Patricia Redlich

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'm Afraid Of His Moods

I'm a single mother and have been living with my boyfriend for nearly four years. I have been a loyal girlfriend and have done all I can and I thought we were going good. I mean, we bought a house, and while the loan is in his name, the title deed of the house is in both our names. He also bought me a car, in both our names.
He used to always want to have me around, but for the past week or se he has been acting strange and making up excuses to fight. The issues are all little things, which could be solved just by talking, but instead he chooses to be angry. I don't know what to do. I've tried to talk to him, not accusing him of anything but just asking him to talk to me, and telling him how I feel. But then he just gets mad and says I'm insecure. I'm lost and need help.
I've no idea what's going on in your boyfriend's head. I do know what's going on in yours. You're terrified. Or as your boyfriend put it, you're insecure. I'm sure he said it in anger, or exasperation, made it an accusation. Please believe me, I'm not doing that. It's just a fact. Look at you. Your boyfriend is in bad humour for a week or so and you're so scared you're counting everything that connects you contractually. You're also frantically examining your conscience so you can say to yourself that you've been a good girl.
You're in trouble, and it's got nothing to do with your boyfriend's current run of ill-temper. All that has done is highlight the stark reality that you're living on a knife-edge of insecurity. Seen positively, it's important this bout of bad temper happened. It's forced you to look at how you really feel. You're so frightened this relationship might fall apart. Why?
Some of us are chronically insecure, born of a bad childhood experiences. When we love someone, we latch onto them emotionally. We need their constant approval and closeness, can't bear the separation that comes with an argument. We also presume that if they are in bad form, it's automatically to do with us, convinced we've done something wrong. Or even if we haven't, we fear they will simply dump us, suddenly, out of nowhere. We just can't cope with any emotional distance.
Is that you? Did childhood leave you fearful of not being loved, with no internal sense of security, convinced that someone could simply leave you, just like that? If so, you need to see a good therapist, because you've an emotional job of work to do on yourself, clearing out past damage and getting a better sense of yourself and your worth. You see, most women would either wonder what was wrong with their partners, maybe even be worried about them, or just be cheesed off at unexplained crankiness. Sure, a wife might be upset, saddened by the withdrawal, uncomfortable with the atmosphere. She would not be frantically looking at the bonds which tie herself and her husband together. Do you understand the difference?
We can also walk ourselves into emotionally compromising situations. A typical scenario might be that your boyfriend believes you should be a stay at home mum, you give in, and feel depressed and lost and dependent. You've done something that suits him, not you. Or perhaps he's a man who does all the money-managing, indeed all the practical living decisions, leaving you floating in an uncertainty born of being sidelined as an adult, or treated like a child. Or maybe you've agreed to being dragged off to a new country, or just generally dislodged from your circle of family and friends, and hence have become emotionally dependent.
Is that you? In that scenario you've just been knocked off course and need to reassess your life choices, take back an appropriate level of control, do things you need to do in order to feel secure. This doesn't necessarily mean turning your life upside down. Sometimes it just means actively accepting that you chose to agree with your boyfriend's plans, and now you have to make a go of it.
The bottom line is that you can't live with this fear. It's too painful. It also puts a strain on your relationship. Being that emotionally needy will just burden your boyfriend, leaving him feel he has no space to manoeuvre, and hence make things infinitely worse. It also means that you're permanently one-down, which doesn't make for happiness either. Take a deep breath, and start examining what's going on in your head and heart. In saying that, I'm not blaming you. This, as you know, is a blame-free zone. I'm saying you have the power to change things. Do it.

Gay And Careless

As I write this, I am mindful of yet another weekend of my life wasted. I'm gay and feel somewhat out of control. I can't seem to find a safe way of meeting other gay men and have too many one night stands. I frequently end up engaging in risky sex, something I'm not proud of. And I'm often anxious about my health, although I've had myself tested and thankfully I'm OK. I have sought professional help in the past for anxiety and depression. I seem to be getting things right in my professional life and have a number of healthy interests.

Family and friends know I'm gay. But they don't know the private torment I put myself through. I realise that by having one-night stands I'm failing to respect myself, and others. But sometimes I just feel so lonely for a soul mate. I go to gay bars alone and see so many couples there. I know other gay men who take their straight friends with them to gay bars, but I never seem to do that. Even though I'm out, I seem to be still in the closet in some ways.

There is nothing worse than another Sunday lying wasted in my bed after a cocktail of drink and poppers, with the sad realisation that I've maybe had unprotected sex again. I want to live a full life. Sex is part of that. I'd like to be more responsible in how I go about it all. Depression often sends me into low places of self-loathing. There are times when I wish I wasn't born, or at least not gay. I think I've accepted that I'm gay, but still find it a very harsh reality. Is there anything I can do to stop the one-night stands?

This isn't about being gay at all. This is about self-esteem, or rather lack of it. You know only too well that heterosexuals regularly do serious damage to themselves too, both physically, mentally and emotionally - with alcohol, drugs, abusive relationships, the lot.

You say you want to be behave in a responsible fashion. There is, however, no magic wand that anyone can wave. You simply have to start doing just that. Ending the one-night stands, however, is probably not the place to begin. How can anyone properly control their sexual behaviour when they're on a cocktail of drink and poppers, to use your phrase? It's a bit like handing teenagers lots of advice about sex. What use is it, when they are out of their heads drunk? They can't even keep themselves physically safe, let alone be selective about sex.

Perhaps visiting gay bars reduces the risk of chatting up a heterosexual guy. I still wonder at the wisdom of making them the centre of your social existence. Sure, there's togetherness. But there's also a culture of careless sex, basically of self- abuse, much as you've described it. Maybe integrating your heterosexual friends into the scene would indeed help. You wouldn't be on your own, so you'd be less vulnerable.

Ditching the drinks and drugs, however, may ultimately involve dodging the gay bars. On top of that, defining ourselves solely in terms of sex doesn't help in the search for a life-partner, gay or straight. The meat market of the disco scene makes the point. Anyway, improving your self-esteem involves enriching your whole life. You are already happy with your professional career. You also have other interests. Like all of us, you have to build on that. Turn yourself into someone who is wonderful to be around because he's funny, interesting, engaged in the world, good, and kind. Certainly sexual attraction is important. Personality, however, is what long-term relationships are built on.

Maybe I'm Gay

I'm a 34 year old man and feel I have spent a lot of my life thus far not really being present in myself, if that makes any sense. I have been studying and was in a long-term relationship and don't really know where my life has gone. I have a problem that I fear may consume me. My confidence has completely evaporated and the root cause of my distress may be my sexual orientation.

This is not a typical 'I can't accept myself because I'm gay' story. I was entirely happy in that long-term relationship with a woman which lasted four years. I did, however, realise that I was attracted to men, and that realisation strengthened in the last few years. But I do not want to have intercourse with a man or live with one. I think the attraction is more about liking the self-confidence I sense in other men.

I never had a strong male influence in my life and that has left me feeling as though I've missed something. I feel lonely, but not gay. I could accept myself if I felt I was gay. And I don't have a family who would disown me. The problem is that I don't feel comfortable being either gay or straight. I do know that I would love to be a good partner and even a father.

Does any of this make sense? How can I be attracted to men and women? Can I be confused about my sexual orientation at this late stage in my life? Or am I just deluding myself, failing to accept that I'm gay? I want to enjoy life and move forward but feel stuck, not knowing who I am. I feel I should make a decision, but am terrified that I might 'revert' back in later life and it would then all have been one big lie. How do I know who I am and learn to trust myself?

We're all attracted to both men and women. How could it be otherwise? We have male and female parents, friends, work colleagues, competitors. If women were not attracted to other women, drawn in by them, how could they learn about the female world? Forget the obvious issue of young girls needing a role model for femininity. Don't we like the look of clothes on another woman, and hope to copy?

Problems arise when we confuse attraction with sexual desire. And no, I don't mean intellectually. This isn't a war about words, or a philosophical debate about concepts. Loneliness in childhood can lead to confusion. If we badly need to be loved and held close, the ordinary everyday interest in anyone, male or female, can be so intense that it becomes confusing. Put simply, if a girl child had no parents to love her, she could get so involved with another woman in adult life, that the intensity was almost indistinguishable from sexual desire. Yet it's love and comfort she's seeking, trying to catch up on a lost childhood. Yes, she could also latch onto a father figure too, but that leads to different problems which we don't discuss right now. We're trying to tease out the question of sexual identity here.

Boys learn how to be men through identification with the men in their lives. That's how the psychologists would phrase it. The reality is that boys learn to be men by loving and admiring other boys and men. Just as girls learn to be women by loving and admiring other women. We do love our heroes. We hang onto their every word, copy their every gesture, soak up like sponges the way they walk, talk, and generally handle themselves.

If, as you say of yourself, you grow up without a relevant male adult in your life, there are two problems. You are unsure of yourself as a man. But more importantly, you are unfamiliar with the interest you feel in other men, indeed the love you feel for other men. Experiencing it in adulthood almost invariably becomes sexualised, even if only in our heads, as an anxious possibility, and hence makes us uncomfortable. Worse, it leads to confusion about sexual orientation.

I don't know if you're gay or straight. Certainly, on a scale of sexual orientation, it would be seen as significant that you don't feel sexual desire for other men. But you don't need to be a psychologist to know that we can refuse to acknowledge feelings we're not comfortable with.

