Patricia Redlich

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Control Freak Boyfriend Wants Marriage


I have been dating this guy for over two years now. I broke up with him early in the relationship because I couldn't stand his behaviour. He was a control freak and used to threaten to commit suicide if I left him. Well I did leave for four months, and then went back again. He told me he'd changed and I believed him because I was still in love with him.

We were only together again for a couple of months when he had to go away on business. Before he left, he set up a system on my phone so that we could chat on a daily basis while he was gone. What I didn't realise was that it also allowed him to see who else I was talking to. I only found out when he got so angry that he confronted me with some comments I made to a friend.

But there are rules for me, and rules for him. I found nude photos of a woman on his phone. When I confronted him he said it was his ex-girlfriend and he had no idea how the photos could still be there. I also found out that he was chatting, very intimately, with a wide range of people I didn't know, and doing so behind my back. And all this time he was controlling every conversation I had. He still checks all my sent items, delivery reports, dialled calls etc. And I have to report all my movements, even something as simple as going to the shops. In fact, I have to let him know in advance, as though I needed his permission.

Now he wants to marry me and I believe that if I agree, then I'll be digging my own grave. He is unable to control his jealousy and the chances are that he will never change. He doesn't help me with things like carrying luggage or heavy shopping bags, and certainly doesn't help domestically. He's also mean with money. When he buys something, I have to share the cost, but when it's the other way around, he's broke. He always claims he loves me, but it doesn't feel that way. I don't believe he'll ever see things the way I see them.

I need help. I'm so caught up in my boyfriend's chaos. Sometimes I feel he is obsessed with me. I don't know how to sort this issue out. Sometimes I still want him, but a lot of the time I don't. Because really, I have had enough of him and his stories and his endlessly controlling behaviour. Now it's my turn to distrust him - which I never did before. And we fight over the smallest things. I don't think it helps that he's from a different culture, an immigrant, although he has totally legal status here.

Well no, it probably doesn't help. It is easy to make a judgment call and say someone is a control freak when they share our cultural norms, but step outside its boundaries. What you seem to be up against is a completely different approach to women - at least it's a distinct possibility. In that situation, you are battling not with one human being who has somehow lost his way, but with a complete culture. And you won't win.

Even if this is not the case, and your boyfriend's behaviour has nothing to do with his cultural background, you probably won't win. And by winning I mean being happy. Not only is this man contolling, he's not nice to you either. He doesn't even financially pull his weight, let alone support you. I can't see any kindness there, let alone love. So yes, digging your own grave sounds about right. That's what marriage to him would mean.

Knowing the sensible thing to do is very different than actually doing it. We could talk about your boyfriend forever. The real issue is why you stay with him, what's holding you in there, and what can be done about it. How, in other words, can you dodge that grave you're threatening to dig for yourself. I don't know the answer, of course, but to help you find it, here are some suggestions. All of us are scared of loneliness. We're also scared of not being loved. Sometimes that drives us into the very scenario we fear most. There is no lonelier place on this planet than a marriage to someone who treats you badly. The key to avoiding that is hope - the hope that we will find someone good to share our lives with. What helps us hope is self-esteem. Thinking well of yourself means you steer well away from damaging partners because you believe you are worthy of better treatment - and because you also believe you'll find it. Self-esteem, if you like, protects us from despair. Think about it.

Rape Left Me Scarred


I'm a 32 year old woman who would dearly love to find a partner. But relationships with the opposite sex don't seem to work. I'm told I'm attractive, and often have guys asking for my number, but somehow it seldom seems to go anywhere. I had one serious relationship lasting three years with a man I truly loved and was heartbroken when it ended. That was four years ago. I've had several 'liaisons' since, all lasting only a couple of months and none of them very serious. I have a great job and good friends, but still feel something is missing. My belief seems to be that if I were in a proper relationship, my life would fall into place. Logically, of course, I know this is not necessarily the case and happiness is found within, not through another person.

