. It lasted three years and came to an abrupt end recently when I found out that she was seeing someone else. When I confronted her, she claimed that she had fallen out of love with me and was waiting for an opportunity to end "us".

This was a defining moment for both of us. She no longer depended on me, and quickly forgot about me by putting all her energy into developing this new relationship. This man promised everything that I couldn't. She introduced him to everyone in the family, including my wife, and they were all delighted that she had found love again.

My problem is that I am broken-hearted and angry at how well things have worked out for her, despite lying and cheating on me. We meet on a constant basis as we have a business connection as well as the family connection. She refuses to discuss our affair and says it is in the past. She has confessed it to her new lover, while I have no closure and am forced to carry this dark secret alone. I now feel a tremendous amount of grief, and shame, for a lost love - and am possibly suffering postponed grief for a dead friend - all in silence.

I know I have done wrong and let my wife down badly. I contemplated telling her, but feel it would do nothing to relieve my burden while it would devastate her. I have been diagnosed with depression, but none of the medication is working. My wife has been a tremendous support and loves me deeply. Ironically, this almost makes things worse. Unfortunately, while I love her, I am not in love with her. I'm still in love with my ex-lover even though I accept that the affair is over. I wish I wasn't and wish I could transfer the feelings I have for her back to my wife. How do I begin to rebuild my life?

You could begin by ditching the self-pity. Don't you know the most basic rule in life, namely that the wrong-doer doesn't get the luxury of saying he's having a hard time? And he most certainly can't feel sorry for himself. You chose to have an affair. It's gone south-ward. Tough.

And that's letting you off lightly. We could tell this story differently. You made a move on a newly widowed woman, who not only saw you as a support because you were her husband's friend, but who also depended on you for business reasons. She was vulnerable. Even if she made the first move, a kind man would have side-stepped, allowing her time to get back on her feet. A married man with any decency would definitely have backed away. It could be argued, in short, that you've broken faith with two women. Not to mention the fact that all of this is effectively happening within the family, so very definitely in your own backyard. Not nice.

There's something else you apparently don't understand. As her married lover, you had no claim on this woman at all. She didn't cheat on you. She simply found someone else. Just as you hung onto someone else, namely your wife. I'm sure she did lie to you. But you were living a lie anyway, having a secret affair with a member of your wife's family and close friend. She's been lying for three years to your wife, just as you have. Lies were the basis of your relationship. How can you whinge that she then failed to come clean on finding a new lover? And don't you see? You have absolutely no right to be angry at her. Affairs carry no commitments.

The really troubling thing is that you are so self-absorbed. Not to mention the fact that even now you're failing to take responsibility for your own actions. You say you unfortunately had an affair, as if it were entirely beyond your control. And while you mention shame, it doesn't ring true, to be brutally honest. Failing to tell your wife just sounds like self-interest, rather than true regard for her feelings. And the depression sounds a lot like angry disappointment that you can no longer have this woman on the side. I mean you clearly never intended to make an honest woman of her. Did you? So you could, therefore, logically say that you're feeling low because you can no longer cheat and lie and break your marriage vows.. Can you see, now, how no-one would feel sorry for you? And that it is entirely inappropriate that you feel sorry for yourself?

Sometimes happiness is simply a question of taking stock. And then being grateful for what life has given you. You have a loving wife, a close family circle, children perhaps although you didn't mention them, and a functioning business. You are also now rid of a woman who was a partner in crime, someone who was prepared to cheat and lie, right in the heart of a supportive family network. You're getting a second chance, an opportunity to make good. If you want to, you have the choice to become the kind of man who deserves such bounty. It's your call.

Dead Brother Abused Me


Reading the recent letter from a girl whose brother abused her, I finally felt that someone knows what I am going through. But it's still so hard to write it down. It happened when I was around 10-13 years old and I am now 24. What's made it even fresher in my mind, is that my brother died recently. I'm mourning him, because he was my brother and all my family are suffering. But I'm also glad that this secret is now gone with him to the grave and I can move on somewhat. He never apologised to me, or mentioned it again. I always wondered why me, and how could he have done that to me. It just stopped one day and that was that, like it had never happened.

I have never had a boyfriend and my friends joke that I'm fussy, but I'm not. No one seems to have any interest in me. I've met boys, kissed on a night out, but that's it. Nothing further. This is what gets me down now as I think I'm going to be on my own forever. My friends are starting to pair off, but I have never met anyone whom I liked enough. I don't think I have a problem with intimacy, the right one just hasn't come along. I don't know where I'm going wrong. Or am I tarnished for life?

I have a loving family and a job I like, so I have a lot to be thankful for. It's just that this secret is hanging over me. I can never tell my family. It would ruin them. It's bad enough losing a son without having to hear what he did. I suppose I should see a counsellor but I don't know if I could go as far as to talk about it. Plus, I can't really afford it. I suppose I just have to get on with my life.

As you can see, the secret hasn't gone to the grave with your brother. You are carrying it around with you. You're thinking about it. And unconsciously you've undoubtedly erected barriers to any romantic involvement. Of course you are not 'tarnished'. The fact that you were abused does not make you any less worthy of love and respect. You are blameless. Your heart and spirit are free to love.