On the other hand, you may be looking for a level of certainty which is simply not attainable. Perhaps you're too frightened by your thoughts. Like I said, we normally learn to handle love of the same sex while still children, before sexual awakening. So we're easy with our interest in other men, or other women. That interest doesn't fade with adulthood by the way. Women perhaps are more conscious of this fact. We look to other women to see how they handle the new levels of near- nudity, how they adapt to still being sexy at seventy, how they retain their sense of femininity after surgery for breast cancer, how they handle being mothers and lovers. Men must do this too.

I also believe we all bury elements of sexual interest - repress it, to use the technical term. We 'blind' ourselves to sexual interest in our best friend's wife, the teenage au-pair, or attractive members of the same sex. Things sexual are not simply black and white. Scratch the surface, and we're all ambivalent. We all have feelings which need to be banned.

Some men and women are simply gay. Some have a choice. And the majority have managed heterosexuality without much thought. You are vulnerable because of a somewhat empty childhood. You can see that. You are also blessed with a thoughtful brain. Reflection does leave us lost. It also leads to clarity. You have to hang in there in the interim, which takes courage. But then you have that, in spades.

I Can't Forget Him

I've just ended a 5-year affair with a married man. I love him dearly, but it's time for me to move on. I'm 48 and single.

At first he was the perfect answer for me, since I had just come out of an abusive relationship. I had found a man I could trust, someone who was at first a friend, and then a lot more. For at least three years I loved the idea of having someone part-time, anticipating every visit with pleasure, and vowing it would last forever. I was happy with it.

Then I found myself changing, wanting more, which I knew would never be possible. Not only would he never leave his wife - he had told me that - but I knew I wouldn't want it anyway. For the past 18 months I've been meeting single men. I promised myself that if any of these guys came close to being like my married guy, I'd go for him. But that didn't happen - until very recently, when I met someone.
So to-day I ended the affair. Or at least I attempted to. My lover completely understands where I'm coming from, although I didn't tell him I'd actually met someone else. I just said that it's time for me to move on, get a life, and see a brighter future. But right now I feel like crap. I thought I would be happy to be free, to move on, to fall in love with someone else. But I can't make it through even one hour without feeling so heavy in my heart and so full of regrets.

I have no idea what to do now. I don't want my new man to see how unhappy I am. I have no explanation I can give him for such sadness. I'm trying so hard not to think about what I had to do, or dwell on how I've broken my married man's heart. We had become best friends as well as lovers. And despite the distance between us, we managed to at least phone each other every day. I never used to want the day to come when I wouldn't know him. And then, I wanted the day to come so that I could free my heart for someone who would truly love me and be there for me all the time.

I'm more than ready for a long-term relationship. So why does it hurt so much to let go? I thought it would be different. I thought that when I found what I was looking for I'd be up there in 7th heaven. How can I just let go?

You can't. That's what you've discovered. When it comes to emotions, things are not so clear-cut. The interesting question is why you thought your feelings were something you could simply switch off.

Maybe that emotional blindness is connected to the other theme of your letter - namely the fact that you're not being truthful with either of your men. You haven't told either of them of the other's existence. That leaves you seriously lost in emotional no-man's land.

How can you say that you and your married lover are best friends, and that he completely understands where you're coming from, when he has absolutely no idea what is actually going on in your head? I mean, did you even tell him that you were seeing other men over the past 18 months with a view to moving on?

And how can you think you've met the man of your dreams, when he knows nothing about you? You're having an affair with someone, you continue that affair during the start-up of this new relationship, you're heartbroken at having to say goodbye to your lover, and your new man knows nothing of this? Where is the emotional intimacy which is so essential to any real togetherness? I'm not talking morals here - although they are, of course, a consideration. I'm talking about you, about the loneliness in your head and heart, about the huge gap between your behaviour and your feelings.

What has happened to you? Do you adore a man you can't have? Is your heart secretly beating with a terrible rage because he insists on an affair, can't or won't leave his wife? Does it kill you that he just says he understands, when you tell him you're leaving? Because that's what he's done. He doesn't even know you've met someone, yet he's immediately accepting your departure, without any real questions.
He doesn't love you dear girl. He doesn't even know you. The terms of your affair dictated that you knew your place. And you've played your role so well that you lost sight of your real emotions. You thought you could calculate it all out, date others, meet the man of your dreams, and walk away, unscathed - much like your married lover is effectively doing.

Grieve for the man you loved, the man who was harsh and unyielding and unloving in the deal he made with you. Drop the romantic notions and see what was really there. And then let it go. As for the new man in your life, work out a way of getting some time and space to do your emotional homework. And then try and judge how safe it feels to let him in, at some level. Of course you're entitled to your secrets. But don't leave yourself unnecessarily lonely.

I Had His Baby

I recently gave birth to a baby whose father I've been having an affair with for the past three years. Neither of us are the type to enter into an extra-marital affair lightly. We started as friends while both of us were in unhappy relationships. He was married while I was with a boyfriend who suffered badly with depression and consequently rejected me and made wild accusations about me.

At the time I believed this man loved me as I did him. It was never just about sex. We were best friends. He asked me twice to leave my boyfriend - hypocritical I know. Each of these requests came at a time when his wife had left him. The second time she left him, he took me to meet some of his family. His wife found out, returned to the marital home, and they stayed together. After that we went on seeing each other, but less intensely. At this stage I had already ended it with my boyfriend. My lover often said how unhappy he still was, how he wanted us to be together, but that it would kill him to give up everything he'd worked so hard for. He has no children.

When I discovered I was pregnant, he at first denied that it was his, citing a very brief fling I'd had, and insisting that the man in question must be the father. Eventually he accepted that this was not so and that the baby was his. But at no time did he ever say he would leave his wife. I then, very briefly, renewed my relationship with the man I'd had the fling with, and my lover broke off all contact. He said it was for the best. My reading of the situation was that he hoped this man would take on his responsibilities for him.
The re-union didn't last long, the man departed, and my lover came back from time to time. The sexual relationship continued. He visited me once while I was in hospital having the baby and a couple of times since. And yes, much to my regret, sex happened again. All he could say was that he was sorry for ruining my life, but that he couldn't be there for me. The last visit was five weeks ago. My baby is now 8 weeks old. He just says on the phone that he'd like to keep in touch and help in any way he can.

I still love him and think about him constantly. Yet I know there is no future. I have great difficulty reconciling the selfish man he is now with the loving kind and generous man he was for the first two years of our affair. I kept hoping he'd change back again to the man I first knew. Yesterday I found out that he'd been on holidays with his wife, their first since the affair began, and I knew their relationship was back on track.

At that point, to my shame, I completely lost it and sent him loads of texts and calls accusing him of using me when she didn't want him and then dumping me when I needed him most. He, of course, didn't reply. I have no-one to confide in, except his sister, to whom he barely speaks now, presumably because she sided with me. Thankfully I don't need his help financially - not that he offered. But while I know only too well that we're better off with him gone from our lives, I need help to get him out of my heart and out of my thoughts.

You don't need me to tell you that this man is bad news. We won't even go into it. It's not necessary. None of this is about him anyway. All of it is about you. Put plainly, if he hadn't come along, someone else would have.

It's always hard to say that without sounding punitive. But unless you bite that bullet you will never achieve what you want, namely to put him out of your mind and move on. Your task, if you like, lies within. What has you holding on is your own inner torment and need. That's also what got you into the relationship in the first place.

Change your focus and concentrate on you. Deep down you don't believe you deserve better. Otherwise you would have walked away long ago. It's not just that this man was married, and therefore trouble. He didn't at any stage get his act together, separate, and clear the decks for you to be together. On the contrary, he was careless and self-serving from very early on. The question, therefore, is why did you settle for so little? Why do you think so little of yourself?

I hate handing this out, like some kind of mantra, but I do believe you should spend some of your money on serious professional help. The reason is simple. Thinking little of ourselves is a habit born in early childhood. It becomes so much part of us that we're not even aware of it. It's kept alive by habits of thought, feeling and behaviour - often so subtle that no-one can see them, let alone you. Therapy unearths all that. It's not about finding a parent to blame. In fact it's not necessarily about asking why at all. It's about unearthing those habits of self put-down, holding them up to the light so we can see them clearly, and then ditching them.

So I'm not saying forget him. That would be hard, particularly as you now have his baby. I am saying shift your energy and attention and start changing your self-image. Your beautiful baby deserves a mother who thinks well of herself. Go work on it.

My Lover Won't Leave His Wife

I'm in love with a married man. Our friendship started about a year ago and has grown into a deeper relationship. I kept telling him to tell his wife so that we can start our life together. I was never married but had two failed relationships and have two children. He has three young children. He said that every time he tried to tell his wife, he just couldn't. He couldn't see himself leaving his children. I told him that in the end it all works out. I told him we couldn't deny how we feel. He said he wasn't in love with his wife, but he does still love her as they've been together for nearly 20 years.

Then his wife found out accidentally. She wants to work it out and refuses to let him go. We were supposed to start living together but that plan has been abandoned. He says he needs to give his marriage a chance. I don't understand it. He said he was in love with me.

I'm devastated. I can't eat or sleep. I'm trying to fight for him. When I call him to talk about it I sense his frustration with the whole thing. If only his wife would let him go. He is the best thing that ever happened to me. What do I do?