I have been in counselling for a year now. I sought help when I realised that I had never fully recovered from being raped a decade ago. The counselling has helped me let go of all the bad feelings about the rape, and has led me to examine other areas of my life. All of this has been hugely beneficial to my emotional well-being and I now deal much better with life in general. Certainly I am more in touch with my emotions and more accepting of myself and others.

One question haunts me. Is there something I am doing wrong? Am I in some way preventing potential relationships from working, some residual anger or defensiveness perhaps? Or could it be that I simply haven't met the right person yet?

Of course something is missing. You would like to have a loving relationship, meet that someone special, build a life together, share life's joys and vicissitudes. Why wouldn't you want to do that? You're not looking for someone to solve your life. You're looking for someone to enhance it. Don't knock yourself for wanting something so natural and normal.

No, you are not doing anything wrong. But yes, you may be preventing potential relationships - although not, perhaps, quite the way you might think. I'll explain later. What's important is that you don't knock yourself about that either. Being self-protective, tentative, slow to trust and anxious is appropriate. And it is essential that you love yourself enough to have patience with your wounded self. Rape doesn't just make us wary, or acutely aware of our vulnerability. It also ignites great anger and outrage. And yes, it can take time for us to avoid generalising that anger to all men and learn, instead, to reserve it for the perpetrator.

More subtly, and powerfully, rape can lead us to question ourselves. At a conscious level we know someone else committed an act of violence against us. The perpetrator is the guilty one. But deep down lies a buried fear that perhaps we invited it, or even worse, deserved it. It's not true, of course. But that's the awful thing about violence. In the subterranean areas of our unconscious, it can feed into a low sense of personal worth, and strengthen it. So many of us feel we are lesser beings because we were raped. And have to learn to deal with those feelings, and ditch them, because they are so completely untrue.

I know the rape was 10 years ago. But a year in counselling is a very short time, and until then the damage lay buried and largely untouched. Go gently with yourself. Take relationships as slowly as you need in order to feel comfortable. Don't try to hurry or hassle yourself. If you are sabotaging potential relationships, then you are more than likely doing so by trying to push yourself, trying, in short, to be a different person - and in the process becoming inauthentic. You don't have to explain to anyone that you were raped. You do have to pace yourself, and be true to yourself. You were wounded. That has left you with a variety of feelings. Respect them, and they will ease away, leaving you with a memory of something awful, but only that, a memory. And don't for a moment doubt that you will find the right man. Because you will.

Thinking Of Sex With A Good Friend


I have not had any intimate relations with my wife for more than five years. We have discussed it, but to no avail. Although she says she still loves me, the thought of having sex is something she finds abhorrent. I have considered using the services of a prostitute, but I don't think that's a road I want to go down. A long-time female friend of mine, who is aware of my situation, would not be adverse to us getting together from time to time, with no strings attached. Should I take this path? Or am I getting in over my head?

I suppose it depends on what sex actually means to you. And to your woman friend. And to you wife, if she finds out - and she probably will.

Let me say it differently. What, exactly, are you offering your lady friend? And what, exactly, are you expecting to get? Sex fitted into your existing time-frame for friendship? More time with her? Nights away, weekends, holidays perhaps? Will this, in other words, be an expanded relationship - at least at a time level? You are already intimate friends. How will this differ from marriage when you add in sex? Why, in other words, will you be settling for a secret affair with a friend, rather than an open relationship? What does she lack that you don't want to go all the way?

The questions you have to ask yourself don't end there. What does your marriage mean to you? What does your wife mean to you? What, in fact, does your life mean to you. You're contemplating an affair, secrets, the breaking of trust, disloyalty. Where does that leave your self-respect? Is it money, social standing, family ties that hold you? And where - if anywhere - is love?

Your wife has broken her marriage vows. She's not ill, apparently, or distraught with grief, or suffering in any obvious way. This is not, therefore, a simple question of accepting life's adversities. You have to work it out together. What does she expect of you? Abstinence because she, inexplicably, now finds sex abhorrent? Don't you see, you have to handle this together. You both have to deal with the reality your wife has created. She has withdrawn from a central element of her marriage with the damaging, discourteous, dismissive and profoundly unkind declaration that sex is no longer on the agenda. You have to face that down. So has she.