I know I've said it before, but the worst part of sexual abuse is the lingering feeling the victims have about being bad, or dirty, or tarnished to use your word. It's hard to shake their conviction that they were somehow to blame. Look at your question about why your brother chose to do it to you. Deep down you fear you have some fatal flaw. In reality he chose you because you were an easy target, for whatever reason. And that has to do with circumstances that were completely outside your control as a ten-year-old. Somehow, there was a failure within the family to ensure your safety. Maybe it was nobody's fault - we're not playing the blame game here. The point is, it certainly wasn't your fault. Your brother behaved very badly. We don't know his story. Nor do we need to. All you have to do is make sure you ditch these negative feelings about yourself.

I do strongly believe you should talk to a counsellor. This is familiar territory, as you can see from the recent letters on this page. You are not alone. You are very vulnerable right now, not least because you feel alienated from your family since your grief at your brothers death is, very understandably, mixed with relief. That kind of conflict brings real emotional distress. It's uncomfortable, painful, disorienting, but it's also an opportunity for psychological change. See, you've written to me. Take the next step and seek out a specialist counsellor. I promise you, the relief will be enormous. And those unconscious barriers to romantic relationships will slowly but steadily break down too. That, by the way, is also a promise, not because I have some magic powers, but because that's the way the emotional world works.

Husband Doesn't Desire Me


Is it normal that sex should nearly completely die out in a marriage? We've been married six years, have two young children, and are naturally busy with day to day life. My husband has no interest in me as a woman. We love our children dearly and take great pleasure in them and are good parents together. As a couple, we seem to have hit a wall.

My husband likes to go out for a few pints at the weekend and I don't mind him doing this as he relaxes after the week. It is hard for us to get out together as babysitters are expensive and it is difficult to face into minding small children when we've both had a late night.

I feel very unattractive to my husband. He nags that I haven't lost weight after the births and he points out other women who had babies around the same time and who have their figures back and look well all the time. I don't know how they do it. I work part-time, mind the children, keep the house, do the shopping etc. Where do other women find the time to take care of themselves and their relationships?

I feel sad when I think about my husband and the lack of closeness between us. I then try and pull myself together and remind myself of how lucky I am to have two healthy children. I feel guilty that I have let myself and my marriage come to this. I should have worked harder to lose weight and keep my husband's attention. I now don't even mention sex to him as I feel stupid and know he doesn't fancy me. It's only like forcing him to love me.

I know I just sound sorry for myself. My husband is a good man and a good husband and father. It's just that I don't know how to get things back on track and wonder if it is too late. We are not heading for a separation, but we are heading for a lonely marriage which is very sad to contemplate after such a good start.

No, you don't sound sorry for yourself. You sound concerned about your life, which is intelligent, right and proper. My only wish is that you would feel less disheartened. There is no need. You and your husband have a rich life together. And it is certainly not too late. Adjusting to two small children is no joke. Something invariably gets shifted to the back-burner. All you have to do now is prioritize differently.

I don't think this is just a question of weight. Romance has taken a back seat. The two of you have become smothered in the role of parenting instead. Wife has been replaced by mammy, and a mammy who is tied to the house. And although your husband may not be aware of it, my guess is that he's now thinking as a dad rather than a lover. So it's not a question of you neglecting your relationship. You both have.

Change that. Find babysitters, whatever other cost-cutting exercise you have to engage in. Get out twice a week, together, on a date. And it doesn't have to be a late night. A movie and a cup of coffee somewhere is enough. Or even just a stroll around the town, or local neighbourhood, and maybe one drink. Your husband can still have a couple of pints with his mates. You simply have to ensure that you have something similar - namely a conversation with friends that is not just about babies. Maybe you'll find that kind of company at Weight Watchers. Yes, you do have to lose some weight. That's not because your husband is making it an issue. Ignore that. Your weight-loss is for you, an important psychological statement that you're moving back into being an attractive woman, who also has two children.

Most importantly of all, do this for yourself, rather than as an anxious attempt to please your husband. Do it because you're wise enough to see a relationship needs nurturing. And do it because you want to feel that spring back in your step, that zing of being an attractive woman as well as a great mother - and not just attractive to your husband, but to any hunk who happens to walk by. The reason for this is simple. If you feel you're only doing it to win back your husband, then you run the risk of feeling resentful. Worse, you'll be looking for rewards from him, and will then feel terribly distressed if he doesn't jump back into harness quickly enough. Because who knows? Maybe his lack of romantic interest is due to his own exhaustion and his own preoccupation with parenting.

Finally, don't exhaust yourself. Simply let things slide, or maybe look at the way domestic chores are divided. You're both earning, even if unevenly. Is the home front tended by the two of you? Full-time working husbands have a tendency to think housework is a female affair, and part-time work a mere walk in the park. Check it out. Chin up. This is going to be an exciting adventure, and a timely change in your lifestyle. Enjoy it.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design