There is no easy way to say this. Your man friend doesn't want to leave his wife. He never wanted to leave her. He just flirted with the idea when he discovered you. No, I'm not saying he was nasty and deliberately deceived you. He deceived himself. Caught up in the heady excitement of a love-affair, he temporarily mislaid his commitment to his wife and children.

He never actually lost his sense of commitment, however. He just side-lined it. Think about it. He could never manage to tell his wife. And he could never even imagine leaving his children. I know it's not nice to acknowledge, but you set the pace. And by failing to end the relationship with you, he gave the impression he was going along with your wishes. Out of the weakness borne of desire - and yes, perhaps love for you too - he gave you false hope.

False hope cripples us. That's because it involves living in unreality, robbing us of our dignity and sense of direction in the process. If it's any consolation this can happen anyone. And it does pass. Your man friend is hiding behind his wife. Or perhaps more precisely, you're making a scapegoat of his wife in order to avoid facing the truth. He is not going to leave his marriage. He may even regret ever having been unfaithful. He most certainly wants to end all contact with you. He's not frustrated with the situation as you say. He's frustrated with your refusal to face facts. I'm sorry to have to say that so bluntly, but it's true.

This man is not the best thing that ever happened to you. He never really had anything to offer. Forget any notion of fighting for him. Firstly, you won't win. Secondly, he's not worth it. Instead start fighting for a greater sense of self- worth. You have children, and the capacity to love. You have a life. Start living it again, sad certainly, but this time round with the determination to ask for more. If that doesn't seem possible, start asking yourself why you think so little of yourself, and fix it.

My Lover Ditched Me

I am 34. I am married with one child. For the past six months I have been having an affair. We spent as much time as we could together. Basically we lived as a couple, apart from not sharing the same bed every night. We talked about being together and planned dates to aim for.

Three months into the affair she kicked her husband out, but has always maintained that her marriage was on the rocks before we met. And the pressure on our relationship was building up as we tried to continue doing everything under the radar. It was becoming a roller-coaster. However we maintained we could get through everything, and both felt we had found our true love in life.

About a month ago I got drunk one afternoon and began to text her abusive messages. This went on for about three hours. The more she ignored me, the worse the messages got. I don't know why I did it. I don't have the answer. From that day, however, she has never spoken to me, despite all we had been through. I need to understand why. After all the plans we made and the promises we made, how can she just discard our relationship? I said some cruel and vile things. I clearly have some issues and I asked her to stand by me and help me get it sorted. And I have been seeing a counsellor to help rid myself of this ugly side, understand the triggers, etc.

I have tried to apologise on countless occasions but she won't even engage in conversation. She has threatened to tell my wife and the police if I continue to even ask her how she is, or tell her stuff I'm thinking. The nasty texts have stopped, but no matter what I say to her, she doesn't want to know. Given all we have been through together, I hoped she would forgive me. Six weeks on and she has not.

I maintain that the pressure of the situation caused me to blow my top, but she will not accept this at all. She wants to be on her own and hates me for how I made her feel when I sent those text messages. I still can't understand how these vile texts caused her to simply switch off and say she doesn't love me. Perhaps I am under-estimating the power of those text messages. But what is clear is that I love her, hate myself for throwing away something which preoccupies me 24/7, and feel right now that I will go to my grave knowing that we ended because of my errors.

Letting go is not easy. I have convinced myself that she still loves me deep down. Her words of passion ring in my ears constantly. I struggle to accept how she can just turn off.

You're in serious denial and need to get real - and fast.

I don't know what was in those texts you sent, but it was obviously not just vicious but truly frightening. Your woman friend didn't simply switch off loving you. You blew her out of the water entirely. It's nothing as simple as being upset, or as inexplicable as suddenly falling out of love. You terrified her. You revealed a viciousness which makes all feelings other than fear impossible for her. You don't love someone who's holding a gun to your head and threatening to shoot. Yes, I'm just using that as a metaphor. I'm not suggesting those were your words. I'm trying to paint the picture here.

I am sure you're right. The pressure of the situation got to you. The point is, the person you revealed yourself to be was not a pretty sight. And this is all about you. You're denial is about trying to dodge that fact. Look at what you're telling me. You are married and were having a secret affair. Your woman friend was married too. She clarified the situation from her side in that she ended her marriage. You continued 'under the radar' as you put it, because you still hadn't told your wife. The pressure in the situation was caused by you failing to clear the decks. And what did you then do? You turned vicious towards your woman friend.

Now you're acting amazed that she's told you to disappear. Isn't that, deep down, exactly what you wanted? Maybe her marriage was on the rocks anyway. That's not the issue. The issue is that both of you had plans, were 'living as a couple', and had set a date to come out in the open. Your woman friend took the steps that were needed to make that happen. She was serious. You didn't take the same steps. You were not serious.
You are still not serious. Your wife doesn't know. Instead you talk about having 'issues', and think your woman friend should stand by you while you see a counsellor about your 'ugly' side. Get real.

That ugly side as you call it surfaced because you didn't want to follow through on your commitment to this woman. You summoned it up as an aide to sabotaging your affair. I don't know what words you used, but in psychological terms you transferred the total responsibility of the affair onto her. All the negativity involved in having the affair, moral, emotional, social and practical, were shifted onto her. You blamed her for your bad behaviour.

Go deal with your conscience. Start taking emotional responsibility for your own behaviour. Handle your own guilt. Start being honest. And leave this woman strictly alone. This is not about her. It's about you.

I Am Left Home Alone With Baby

I'm a 33 year old married woman and feel lonely and fed up. I gave birth to the most fantastic baby 11 months ago and wouldn't change her for the world. But I feel so lonely since she was born. Myself and my husband both work long hours but made sure before the baby arrived to spend lots of time together. Now we have to work opposite hours to ensure our baby is looked after by one or other of us, and this leaves little or no time for ourselves. We do have a crèche for some of the time, but because of our long working day and long commute, this offers little in terms of time off together.

I live at least a four hour drive away from my parents and see them, at most, once a month. I find this difficult as I think every girl needs her mother. I have few friends close by as we moved to this area only recently. I would like to reduce my working hours, but because of a big mortgage I feel this is difficult to do.

For ten years I lived in Dublin when the celtic tiger was roaring. I thrived during this time, wild parties, late nights, eating out with pals, more money to spend foolishly than I knew what to do with. Now I feel I'm stuck in the other end of the celtic tiger, high mortgage, long working hours, long commute, expensive crèche fees, regretting not having more time to spend with my family, and lonely at home, living in an estate where nobody wants to know their neighbour.

My husband doesn't seem to take any notice of my feelings and says that this is now the way things are. He is obsessed with money and his priority is to have us both working and bringing in the money - even though we don't get a chance to spend it. I no longer even enjoy sex and feel constantly bored. I know I should be grateful for all I have, including our health, but I feel I surrendered a lot of my independence to my husband and am now stuck in a rut.

As long as you understand that surrendering your independence was a voluntary decision. The point is, you could decide differently. Anyway, I don't think formulating your problem in this manner helps, so let's tell your story differently.

You got married, bought a house and had a baby. They were joint decisions, and happy ones. Yes, I am sure the decision as to where to buy your house was dictated also by circumstance - or what you call the celtic tiger. A long commute means a cheaper house. But they were joint decisions, made in good faith, by both of you.

You also both decided that you should go back to work. And jointly agreed that you'd share the baby-minding, and not just for hard economic reasons. As you've said, you're earning the money but have no time to spend it. You wanted your child minded largely by his parents. That, too, was a joint and well-intentioned decision, and much to be admired.

All decisions, however, have a down-side. There is always a price to pay. Your dilemma is that you're feeling the pinch much more than your husband. Put another way, you're not as happy with all your decisions as he is. That situation has to be seriously addressed. It is neither fair nor wise, however, to talk in terms of your husband bullying you into anything. And yes, that is effectively what you're saying. You talk of surrendering your independence, say that he's obsessed with money, and that he fails to take any notice of your feelings.
What's happening is that you're failing to assert yourself. That, in turn, has you angry and down and sexually switched off. You don't want the life you're currently living, but instead of making that clear and changing things, you've dampened down all your energy and enthusiasm and capacity for joy. You're acting like a victim. But you are not a victim at all - or at least you don't have to be.

You can do the sums. How many days work can you cut out and still survive financially? Time rich, you could do more baby- minding, have space for your relationship with your husband, visit your mother more often, and put energy into your community to make friends and feel at home.

It really is as simple as that you know. It's a question of setting life-enhancing priorities. In fact you could consider yourself lucky that you're feeling so unhappy at the moment. It's a wake-up call. Many couples don't get one, and lose each other. Which is the way you have to put it to your husband.

Men tend to focus on financial security. This comes from a sense of responsibility, so we should be careful about charging your husband with being obsessed with money. Maybe he is, but isn't that just an over-emphasis on one issue, or maybe even real fear for his family? And wouldn't it be great if you saw your task as one of balancing your husband's behaviour with the wisdom you have, namely that your relationship and quality of life are just as important?

Don't turn your husband into the enemy. He's not. You just need to have the courage of your convictions and change your priorities. Do it for yourself, for your husband, for your baby, for your marriage. You see you are the wise one. You are tuned in. There is no need to be angry and resentful. Just run with the wisdom. And bring your husband, who is your friend, on-side, by being strong and clear and compassionate about his understandable anxiety.