My Husband Hit Me


We have been happily married for over 12 years and have four lovely children. I always thought we had a solid marriage as my partner is a very good husband and father. We would hate to ever get to a situation where we would separate, mainly as we value marriage and never want to hurt our children. I came from a broken home and my father is an alcoholic. My husband, for his part, is not close to his family. He just feels he has little in common with them. But he has a good job, as have all his siblings.

Last weekend, my husband lost his temper with me and physically assaulted me. I was shocked that he resorted to this behaviour and was left bruised and emotionally shaken. I had three strands of thought after it happened - ring the Gardai, contact a solicitor, ring Accord, the relationship counselling service. I did the latter and am waiting for an appointment. I obviously love my husband, but would not put up with that. It was very out of character for him as he is normally very relaxed, and is liked by everyone. I confided in a friend and she, too, was shocked, both by the marks left on my back and arms, and the fact that he did it.

I would describe him as a deep, non-emotional person. He never discusses how he feels and I don't think he is able to. As far as I am aware he was not abused as a child, nor had anything bad happen to him. I feel sick to think that he shows traits which remind me of my father. This remark really annoys him and he says he is nothing like my father. He does like a drink, and when he goes out he really goes to town. He sees nothing wrong with his drinking, but it really bothers me as it certainly reminds me of my father. I hate people when they are drunk, even though my husband would be described as a happy drunk.

We have talked about what happened and he doesn't know why he did it and is shocked about it. But this wasn't the first time he exploded and used his strength on me - I recall about 3 or 4 incidents over a 15-year period. This was the first time he left marks. I think he is weak to resort to physically hurting me just because he can't handle an argument. He has no memories of his parents ever fighting. I, on the other hand, grew up in a house full of hostility and loud rows. I obviously provoke him, but why couldn't he just walk away? What kind of person does that make him? Am I bad for him? I know my demons as I've had counselling because of my background. I put a lot into my marriage as I want to be happy, and I want my children to be happy and secure. I'd hate them to come from a broken home.

Unless I do something, or lead the way, I thing my husband would just leave it be. I have said it will be a long road back and that I want us to go to a professional to talk about our problems. He doesn't see why this is necessary, but I am adamant. I refuse to push this under the carpet, but it is very hard when you are dealing with a non-emotive stubborn person. He is going to come with me, but I wonder if it will make any difference. Can you make some sense of all this? I don't want to make a big thing of it, but on the other hand, I don't want to trivialise it either.

Let's get one thing straight. Yes, you may well have provoked your husband during an argument with some comment or action or failure to respond. You did not, most emphatically, provoke him into physical aggression. You are not responsible for the fact that he physically assaulted you. How he responds to any provocation - be it from you, or from life generally, or from some other specific person like an erratic driver on the road - that is his responsibility and his alone. Provocation is always there - in some shape or form. How we respond is down to us. Your husband physically assaulted you. That is unacceptable. It is also in no way, shape, or form, your fault. You have no case to answer. Your husband has.

Yes, of course you are right. You need to see a professional 'outsider'. You need objective feedback. And yes, I think it is significant that your husband doesn't see why you should bother with counselling. He doesn't want to confront the truth, which is that he must change. That said, I don't think you're entirely facing the truth either. This isn't a question of background, or upbringing, or the fact that your husband saw no violence in his home while you did in yours. The point is, your husband decided to use physical force on you. He has been violent to you. And the whole truth is that this is not the first time. Look at what you've told me.

This is not your fault. The responsibility lies squarely with him.

Alcohol is also an issue which has to be clarified. Yes, I understand that you may be over-sensitive to the whole question of drinking. On the other hand, a happy drunk is still a drunk. And getting drunk on a regular basis is really not on. You also haven't clarified to what extent drinking plays a role in your husband's physical violence - if any. Either way, the issue of alcohol has to be raised too. Maybe you have to ditch some of your fears. Maybe he has to drink less. Maybe it will be a bit of both. It needs to be sorted.