I Never Experience An Orgasm

I am 35 years of age and have had a number of sexual partners. I was rather late in losing my virginity and my problem is that I have never experienced an orgasm. It never used to be an issue for me as I always enjoyed sex. I guess you can't miss what you've never had, right? But now I really feel like I'm missing out and have realised that I never had, and may never ever enjoy, a satisfying and wholly fulfilled sexual relationship.

I have recently come out of a long-term relationship and I don't want to go into another one with this problem. I'm not sure if it's a physical or emotional problem, but it's possibly both.

I'm wondering why this has now become an issue. Do you think your relationship broke up because of it? Did you ex-partner complain about some lack of passion? Are you looking for answers as to why this relationship broke down and clutching at straws? In our sex-obsessed age, women have become silent about the fact that many of them don't have orgasms and don't miss them either. Just as many couples have very infrequent sex, and are satisfied. And some have none and are happy too. You are not, therefore, in any way unusual. Failure to have an orgasm is only a problem if we perceive it as being one.

Which is why I'm back to my first question: why is it a problem now? Do you see it as some kind of handicap? Are you scared it will somehow, by some mysterious means, scupper any future relationship? Or is it just a focus for your current sadness? Sorry for all the questions. It's just they are all I can offer you, based on what you've told me. What I'm trying to say is be wary of honing in on an issue, which is not really an issue, simply as a means of making sense of your life.

He Keeps Coming Back

I'm a 33 year old woman. My friends say I'm attractive, I've had admirers over the years, and I have a good career with good future prospects. My intention is not to be vain here.

Eighteen months ago I met someone whom I thought I could be close to. I had been single for a long time following the break- up of a serious relationship which left me broken-hearted. Things were great for the first few months, but I felt I wasn't getting what I deserved. When things came to a head, he told me that he didn't want a relationship with me. I took what he said on board, tried to remove all contact with him, but found this very difficult to do. Either he or I would phone, we'd get together for a night out, sleep together, and then I would get angry with myself. Months would pass, and the same thing would happen again. All this would involve drink of course.

This is now driving me insane because I can't pluck up the courage to ask him how he really feels about me, and whether it's just sex for him. When we're together I feel he does have feelings for me. But I'm not naïve. I know a man takes what he can and then leaves you, if you let him.

I recently met someone else. But because I still have this other man on my mind, who is and isn't my ex, I don't feel I can give this new man a chance. I am tormented with thoughts of my ex, and I don't know what to do anymore. I've never asked him out straight why he doesn't want a relationship with me, and perhaps that's where my problem lies. Or maybe that's just part of some silly fantasy world I've got lost in.

Yes, you have got lost in a fantasy, although it is far from silly. This man you meet for booze and sex is really not relevant. He's just the instrument of torture, if you like, which you have chosen. You're putting yourself through that torture because you're still dealing with rejection. Your broken heart hasn't been fixed.
Think about it. Once you put your foot down about how you were being treated by this man, he said he didn't want a relationship with you. And you do know that there's no point asking someone why. We want to commit to some and don't want to commit to others. Your question isn't really addressed to him anyway.
What you're really trying to deal with is why your past boyfriend ended it. And the situation there is the same. There is no point in beating yourself up. Sometimes someone just doesn't love us enough to make it last. Certainly there may be important lessons to learn - like how we're too needy, or too impressed by someone's image, or a bit blind to selfish, self-absorbed men. Fair enough. Mostly, however, we have to recognise that it was one man's judgment, or feelings, or lack of feelings.

Getting drunk and having sex with someone who doesn't want to even be around you is self-abuse. Stop it. See a therapist instead about your feelings of low self-worth. And let me repeat it again. None of this is actually about your occasional boozy bed-mate. He's irrelevant.

I Am Addicted To Porn

I'm a 28 year old man and am ashamed of my life. I've done some very bad things like seeing escorts for sex. And I can't stop using phone sex lines. I can't stop taking drugs like ecstasy either. I've tried to stop, but over the past ten years I keep going back to my old ways. I hate what I'm doing, like downloading hardcore porn. I am a good person and I've never hurt anyone. Yet I seem to constantly let myself and my family down. I'm trying to stop. I never wanted my life to be like this. But I can't change the past. Please help.

No, you can't change the past. You can use your shame to shape your future, starting now. You are an addict. That means you have to acknowledge three truths. Firstly, nothing can change until you decide to stop your addictive behaviour. Until we feel and face the emotional pressure that builds up when we stop whatever it is we're doing, we remain blind to the forces that drive us.

Secondly, you need help. Some things can't be handled simply by using our willpower. You've seen that. You tried to stop and you couldn't.

Thirdly, you have to take that first step, make that phone call, drop into that rehab unit, ask a friend to take you to a counsellor. You can't heal yourself alone. You can decide to start the process. It's up to you. All I can tell you is that you are worth it. I can't make you believe me. Are you ready to make that act of faith in yourself? I do very much hope so.

Damaging Rumours About Me

About three years ago I became the victim of a rumour which, as rumours go, can only be described as a man's worst nightmare. It was said that I'm a paedophile.

It began with an incident in a queue for a gig. I was at the back and was spotted by my a neighbour who was at the front of the queue, a girl of about 22 - who looks a lot younger - and she beckoned me up to join her. I'm in my late forties. When I moved in beside her, this young lad, whom I didn't know, pointed the finger at me and called me a paedophile. I was shocked. When he said it again, my instinct was to punch his lights out, but knew a fracas would ensue, the police would be called, and the local newspaper would carry the story.

Instead, I asked my young neighbour what I should do, she told me the lad 'wasn't the full shilling', and I let it go. I also left the scene and decided to give that general area a miss for a few months, by which time, or so I thought, it would all have blown over. I live abroad in a community with a large Irish contingency, and gossip is a favourite pastime. A few years before this, a new arrival had had one drink too many and told the assembled drinkers that he'd been a teacher back in Ireland but had given it up. Within hours of him saying that, the word was out that he'd interfered with younger students and been forced to leave. This was very much at the back of my mind.

At first all seemed grand, but then I began to notice a change in people. Standing in the pub with the usual gang, a conversation hardly passed without paedophiles being mentioned, usually entirely out of context. I tried to shrug it off. But the references were getting more frequent and it started springing up at work too. I began to feel uncomfortable. The first actual physical incident involved me getting a lift home from some of my bar mates, but instead of driving me to my door, they dropped me off in an unlit street around the corner. When this happened a second time I challenged them and was told my street was too dangerous. I don't live in a great neighbourhood, but that was just silly so I stormed off. I considered one of them my best friend, but the incident was never discussed.

This was the beginning of the nightmare. If I thought someone was being smart, I'd sometimes challenge them, asking for an explanation, and there would be an instant climb-down. I tried to talk to people about the rumour, but was invariably interrupted with a denial of any knowledge of such a rumour, even though I knew they knew, thereby making the conversation pointless. Five months ago, I got so depressed I went to my doctor and basically broke down in the surgery and told him everything. Seeing how distressed I was he sent me for counselling. It was great to be able to talk about it, and the counsellor was very professional and very understanding, but basically he was there to listen, not to give advice.

So I'm in Limbo. The rumour is there. I can't do anything about it. And I'm falling out with people as a result of it. I'm at my wits' end. I thought about moving away, but that would look like I'm running away. I also had the chance of a job back in Ireland recently, but had to pass it up for the same reason. I've never felt suicidal, but I am suffering from some form of depression. The doctor offered me anti-depressants but I declined. I don't like tablets. I also felt the cure was to bring the whole mess out into the open.

It hasn't worked and I'm now at the end of my tether. The last thing I want is to have to go back to the doctor and take prescribed drugs just to get me by from day to day. How can I stop this rumour in its tracks and get my life back?

Rumours are a particularly nasty form of bullying. Nasty because it's so hard to fight back. How can anyone prove that they are not mad, bad, or just plain peculiar? How can anyone prove that they haven't had an affair, conceived a secret child, stole from the church collection? Or as in your case, how can anyone prove that he has no paedophile tendencies?

When you think about it, fear of such rumours is a powerful force in forming our behaviour. We call it concern about what other people think. You see it operating everywhere. A male neighbour limits the help he gives to the widow living next door, in case people should begin to talk. The widow herself may think twice about offering him a cup of tea in thanks. Men see small children falling in the street and hesitate to give them a hand. I won't go on. You get the message.

The problem with bullying is not just the bully. It's the behaviour of the victim. And this is where it gets tricky, because nobody wants to blame the victim. The problem is, a victim's behaviour does contribute to the bullying. We can't escape that fact. This is particularly true, perhaps, when it comes to rumours.

I have to be blunt in order to be helpful, so here goes. Some idiot got annoyed because you jumped a queue and he said the first thing that came into his scruffy little mind. He called you a paedophile. What happened next is a classic example of how victims contribute to the bullying they suffer. Despite reassurance from your young neighbour, you took flight. You left the queue, and avoided the general area for months. You behaved in a guilty fashion. No, don't get all scared. Lots of people automatically feel guilty, when someone says something bad, or criticises them. Indeed, lots of people automatically feel it's their fault when someone else is in bad humour, or is feeling offended, or even just irritable. Some of us are programmed by our upbringing to presume we're in the wrong, even when we are not. That's what makes us easy victims.

You knew you'd done nothing wrong. But you got scared that others might not believe that. Somewhere in your childhood you learned to expect punishment even though innocent. You felt vulnerable and exposed and acutely sensitive. You felt frightened, and fled.