And you have to talk about emotional intimacy too. If you describe your husband as unemotional, and someone who never discusses his feelings, that probably means you feel lonely in your marriage. It may also mean that rows become the substitute for real communication. Which is something you will both have to work on.

You've shown great courage and wisdom. I hope you are proud of yourself.

Husband More Like A Father


I'm 33 years old and have been married for four years, but we've actually been together for ten years. We have no children and I have no desire to have any.

I had a tough childhood, with an abusive father. My mother died when I was in my early '20's and soon afterwards I met hubby. Although there was no physical attraction from my side, he was the only person to be there for me. He has a beautiful heart, is very loving and caring, and although he was my first boyfriend, and I didn't feel sexually attracted to him, I thought marriage was the natural thing since he was my soul-mate. I was also very vulnerable at the time.

The emotional terrors have passed and I now feel I am ready to take on the world, but find myself trapped in my marriage. My hubby seems to have lost his libido around the time we got married. Sex was infrequent after the wedding, and then stopped entirely two years ago. He seems willing to do something about it, for my sake, but I don't actually want him to since I still don't find him attractive. I did have a short affair recently, but came clean to him about it, we nearly separated, but I couldn't go through with it when I saw how broken-hearted he was.

I feel hubby acts like he's 60 years old, although he is only a year older than I am. He is more like a good companion to me and makes me feel I am living with a nice father who looks after me well and provides for me. I, on the other hand, feel like a teen trapped in a 33 year old body and yes, I do enjoy sex, and would like to experiment more, but not with hubby.

I just want to be free and live life, but at the same time it is difficult to throw away such a great hubby who has helped me so much. And ten years is a long time to be with someone. It would be very sad to part, and of course I don't want to break his heart again.
You did, effectively, marry a kind father, someone you are still not sexually attracted to. How is this for him? You say he's lost his libido, at 34 years of age. Don't you see that this could well be a response to your lack of interest? That his libido is not lost, but displaced, for two reasons. At a conscious level, he feels your disinterest and retreats. At an unconscious level he's aware that he's really a daddy to you and feels uncomfortable with that dynamic?

Yes, he would be broken hearted if you broke up. But would his heart mend after a while? Isn't it possible that you're holding him back from finding someone who would really love him, as the kind and loving man he is? Put another way, is he trapped too? Are you hanging in there really because you fear removing the safety net? And if so, is that kind? These are only questions, of course. I don't know the answers. But you do. Think about it.

I Couldn't Forgive Husband's Affair


Four years ago, when I was 50, I discovered that my husband was having an affair with a woman 15 years his junior. I felt so hurt, angry, betrayed, humiliated, let down. We had been married for 25 years and I thought it was a happy marriage. We did everything together, got on well, we had fun. We had five great children, the youngest of whom was 18 when all this happened. While my husband had been saying for a few months that he didn't feel the same about our relationship, and other such vague things, I had no inkling that an affair was going on.
He eventually told me about the affair when I challenged him about being distant. The marriage was over then as far as I was concerned. I knew I could never trust him again, so he moved out, and has been living with this other woman ever since. He didn't want to try and work it out anyway. He was besotted with this woman. It cast a shadow over my whole life with him. I doubted everything. I doubted myself. What had our whole marriage been about?

I refused to talk to my husband. I just felt totally disgusted with him. We communicated only by text and email. Throughout our marriage he was always kind, loving, gentle, easy to get on with. After we split up, he defended what he did in the most callous fashion, saying that he 'just fell in love', that he felt he didn't belong in our marriage any more, that we should just move on. He also found fault with me on so many fronts. It was like it was all my doing. And because I wouldn't meet him or speak to him, he called me bitter. He allowed me no time for grief, no time to sort my head out, and showed no understanding of what he had done.