Now I don't know if the rumour travelled. My educated guess is that it didn't. I think you were feeling so sensitive that you read meaning into casual comments. Paedophilia is in the ether right now, constantly discussed, never far from anybody's mind. And by being so sensitive, you drew the subject into your circle of friends.

Please don't feel upset by this challenge to your version of events. I truly am trying to disentangle your situation for you. The point is, that even if I'm wrong, even if the rumour did spread to your local pub, what needs to be done is still the same: You have to get a grip on your sensitivity. You have to become more emotionally robust. At the end of the day, the only way to persuade people - if they need persuading - is to firmly believe in ourselves. Put another way, if we want to stop the bullying, we have to stop acting like a victim.

In practical terms, you must stop mentioning the subject. You are doing yourself no favours by bringing it up with your friends and work colleagues. Think about it. You're keeping the issue alive and forcing them to take up positions. I understand that what you're looking for is reassurance from them. But nobody can reassure us. We have to reassure ourselves. By hammering on about it, you're making the whole situation worse. Let me give you an example from another sphere of life entirely.

Think about a jealous man. What happens to his relationship? He constantly seeks reassurance from his wife, which does three things: Firstly, he's feeding his own distress, because he's always asking about some man, some attention his wife received, whatever. Secondly, he wears his wife out because she's having to account for every five minutes of her life, so she becomes less loving. And thirdly, the jealous man remains one-down, stays anxious and vulnerable, retains his feeling of powerlessness.

Do you see? Your anxiety is becoming a self-fulfilling prophesy. You are creating your own unhappiness. The good news is that this means the solution is in your hands. Nobody believes you're a paedophile. A lot of people believe you're a nice but anxious and troubled man. And they are right. Go back to your doctor. Or go to a good therapist who will help you seek the solution where it truly lies, namely not in the rumour about paedophilia, but in your early upbringing, when you learned to be afraid. And don't dismiss medication out of hand. Sure, it's only a crutch. But all of us need crutches sometimes. Anyway, at least talk to your doctor again. The bottom line is that the solution to your distress is in your hands. Go get the help you need to fix it. And thank you for turning to me. I hope I've let you see that your trust was well placed.

My Boyfriend Is An Alcoholic

I'm a 37 year old mother of three. I had two daughters with my ex-husband and have one 3 year old son with my boyfriend.

My 'boyfriend' is a raging alcoholic and a mean one at that. Two years ago I purchased my first home and I love it. Unfortunately I can't sustain the mortgage payment based on my salary alone, although the house is solely in my name.

During my last pregnancy I put on a significant amount of weight. My mother died last year, which has also left me feeling depressed. Shortly after she died, my boyfriend was caught by police on a drink-driving offence and may yet face a custodial sentence. I feel like my life is spiralling out of control.

I am so overwhelmed I don't know how to get back to a peaceful place. I would really like to keep my house and somehow have the boyfriend leave. I have put up with his drinking for five years now. It's been an emotional roller-coaster and I would like to get off. I think that due to my lack of self-confidence I'm scared to move jobs. Yet I need to earn more.

I would do anything to keep my house and provide a stable environment for my kids. But I'm out of ideas. Some days I just want to pack up and run.

Your lack of self-confidence isn't just stopping you finding a better job. It's stopping you from acting in your own best interest.

I hear you when you say you want rid of your boyfriend. But I also understand that this may not be entirely emotionally true. What is real is your need to be treated properly. And alcoholics, mean or otherwise, don't treat their loved ones properly. Apart from any unhappiness this may cause, the problem is that you can't feel good about yourself if you stay around someone who treats you badly. Your self-esteem stays low. And you fail to make the right decisions.

The bottom line, therefore, is that either your boyfriend cleans up his act, or you have to shift. And maybe you already know that he won't - that's down to you. Either way, I don't mean running away. You have to stand up and fight for what you need, which is a stable home for your kids and some peace of mind for yourself. To do that, you need to clear your mind of any fixed ideas. You have to leave your comfort zone - which includes your lack of self-confidence. Yes, you have to ditch it.

You need a better paying job: Go look for one. Lack of confidence is a luxury you can't afford just now. You're too fat. Forget it. It's not a priority issue right now. You miss your mother. That's a hard one, but your sorrow has to be shelved for now. You have a fight on your hands. You can't be bogged down with side issues, no matter how important. And yes, you have to face it: You may even have to sell the house in order to sever the link with your boyfriend, if that's what it takes.

Believe me, I am not being unsympathetic. Nor am I suggesting that any of your feelings are unreal, or unimportant. What I'm saying is that we never have a clear field for a fight. There are always other considerations. We get ready for battle not by clearing the decks, but by sidelining the issues which stop us from seeing our main goal. You want a civilised space in which to live and rear your children. Do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. And although you don't know it, you're already more than half way there. Change happens if we want it badly enough. And you do.

I Am Hooked On Food

I've been struggling with food for the past 15 years. I am now thirty, newly married and truly ready to develop a healthy relationship with food. But I'm finding this very difficult. As a teenager I was anorexic and to-day I struggle with binge or emotional eating. I just can't seem to eat normally.

I have attended counsellors, doctors and support groups over the years. It helped, as I am now aware of my chaotic relationship with food and I know that recovery is possible. However, whatever is needed to recover just hasn't clicked with me. As soon as I face a crisis, be it major or minor, food is what I turn to, to sooth myself with, or to punish myself with through starvation.

I feel I'm on information overload when it comes to eating disorders. Honestly I could write a book about them. But I can't seem to break free and move on with my life. My real problem right now is that I'm very overweight due to binge eating and this makes me very unhappy.

No matter what I tell myself, my weight still measures my self-worth. I know the sensible thing to do would be to go on a healthy diet and lose the pounds. However I really don't want to go down the dieting route as in the past this has sent me into a state of anxiety while I obsess over everything that I eat.

How do I become a normal eater and maintain a normal weight without causing myself so much misery? My husband is a great man and I want to enjoy our marriage. But I'm so preoccupied with my own problems that I am moody and withdrawn towards him. He doesn't know what to make of me as I've kept my eating problems secret for all these years. Please help.

You're addicted. The bad news is that because your addiction is food, you can't simply give it up. The good news is that precisely because it is food, you can clearly see that addiction is emotional. Alcoholism isn't about alcohol. It's about how we feel. The same applies to the abuse of drugs, illegal or prescribed. What drives us to misuse substances is psychological distress. For what it's worth in terms of enlightenment, the same applies to workaholics, or those hooked on the high of excessive exercise.

Excess is of the mind. The substance, or behaviour, we choose is merely a matter of accident or opportunity or circumstance. So you are right. Forget the food. Ditch any notion of diet. The focus on food is just a distraction.

One of the reasons I liked Freud was because he understood the nature of compulsion. As long as someone goes on doing what he's doing, he can avoid the real emotional issues which drive him. If you keep getting angry as your first line of defence, or keep giving in for the sake of peace, you miss the real point. It's only when we give up a habitual response that we can see what fuels it, face the demons that drive it. Which is why a person has to stop drinking, or doing drugs, or working ridiculously long hours, or being a total doormat, or using her fists, in order to deal with the self-hatred, fear and justifiable anger which lies buried in her heart.

You can see the difficulty with an eating disorder when it comes to discovering what lies behind it. You can't stop eating. Controlling the eating just intensifies the focus on food. It's a compulsion which is hard to handle, not because the issues are more serious, but because you can't stop the compulsive behaviour. That makes it harder to face the fear.

Don't let that daunt you. If we've lost our temper all our lives or been a doormat all our lives, that's hard to rectify too. Sometimes giving in is the right thing to do. So is justifiable anger. So is working long hours for that matter. It isn't always appropriate to stop these behaviours. Yet if our lives are a misery as a result, we have to look at our souls, hearts and minds to hear what's really going on. And we have to do so without the clarity of feelings such as fear, anxiety and anger, which surface quickly once a compulsion is halted.
You don't measure your self-worth in terms of your weight. You're holding anger and anxiety at bay by doing a control routine with food. Comfort eating is a substitute for handling the pain. So what's the pain? That's the only question.

As I'm sure you know, I'm a big fan of secrets. People tell too much to-day, just as they told too little in times past. I'm not sure, though, that keeping your husband in the dark about your despair is a good idea. Lack of communication is damaging to any relationship. On top of that, I'm guessing that to some extent it's shame which keeps you silent. To which my question is: What is there to be ashamed of? Something damaged you so badly in your youth that the scars still hurt enormously. Anyone who loves you will feel concern, not contempt. And no, I'm not letting you off the hook. Of course you're responsible for yourself, and must tackle your despair. But a little help from someone who loves you might be nice too.

You may also have kept the secret because you're afraid of losing control, of being seen as someone who is weak and can be walked on, or taken over. Except you're not really in control anyway right now are you? Oh I know you've been making superhuman efforts over the last 15 years. It's just that sometimes we misuse our strength, are truly brave, fight unbelievable battles, but on the wrong front.

Go see a serious therapist. And consider at least letting your husband in on some of your misery, so he won't misunderstand your emotional withdrawal. It might also help to go to a good acupuncturist. After all, the mind and body are one. And sometimes we can access emotional problems through treating the body, just as we can access physical problems through treating the mind and soul.