A year ago I felt able to meet him and I expected him to take charge of the situation and apologise to me for what he had done. While he had apologised in writing, I needed him to say it to me. I needed to see that he meant it. While he was very upset, the meeting didn't go as I had hoped. It didn't help me. He did say that all his earlier complaints about our marriage had been lies, and that he had had the affair because he was flattered that this woman was interested in him, it made him feel good, that he was weak and - worst of all - he said he thought it would fizzle out, and that I would never have to know about it and we could have just lived happily ever after. He also said that he wished he had never done it, that he didn't fully think it through.

One year on from that conversation and I still find it impossible to forgive my husband. To be honest, I don't want to. I don't feel bitter anymore, but I want nothing to do with him. Is this wrong?

Secondly, and far harder, my children have refused to speak to my husband since the break-up. One of them works near him and simply passes him in the street. They were very upset by what happened, it seemed totally out of character and they were gutted. They were also embarrassed by the fact that his girlfriend is so close to their age - only six years older than our eldest daughter. I have spoken to them, but they say they don't want him in their lives. Over the years I tried to get him to call to the house and see them, but he refused, on the grounds that he didn't want a confrontation. He says he constantly gave them - and still gives them - the opportunity to meet him, and says there is no more he can do. And he claims he is heartbroken about it all.

I worry about the effect this is having on the children. They are great people, have successful careers, coped well. But he is their father and they loved him so much, it must be hard for them. And I have to say that he was always a very good father, very involved in their lives - which makes the situation even more difficult to understand.

I don't know what to do, wonder even if I have a role to play. I could now cope with having to deal with my husband's presence. He used to blame me for the children's refusal to speak to him, even though I always encouraged them to do so. He has stopped blaming me. But he's still not getting to see them.

First of all, your children are adults. They will ultimately do whatever they want to do. It is their responsibility. That said, you did, of course, influence their attitude and undoubtedly still do. You didn't - and still don't - forgive your husband. That rubs off.

Children take sides. Yes, of course, they were upset, for their own sakes, when their father found a younger woman. But that upset merged with yours. Your suggestion over the years that they meet their dad in your home cut no ice. Your husband is right. It was hostile territory. Not really an option. Anyway, this move on your part faded into nothingness compared with your firmly held position that he was a monster. It certainly didn't relieve the children of their sense of shared pain, their feeling that what happened to you also happened to them. Although of course it didn't. You were cheated on. They weren't.

Forgiveness is entirely in your hands. I can't comment on that, and don't think there is any right or wrong. It's an entirely personal decision. There is, however, a difference between deciding not to forgive a husband who has wronged you, and asking the world to share your stance. Yes, I know you haven't asked your kids to shun their father. But when it comes to marital breakdown, you have to take a further step and encourage children - even grown-up ones - to separate their pain from yours. In fact you have to do that right across the social spectrum, with extended family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours - the lot. Otherwise people feel honour bound to take sides - and the scorched earth policy spreads.

It is truly terrible that your child passes a good father in the street - albeit one who cheated on his mother. And no, the fact that he has since said how sorry he is doesn't make it all OK. But surely his track record as a loving father must count for something. And surely there has to be some measure in the punishment we meet out. Like I said, everyone has to do it their way, and the children are adults. But yes, you are right, carrying around that kind of anger must be emotionally corrosive. Maybe you could talk to them again.

Sex Only Way To Keep Him Sweet


We are married nearly 30 years. My beloved has always had good core values, is very hardworking, honest, faithful, and a real family man. Socially he is outgoing, charming, witty. At home he can be very moody, is easily stressed, touchy, defensive, restless, driven, judgmental, impatient, and can get angry easily. He will not address any of this, even at the level of stress management. He has always been like this.