My Brother Is In Trouble

I am 42 years old and live on my own with a mortgage. There isn't much money left over for luxuries but I don't really mind that. A few months ago I met a lovely guy after many years on my own. We enjoy each others' company and have days out at the weekend. We are now ready to take our relationship to the next level. We both feel comfortable with this. My boyfriend lives quite a distance away.

My brother broke up with his wife a few weeks ago and has moved in with me. The problem is that he has his two children over to stay with him each weekend. They also come to visit him for a couple of hours several nights a week. They are 10 and 12 and I love them both. But in the space of a few weeks they have managed to break several family heirlooms, marked my walls with their bikes, put my TV out of focus, and basically have my house looking like a tip. I might be a bit set in my ways, but I can't have this. My brother takes no notice of anything I say about this. He's up to his eyes in money trouble. He does give me some money, but it doesn't even cover their food. The money, however, is not the issue.

I feel sorry for my brother, but I just can't handle the whole lot of them. Yet we've no other brothers or sisters and my parents are very elderly. But my boyfriend and I get no privacy. And when I'm in his house, I cannot relax because I have no idea what state my house will be in when I get back. My boyfriend has told me that he's had enough.

What's with the boyfriend? Why does he sound like he's threatening you? He wants to bring the relationship to the next level in terms of closeness and commitment, but at the same time he's having trouble handling a family emergency. What planet is he on? No, I'm not shifting blame onto him. I'm just trying to help you feel more robust about him, get him out of the way for the moment if you like.

You are confronted with a family crisis. It's just happened. You stepped in to rescue your brother. That's what families do in crises. Yes, it's a mess. No, you couldn't possibly put up with it long-term. Yes, it is interfering with your life. That is the definition of a crisis. You are your brother's only sibling. Your parents are elderly. You did the right thing.

You need to get a grip on yourself. That means first of all asking your boyfriend for support. Make some sensible decisions. Why can't you stay with him for a while? That would solve the privacy issue. Yes, I know he lives some distance away - which presumably means a distance from your workplace too. But couldn't you just confine yourselves to his place for togetherness, even if that means only seeing him at weekends, until this crisis is resolved?

You need to drop the hysteria about the house too. Heirlooms got broken. Not nice, but at another level, so what. Set against the emotional well-being of two children caught up in a marital meltdown, such breakages fade into non-significance. Marks on the wall mean paint, or even a bit of plastering. No big deal. Yes, I can imagine that the house is like a tip. But think about it. It wouldn't take long to clean it up, not really.

I'm not saying all this to be unsympathetic. I'm trying to make the point that you're panicing. And the reason you're doing that is because you feel you have no control. You're scared. And I'm trying to help you not feel scared.

To begin with, you feel at a vulnerable stage with your boyfriend. At last you've found someone, and you want to both enjoy the relationship, and make it work. This crisis hasn't come at the right time. I understand. All I'm saying is that it will all work out if you stop the panic. At the moment you're even bringing your distress down to your boyfriend's place. And he's getting worn down. I don't know if he's actually uttering threats. Perhaps he's just catching your panic. Or perhaps you're reading a sense of threat into an ordinary comment, thrown out because he doesn't know what he can do to help you.

Instead of fretting about home for every second you're with him, ask your boyfriend for comfort, or just discuss how you might handle the situation. And don't do too much of that either. Enjoy his company, do nice things together, and let him know that there's no need to feel helpless about the situation - because there isn't.
As for your brother, you have to stop feeling trapped. You are in control. You don't have to find a solution for him. He has to find one for himself. All you have to do is set limits on how long you're prepared to tolerate the situation. And ultimately that's down to you. Think about it. If you could calm down, enjoy your time with your boyfriend at his place, and lose your sense of fear and helplessness, how long would you allow your brother to stay? And that's the length of time he has - at most.

To repeat: You are not helpless. You are in control. You are not your responsible for your brother's destiny. You are responding to a crisis, which by definition is short-term. And the time-frame is ultimately down to you. It's just that within that time-frame, it would make sense not to be too jittery about the state of the house, or the fact that your new relationship is being disrupted. As for your boyfriend, he'll come up trumps if you calm down, enjoy his company, do fun things together, discuss your dilemma with him, seek his support, and acknowledge the comfort and joy he brings you.

I Am No Longer Pretty

I have recently returned to work but find my confidence is not what it was. For a start, I am finding it difficult to adjust to my changed appearance and body shape and am very self-conscious. This is made worse by the fact that it's happening to me at a time when appearance seems to be everything. Although most of the younger people I work with are nice and friendly, I feel a bit like a fish out of water.

I have come to liken middle age to puberty. In my early and mid-teens I felt very self-conscious and awkward, and the same feelings are coming back to me now. Like in my teens, I don't know who I am anymore or what I'm supposed to be about. Except that I am now going down the other side of the hill which is depressing.

I look at other women my age and they seem to have adapted to the faster pace of life we are now all forced to live. I have no older sisters or mother to ask how to cope. How do I adjust to looking different than I did most of my adult life? When I look in the mirror now I don't see me, I see my mother. Don't get me wrong, I loved my mother but this is a very big change for me. I used to be slim, could eat what I liked, and never put on an inch. Now it seems I only have to think about eating and my stomach expands! This is really affecting my quality of life and how I perceive myself. And, of course, I have no way of knowing how others see me.
I was never a particularly gregarious person. I am the perfect candidate for becoming invisible in middle age. How can I cope with the 'new' me?

It's wonderful that you want to - meet the challenge of middle-age I mean. Going back to work was clearly a blessing in disguise. Certainly it's disconcerting to feel so uncomfortable. But look at what you're going to gain - or regain - namely a strong sense of self. We need that, because the real problems not being invisible to others. The problem is being a bit of a blur in our own eyes. How can you properly fight your own corner when you're not sure who you actually are? How can you even interact with others?

Your social isolation certainly doesn't help. The women you see around you have had to adjust just like you. The difference, if any, is that they probably talked to their friends, to the woman who runs the local boutique, to their beautician, their hairdresser, their next-door neighbour about weight-gain, suitable clothes, how to age with grace, or defy age with camouflage, or flaunt what they have.

Yes, I know that's all 'girlie' talk. Behind it lies a deeper vein. Identity - or the 'new' you - is not one great leap, one flash of lightening, one grand insight and there you are. It's a thousand steps, many of which you take tentatively. The thing is, we make such adjustments all the time. Think about how differently we have to mother a child, from total care as infants to cautious concern on the sidelines as they muddle through their marriages. What's knocked you sideways is not the necessity to change, but the suddenness with which you've had to face it.

You're intelligent with a great sense of humour. Tackle this stage of your life with excitement and joy. Flick through the magazines. Check the shops for the assistance of personal dressers. Join weight-watchers. Find a new hairdresser. Talk to your younger colleagues about the trendiest mobile, how to text, or most importantly of all - which cup of coffee to try out. You get my drift.

How do others see you? They already know you're nice, smart and good fun as well as professionally competent. They probably guess, too, that you're feeling vulnerable. Let them in on that vulnerability. There is nothing more attractive in this world than uncertainty openly admitted. I like your analogy with feeling like a teenager again. There is, however, a huge difference. You have the character and certainty of a life lived somewhat longer than that shy 17 year-old you once were. You'll be able to take help, without feeling threatened. Go talk. And enjoy.

My Boyfriend Is Insecure

I'm 40 years old and would describe myself as friendly, sensitive, not hugely confident, but outgoing and someone who enjoys socialising.

After six years on my own, following the breakdown of a relationship which broke my heart, I am seeing a guy now. He is the loveliest, kindest, most generous, sensitive and hilarious man, who idolises me - his words. He is almost perfect in every way. I should be really happy.

We argue constantly. A week hasn't gone by in the last year without us having serious discussions, or arguments. He was married before and apparently he and his wife never argued. They also divorced very amicably. He is very sensitive which I love, but also hate. The arguments centre around how I treat him. Basically he says I don't respect him or love him enough. In fact I love him dearly, but it never seems to be enough for him.

I come from a very close but non-tactile family, whilst he is very tactile, and over time I had to learn to say how I felt, because otherwise it caused arguments. He fell for me much quicker than I did him. I felt very guilty about that. He reckoned that I hadn't got over my last relationship. I tried to assure him that I had, and that maybe I was just being cautious.

In the early days we argued because I felt he was smothering me. He would text and phone every few hours, and if I didn't sound happy to hear from him, he'd constantly want to know what was wrong, or ask why I didn't want to talk to him. We'd discuss it at length, with me explaining that I wasn't always chirpy in the mornings, or couldn't talk at work, or whatever. I also explained that I didn't want to feel I had to contact him every few hours, but preferred to do so when I felt I wanted to. And I asked him to back off, which he did and all that is now fine.

Three months into our relationship we were discussing a male friend of mine, someone I had known platonically for over twelve years, a man whom all our friends thought I should be with, but whom I never saw as attractive. Except one weekend it did go further, we never mentioned it again, and remained friends. Anyway, we had met this man earlier in the evening, I introduced him to my boyfriend, and they didn't click. During the discussion about him that night I omitted to tell my boyfriend that there had been any intimacy between me and this guy. My boyfriend, however, asked me straight out - and I denied it. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. Yes, I know it was a lie, but I knew how sensitive he was and wanted to spare him - which I'm sure was wrong. He persisted, however, telling me to look him straight in the eye, and I then told him the truth.