Recently I've noticed a pattern of behaviour which I missed over the years, since I was always so busy dealing with the latest crisis. There is a strong correlation between our sex life and his 'mood swings'. For a couple of days after a bit of 'hanky panky' he's on a high, full of affection, full of chat, literally smothering me with love. Then, inevitably, the bubble bursts, quite suddenly, and it's like he's a different person, withdrawn, unloving, in bad humour. And he will not, or cannot, snap out of this sulk until I humour him with the next 'hanky panky'. And so the cycle continues. I mentioned this to him, treading very carefully, but it just triggered another cycle of silence and resentment which lasted for weeks, blowing everything I said out of all proportion and leaving me wondering if I should have kept my mouth shut. He generally feels insecure and anxious, and on the rare occasions when I confront him, as gently as I can, he automatically gets defensive, will not listen, becomes irrational, and there is no reasoning with him, no matter what the issue is. I'm left feeling drained and exasperated.

In the last couple of years the 'mood swings' have become worse, and more prolonged. The silences can last months. Perhaps the phrase 'mood swings' is wrong, since the silences are aimed only at me. He shuts me out of his life. When he is socialising, he is the life and soul of the party. We then sleep in separate bedrooms - his idea ironically. And in the last few months, these silences have sunk to an even more unacceptable level, his anger is palpable, he can be deliberately rude, making no effort at all to be even half-civilised, barely answering any question.

I confront him occasionally and at one point I asked him did he want me to pack my bags and leave. He said no, but didn't change his behaviour. And he never seems to see that he has done anything wrong. So, for peace sake, I usually end up doing all the apologising, he's off the hook, and we're soon back to square one. I know I'm no saint. I can be controlling and over the years I have mostly called the shots when it comes to sex, so much so that my husband always leaves the initiation of intimacy to me. When he is down and withdrawn, I am down too and don't feel comfortable in my own home. And then, to break the ensuing silence, I eventually muster up the moral strength to try and forgive him and initiate sex. But I know it's only a temporary fix. I feel so battered and heart-broken.

I need a daily sprinkling of basic unconditional respect and niceness and sex takes second place. For my husband, however, love is conditional. He needs sex first and then I will be rewarded with a couple of days of normal affection, but it's only temporary and limited. I am honestly not sure if he is simply ill and cannot help the way he is, or whether he is just so self-absorbed and immature that he is clueless, or perhaps just cold, calculating and manipulative. After 30 years you would imagine I should know, but I don't. I'm not good at socialising, haven't got much self-esteem and feel so lonely.
How terrible for your husband to be trapped in the emotional world of a two-year-old. And how terrible for you to be so psychologically dependent on such a vulnerable man-child. He needs constant positive attention. And requires you to read his needs, without him articulating them. He also needs to be regularly rewarded with sexual intimacy, because that's when he feels you are close and approving - the nearest he can get to being in a mother's arms. He's a hopelessly insecure human being who cannot bear any form of feedback, let alone outright criticism, and who is therefore shut out from any chance of change. You, for your part, depend on his positive mood to feel good, not just about yourself, but about life. You, too, need the closeness. As you say yourself, you need a daily sprinkle of niceness. And you've no real emotional life outside your marriage to help stabilise you when your husband is off on his punishment routine of emotional withdrawal.

Yes, it's a tangled web of mutual dependency, which we can't possibly untangle here. All I can do is paint part of the picture. The only way out is to break the cycle of dependency. And since we cannot change others, you have to concentrate on changing yourself, somehow hoisting yourself out of your dependency. Difficult as it may seem, you have to start finding a life outside your relationship. It doesn't have to involve serious socialising. What we're talking about is finding some way of comforting yourself, of creating an oasis of calm to which you can retreat. At the moment you keep comforting your husband because you need comfort yourself. So you buy into his moods.

There is, of course, no point in punishing your husband. That's just another form of control. And your task is to relinquish control - in a wide range of situations. You need to move into 'dumb blond' mode, if I'm allowed to use that awful cliché, or just friendly, loving vagueness. Do you understand? Your husband punishes you with his moods because he sees you as the arbiter of his happiness. You have to hand him back the responsibility for his wellbeing, on every front. You have to stop playing the game. Let him break his diet, wear the wrong tie, forget that important appointment, make a mess of some communication with the kids - whatever it is, get out.