I will never forget the look on his face. He went pale and I thought he would die with anger. I felt so bad causing him such pain and apologised, but he wouldn't listen. To this day he says he can't trust me because I lied and can't accept my reason for doing so. He says the whole relationship changed that night. A relationship without trust isn't worth anything - we both know that. We had endless discussions and arguments in which I pointed out that I'm just not the unfaithful type and he sort of acknowledged that he should be able to trust me.

Last weekend, however, we were walking home together in our small town, very happy, and I saw two good looking men who were strangers and just remarked that I wondered who they were. My boyfriend was really offended, said it was a strange thing to ask, and I then frantically tried to find some other reason for my comment because I knew he felt I was only interested because of their looks. In fact the comment just slipped out, because I should have known better, being only too aware of how he would take it.

He hardly spoke for the next hour until I finally prized it out of him that he felt I didn't respect him. He said I also embarrassed him as I was staring at the blokes, that I just couldn't stop myself and that I would never change. He says I'm still single in my head and irresponsible.

I love my boyfriend and want a future with him. But I feel deep down that he will never trust me, that I will always have to watch what I say and do, that I will never be allowed to be me. He's constantly telling me that my actions are rude and thoughtless and careless of his feelings. I know I can be all over the place and say what comes into my head, but I am loyal. At the beginning he used to say that one of the things he loved about me was my enthusiasm. Now it seems that it will end up killing our relationship.

I would be devastated all over again if this relationship ended. But to me something as fundamental as trust is missing and I just don't know what to do. Is there any hope for us?

Your boyfriend has you in the dock. You're constantly having to defend yourself. You are constantly having to prove you love him. You're constantly worried about how he will react - to anything, however small. You're in prison. And your boyfriend has you there.

This isn't about fundamental trust being missing between you. It's about the fact that your boyfriend is in serious emotional trouble - and it's not your fault. He's had this trouble since forever. And by the way, I don't believe for one moment that he never had arguments until he met you. Maybe his ex-wife - and any other ex-girlfriends - didn't fight back. But there was certainly trouble. That's why they're gone.

This isn't about simple jealousy either. Your boyfriend wants total control over you because he wants total attention focussed on him. He's stuck in that infantile stage of human development, where the child still believes that mother must attend to his every mood. The mother isn't seen as a separate person. She's seen as an instrument for the child's need fulfilment. And when she can't, or won't, fulfil those needs, the child is angry, has temper tantrums, and is, of course, also in pain because he's learning a fundamental lesson about frustration tolerance.

That's fine when you're 5 months old, or 15 months old or 25 months old. It's lethal when you're 25 or 35 or 45 or whatever age your boyfriend is. I don't mean to sound the knell of no hope. I do mean that you have to face the fact that you will never be able to appease your boyfriend, never be able to keep him happy, never be able to fix this. Your boyfriend has to fix it himself. He has to accept that he is not the centre of the universe. He's just one of many. And within your relationship, there's not just him. There is you, too, with your own life, job, friends, family, interests.

See what happened in your battle about him ringing you all the time. You stood your ground. The problem eased. In other words, when you didn't play the game, he learned to back off. Hard - not to mention exhausting - as it may sound, you have to do that on every front. This doesn't mean being unloving, or punitive, or cheesed off all the time. It involves determined and patient and unrelenting repetition of the simple truth: Everything isn't about him. You have a life too.

Please understand, this isn't about trust. This isn't about you proving that you love him. This is about your boyfriend learning to love himself, to grow up, to understand that you're not there to be an all-singing, all-dancing, all-loving mother, but a human being who needs him to love her, to be there for her, to be grown up enough to share life's burdens with her, and life's joys.

Stop allowing yourself to be emotionally blackmailed. Firm up your sense of yourself. Face down the fear of losing him. Be kind and loving, but refuse to play along. And then see if he loves you enough to change. Because you can't fix your boyfriend's deep insecurity and fear. He has to do that for himself.

Her Sexual Past

I'm in a relationship for the past two years. During this time, my girlfriend has brought to my attention that in the past she's had sex with my uncle, who is only a few years older than I am, and with my cousin, who is slightly younger. I am having a real problem dealing with this. I often find myself envisioning situations which are very disturbing to me about the sexual experiences they had together.

I really love this girl and she is very wonderful. But this really does kill me and it is starting to play a major role in our relationship, with me being bad-humoured and withdrawn. I badly need some ideas on how I can possibly cope with this nightmare.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a friend who explained to me that there is such a thing as an unmanageable situation. Put plainly, there are some situations which are beyond us, things we simply haven't the power to change. This can be due to us and the limits of our ability to cope. Or it can be due to the nature of the situation itself. For example, try as we might, we can't make someone else happy.
For you this relationship is a nightmare. You love a wonderful girl, but her sexual past is too close to the knuckle for you. It's important that you recognise this is not a moral judgment you're making. This is about your capacity to handle an emotionally complicated situation. And it is emotionally complicated. It's one thing for a partner to have a past. It's another thing entirely for that past to be living, quite literally, in the bosom of your family.

The point I'm making is that you're not wrong to find this hard. In other words, you must at least give yourself permission to say that it's all too much. You don't have to be able to cope with it. You don't have to make such demands on yourself. I know you love this girl. But sometimes we have to walk away from what we want because the price we're paying is simply too great. Sometimes loving someone is an unmanageable situation because of the baggage that comes with that loving.

No, I'm not telling you to end your relationship. Sometimes admitting that it's all too much is enough to take the pressure off. If you allow yourself to be sexually jealous, that can take much of the sting out of it. I mean, have you talked to your girlfriend about this? Have you told her how tortured you are? Or do you think you're a wimp for feeling this way and therefore hide all your feelings, letting them seep out as bad humour instead? Are you living the lie of being a happy liberal, who can take everything in his stride? That's not a good idea you know. Far better to let your girlfriend see how troubled you are, so you can face this, together.

On the other hand, it's possible that you won't get past this. And all I'm saying is that that is OK. All of us have limits to our tolerance. Knowing those limits can save us - and everyone around us - a life-time of unhappiness.

I'm Afraid Of His Moods

I'm a single mother and have been living with my boyfriend for nearly four years. I have been a loyal girlfriend and have done all I can and I thought we were going good. I mean, we bought a house, and while the loan is in his name, the title deed of the house is in both our names. He also bought me a car, in both our names.
He used to always want to have me around, but for the past week or se he has been acting strange and making up excuses to fight. The issues are all little things, which could be solved just by talking, but instead he chooses to be angry. I don't know what to do. I've tried to talk to him, not accusing him of anything but just asking him to talk to me, and telling him how I feel. But then he just gets mad and says I'm insecure. I'm lost and need help.

I've no idea what's going on in your boyfriend's head. I do know what's going on in yours. You're terrified. Or as your boyfriend put it, you're insecure. I'm sure he said it in anger, or exasperation, made it an accusation. Please believe me, I'm not doing that. It's just a fact. Look at you. Your boyfriend is in bad humour for a week or so and you're so scared you're counting everything that connects you contractually. You're also frantically examining your conscience so you can say to yourself that you've been a good girl.
You're in trouble, and it's got nothing to do with your boyfriend's current run of ill-temper. All that has done is highlight the stark reality that you're living on a knife-edge of insecurity. Seen positively, it's important this bout of bad temper happened. It's forced you to look at how you really feel. You're so frightened this relationship might fall apart. Why?

Some of us are chronically insecure, born of a bad childhood experiences. When we love someone, we latch onto them emotionally. We need their constant approval and closeness, can't bear the separation that comes with an argument. We also presume that if they are in bad form, it's automatically to do with us, convinced we've done something wrong. Or even if we haven't, we fear they will simply dump us, suddenly, out of nowhere. We just can't cope with any emotional distance.

Is that you? Did childhood leave you fearful of not being loved, with no internal sense of security, convinced that someone could simply leave you, just like that? If so, you need to see a good therapist, because you've an emotional job of work to do on yourself, clearing out past damage and getting a better sense of yourself and your worth. You see, most women would either wonder what was wrong with their partners, maybe even be worried about them, or just be cheesed off at unexplained crankiness. Sure, a wife might be upset, saddened by the withdrawal, uncomfortable with the atmosphere. She would not be frantically looking at the bonds which tie herself and her husband together. Do you understand the difference?

We can also walk ourselves into emotionally compromising situations. A typical scenario might be that your boyfriend believes you should be a stay at home mum, you give in, and feel depressed and lost and dependent. You've done something that suits him, not you. Or perhaps he's a man who does all the money-managing, indeed all the practical living decisions, leaving you floating in an uncertainty born of being sidelined as an adult, or treated like a child. Or maybe you've agreed to being dragged off to a new country, or just generally dislodged from your circle of family and friends, and hence have become emotionally dependent.
Is that you? In that scenario you've just been knocked off course and need to reassess your life choices, take back an appropriate level of control, do things you need to do in order to feel secure. This doesn't necessarily mean turning your life upside down. Sometimes it just means actively accepting that you chose to agree with your boyfriend's plans, and now you have to make a go of it.

The bottom line is that you can't live with this fear. It's too painful. It also puts a strain on your relationship. Being that emotionally needy will just burden your boyfriend, leaving him feel he has no space to manoeuvre, and hence make things infinitely worse. It also means that you're permanently one-down, which doesn't make for happiness either. Take a deep breath, and start examining what's going on in your head and heart. In saying that, I'm not blaming you. This, as you know, is a blame-free zone. I'm saying you have the power to change things. Do it.