That, of course, is a tall order, but entirely necessary. And of course you are exhausted. Go to a good therapist and get support. You'll need it.

Our Sex Life Has Stopped


My wife and I have been married for 30 years and about 15 years ago, our sex life went away. My wife said it was because it hurt her. And she had no desire for sex. I might be able to understand that, but the real problem is that she got offended and angry at me if I tried to discuss it. I don't know exactly what is wrong, and she won't talk to me about it. During the past 15 years I have been rejected several times just for asking her to talk to me about our sex life. I no longer try because I don't want any further rejection.

I still have desire for her and have not been with another woman in all the years I've been married. I would be willing to have sex in any way that didn't hurt my wife, but I can't even get that far. I still love her and believe in our marriage vows. But it gets so hard to do so sometimes. Yes, I masturbate quite often. And no, she will not see a counsellor with me. She says she loves me, but not for sex.

I may be old-fashioned, but I married for better or for worse, till death do us part. If this is something I must live with till I die, then so be it. At least I can face God knowing I tried to do the right thing. It still hurts not to be wanted.
Despite sex suffusing almost every aspect of life, there is one last taboo. Those who are not interested, or no longer interested, stay silent. Your wife gets offended and angry, and refuses to talk about her disinterest, because she doesn't feel she can get her message across, and be understood. It's easy to talk about doing it ten times a night - and yes, I exaggerate. It's difficult to discuss no interest, at all. Just as we preach safe sex rather than abstinence to our kids, on the basis that sex must happen, so we fail utterly to encompass the reality of lost libido.

This leads to the destructiveness of non-communication. It also leads to the total withdrawal of all physical affection. Wives are afraid that if they cuddle and hug, or even laugh and flirt a little, he'll want more, because he hasn't heard, or taken on board, what she said. After all, loss of libido makes her some class of alien in the bright new world of Viagra, hormone replacement therapy and eternal youth.

At one level the reality is simple. Sex becomes a hassle, or more effort than it is worth. Cream to lubricate a dry vagina, which only partially works, hot flushes which are acutely uncomfortable, disturbed sleep, waves of anxiety and depression as the hormone levels waver and wind down - all of that is part of the menopause, and none of it is conducive to feeling sexy. And yes, the menopause passes, but vaginal dryness remains, and a real reduction in libido.

At another level, the wise and loving wife doesn't give up. Because to do so means turning away from being attractive and desirable, because women miss that when it's gone. It's also a rather charmless way of growing old. And it's wrong to abandon a loving husband, just because the going gets tough. So of course you are right. There are lots of ways of being sexual together, and what you want is the closeness. Just don't underestimate how daunting and exhausting it is for your wife to spell it all out. Talk to her again.

I Told My Lover To Leave


I suppose I've called it a day with my partner of over four years. Last December I asked him to move out of my house after yet another lie. We met through work, being in the same profession, and hit it off straight away. We actually became friends first because I thought he was married. When he asked me out he explained that he and his wife had been separated for over five years, although nothing had been done at a legal level. He still lived in the family home, in a somewhat separate annex. And he told me he had basically no contact with his wife except when it came to his three children, all of whom were in college.

So began our whirlwind romance. It was heaven. I was in my mid-thirties and thought I'd finally found the man of my dreams. He was my soul-mate. Six months later he moved into my house. Shortly afterwards several issues emerged which annoyed me. I found him quite mean about money, slow helping with household bills. And he never introduced me to any of his family. His post still went to his old home, he continued to pay the bills there, his status at his workplace was 'married' and he still shared a bank account with his ex-wife.