Flirting Eyes

I'm a guy who is having a problem with a wandering eye. Not because I don't love the lady I'm with, but more because I cannot help it. Eyeing up other women is an unconscious action. I have tried to look for something to help, but what I keep getting is that men are dogs and should never be allowed to exist if we do this.

I do wish I could stop and never look at any woman other than the one I love. But, to be honest, I don't know where to start. I have tried, but then slipped back into the old habit. It makes for a lot of rough times in my relationship.

Whatever happened to looking at both sides of the problem? Sure guys like me are doing the looking. But are we doing it as a way of getting at the woman we love? Is it really a problem? That argument gets me nowhere of course. So I'm back to trying to find a way of stopping this wandering eye before I lose the woman who is my world.

Let's slow down here. You're not going to lose the woman you love because you eye other women up. A girlfriend might not like it, but a roving eye, in and of itself, never sent any relationship into a tailspin. It could, of course, be a trigger for a break-up. Or it might even be an excuse. But in that scenario, other far more fundamental issues would certainly be at work.

A work colleague of mine used to argue that he measured his daily stress levels by the number of attractive women he noticed. High stress, no roving eye, he reckoned. Unsophisticated perhaps, but he had a point. When we stop responding to sexual stimuli we're dead, even if our hearts are still beating. I suspect this may be particularly true of men, but it's basically true of everyone. That doesn't make men dogs, it makes them human.

Bad manners, however, is an entirely different thing. If your girlfriend is talking to you in a restaurant and you're obviously checking out the talent instead of listening, that's just plain bad manners. It may also signal a problematic shortcoming, namely poor listening skills. Eye-contact is an essential part of good communication. Looking at the football on TV over her shoulder while she tells you of her troubles is not the path to happiness. It's an emotional impoverishment on your part. It's also disrespectful. And it's basically the same thing as paying attention to other women at your girlfriend's expense.

This is not a feminist statement. Women do it too. Only they look at themselves in the mirror, or go on sweeping the floor, or allow their minds and their gaze wander to other tasks, or yes, check out the talent - when you want tea and sympathy and intelligent attention to something that is seriously bothering you at work.

Like most things in life, it's a matter of measure, a question of the extent of the behaviour, rather than the behaviour itself. It's good you're a full-blooded male. It's bad if you lose the run of yourself and act like a child in a sweetshop. Occasional glances rather than a constantly swivelling head would be more dignified, and certainly more courteous. You're a grown man aren't you? You can do that.

Is The Baby Mine?

My ex-girlfriend and I met at work. I'm not big-headed, but I knew there was an attraction there right from the start. I found out she had a two-year-old daughter, which was not a problem. But she had also been in a bad relationship with her child's father, which had only recently ended. Basically she was beaten up. She told me a lot of the stories, in graphic detail. And she'd had earlier bad relationships too. The stories were backed up by what I heard on the grapevine. And this was all before we even went out together.

I have to admit that I did have reservations about going out with a person who had that kind of history. Alarm bells went off in my head about staying away from this girl. It was not the perfect start to our relationship. In fact I backed out of several dates. Sounds selfish of me, I know. Eventually we did get together and I was immediately happy that I'd finally made the decision to put all her old stuff aside and give this girl a chance. I thought she deserved it. I did fancy her and I genuinely liked her. It was just her past I was afraid of.

We went out for four months. I never saw her at the weekend which I found difficult to handle. She knew this and we had an argument about it every week. Finally she broke it off with me, saying I was putting too much pressure on her. But she had already totally changed as a person. She was bitchy and vindictive and everything I said or did was wrong. She didn't make a clean break. She still wanted to be friends, still said that maybe it was just temporary, you know the score. And I couldn't understand why she was being so cruel to me.

We were never great when it came to protection, and last week she told me she was pregnant. She also said it wasn't mine. She'd already told me she'd been with someone else since we broke up. I don't believe her and I think the baby is mine. Why would she tell me about the pregnancy if it wasn't mine? When I said I wanted a paternity test, she was angry, saying I only ever thought of myself. But her story doesn't add up. It also appears that I can't have a paternity test until the baby is born. And she tells me she really wishes the baby were mine.

What am I supposed to do? I'm 33, my ex-girlfriend is 30, and I live at home with my parents, and have very few friends. My job prospects aren't great and I rarely go out as I've always found it hard to communicate. Should I believe my ex-girlfriend when she says the baby isn't mine and just tell myself that I've had a lucky escape and am clear of her? Because life with her was complicated. Shortly before we split up, her ex-boyfriend went round to her place again one weekend and beat her up - and there was nothing I could do.

You're a lonely man who found an attractive woman. Isn't that the emotional bottom-line? Yes, I know you had reservations about her, but you were also delighted, and wanted to be with her, despite all the difficulties. You were happy to have her in your life.

I have no idea what your woman friend was doing or thinking or feeling. But she had found a nice bloke in you hadn't she? You listened to her, loved her, and wanted to be with her. You were very different from that knock-her-about boyfriend of hers. You were her friend. Clearly, however, it wasn't what she wanted. Well, she didn't want the intimate sexual romance bit anyway. She did want you to continue as a friend, though, a decent shoulder to cry on.

Be careful about fantasies. You ask me why this woman told you about the pregnancy if the baby isn't yours. The answer to that is easy. She sees you as that shoulder to cry on. Let me ask you a question in return. If it was your baby, why wouldn't she tell you? Why would she hide the fact? You're a good bloke. You'd do the right thing by her.

Be careful, too, about hope. It's possible that you want this baby to be yours because you hope it will tie this woman to you. Maybe it would. But it wouldn't necessarily bring back the romance. It could, instead, mean financial responsibilities, a lot of grief, and no joy. On the other hand, of course, if you conceived a child then you're responsible for its welfare aren't you? Tread carefully.

Is He The One?

I am finding it hard to decide if I'm with the right person, even though I've invested a lot of effort in the last few years. I wake up with a sense of unease in the mornings. He used to flirt and that has stopped. After I caught him sending 'kisses' to people on an adult site, he said he realises that he was close to losing me and has stopped doing that too. My main problem, which remains, is that he becomes sulky and sullen, or even nasty, when we argue about any issue I raise.

The bottom line is that I still don't feel I'm being treated with respect because of the way he talks to me. I feel I'm a play-thing, constantly being laughed at for being a clown. I have noticed his mother putting herself down and berating herself in a joking way over the smallest things, like having too many tissues in her pocket. So I'm wondering if the way my partner treats me has something to do with his upbringing. He also teases my family mercilessly, which they take good- naturedly for my sake.

I don't feel emotionally supported, especially when I'm having a tough time at work and would like someone in my corner. I'm not sure if the relationship is worth more effort. I am now thirty and would like to have children one day.

We sometimes miss the fact that there are real cultural differences between families - even when they seem similar in terms of money, faith and class. Some families shout at each other and make up quickly. Others carry grudges, sulk and don't speak. Some talk things out, maybe even to excess. Others are happy clappy, pretending all is well when it most definitely is not. Some tease each other, make a lot of 'put-down' jokes, or tell the truth bluntly. Others pussy-foot around, send hints, leave each other guessing, avoid saying anything straight. Put another way, families handle their differences differently.

We underestimate how difficult it is when such cultural backgrounds clash in a relationship. You tell me that self-critical jokes, teasing you, and laughing at you, are all part of the way your boyfriend handles togetherness. It's clearly not yours. This doesn't automatically mean he's lacking in love for you. It does mean you feel unloved, unsupported and disrespected. There's a sizeable communication gap between you.

Communication in a relationship isn't about talking really. It's about emotional messages. A very short story: I had a grandmother whom my sister and I visited every Saturday and who never stopped scolding. She'd meet us at the gate asking if our mother ever washed us, complaining about how we had straggled up the street looking like orphans. As she cut into the second apple tart for our tea, she'd give out about how much we ate, pointing out that she'd have to bake one again for Sunday - you get the picture. And we knew she adored us.

You and I could spend a long time talking about why. The point is, we're programmed very early in life to hear how we're loved. For some, words are love. For others it's taking out the bins - or as in my grandmother's case, fixing and feeding and tending to our needs. A man might move heaven and earth to please us, yet leave us lonely. What I'm saying is someone can love us greatly, and it's no use. We can't hear it, feel it, experience it.

No, that's not necessarily a death sentence for your relationship. We can learn different emotional languages. Your mind, if you like, can override your instinctive negative response to teasing, understand that your boyfriend loves you, and allow you to feel cherished. But we can only do that up to a point.

You have to decide when that point has been reached. It's not good that your impression of your relationship is largely one of you making a huge investment, trying really hard, working at it. Where's the joy? On top of that, that sense of constant effort means that every time your boyfriend fails you - like sending kisses on some 'adult' computer site - it becomes an even bigger issue than it is. You don't see he stopped because he loves you and you asked him. You see it as one more problem on top of everything else. Do you understand?

Yes, it is decision-time, at least sometime soon. Thirty is a turning point, for marriage, for babies, for future endeavours. Even more importantly, you've been together several years, so this is not some snap decision. No, that doesn't mean you have to panic. All relationships are an effort in getting it right. Sometimes, however, that effort can be too great, the rewards to few, the emotional loneliness too unbearable. Think about it. But concentrate on yourself, not your boyfriend. It's not about him doing things well or badly. It's about whether you are getting enough solace to survive. Remember, he could be the most wonderful man in the world and still not do it for you.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design