Yes, I know, alarm bells should have started ringing, but I always got plausible excuses and even though I was never entirely convinced, I put up with it, thinking that when his children were finished college, everything would change. I couldn't even begin to recount how many lies he told me over the years. The final straw, however, was realising that he talked about me to his wife in a way that indicated he and I were not a permanent couple. That, and the fact that an alleged business trip he was taking turned out to be a holiday - possibly with someone else. He'd certainly been trawling internet chat-rooms. So I asked him to leave. We didn't stop seeing each other. I just hoped that a break in living together would help him sort things out. It didn't. I remained in my role of playing second-fiddle to his wife and children. I loved him so much and would have done anything for him when things were good between us. All I ever asked was to be his first priority.
Have I been taken for a complete idiot, or is this guy just not capable of making the break from his family? Is there any hope? I still have feelings for him, although they are dwindling as the months go on. We are apart now. I told him I needed space. And for the first time, he has stayed away. Why do I feel so awful, and so very sad? I miss him, especially when it comes to social things we did together. I know I'll run into him in the course of business. It's just a matter of time. Could there really be any hope?

No, there is no hope. But that's not because this man is incapable of making the break from his family. And no, you were not taken for a complete idiot. You just saw the wrong picture. More precisely, you construed a false picture.

Your boyfriend has no desire to break with his wife, or formalise their separation. He is not waiting for the children to finish college. He has no deadline in his head at all. He's content with the way things are. And always was. OK, so maybe he said lots of things, particularly when you pushed it. In other words he told you lies. But he never behaved any differently. You just created deadlines in your own head, like the kids leaving college, saw things your way, because it helped you keep up the hope that he would become a true partner to you, and put you first. Viewed objectively, your boyfriend has organised his life in such a way that he's free to establish romantic involvements, but ones that will never really go anywhere. And that's the way he likes it.

Now he's moved on. You finally asserted your own needs - and he started shopping around. Yes, it is hurtful. But that's what happens when we deliberately live in a false reality. We buy hope and happiness now, and pay later. I am, by the way, most definitely not criticising you. We all get through life as best we can. And yes, hope is often worth that later pain. At the time you met him, you needed the love of your life. So, in part, you created him. He brought enough with him to allow you create the dream. Well, for a while anyway. Then you saw the light. And you called halt, which took great courage and a sound self-esteem. That same courage will carry you into a better relationship next time.

Let it go. And smile fleetingly next time you see him, as you walk on by.

I Feel Invisible In My Marriage


I've been married for 15 years to a good man. But I've gotten to feel alone and invisible. Neither of us has ever had an affair, yet I have to admit that if someone showed me the attention and affection I crave, I could be tempted. No one is though.

My husband is a workaholic. He's also a very good son and calls in to see his elderly father each day after work. I scarcely see him on week-nights. I wouldn't even mind that so much if the rest of the time he showed more care for me. The most affection I get these days is a peck on the lips, and maybe a quick hug. Sex ended years ago and he's lost all interest. He says it's not me. He's just not interested in general. He is nearly 60 and has gained quite a bit of weight. I'm 50 and still slender. But his lack of interest has seriously damaged my sense of being an attractive woman. It hurts that he's not even interested in cuddling.

My husband does not act in an angry way with me, he doesn't drink and he is respectful. He just seems to take no heed of me, never going out of his way to do anything nice or special for me. I feel like a room-mate who just picks up after him and nothing more. I feel hopeless at the thought that this is the state of my marriage for the rest of my life. I don't want to have an affair but I do wish I knew someone who actually found me attractive. I don't want a divorce. But I don't want to feel sad and ugly forever.

I am stuck and hopeless.
Let's get a few things straight. Your feelings of loneliness and sadness are, unhappily, legitimate. So is your sense of being invisible. You have been abandoned as a wife. Feeling ugly, unattractive, undesirable, on the other hand, is straying into a false reality. That's just you, inappropriately blaming yourself for your husband's lack of sexual interest. Of course those feelings are understandable. But they are also misplaced. Your husband has even told you so. He's just lost interest in sex, not in you specifically. His disinterest says a lot about him, and absolutely nothing about you.

Yes, if someone fancied you, suggested an affaire, even wanted to run away with you, that would feel good, a neat shortcut to better self-esteem. It doesn't sound as though it would help you solve your problem. You don't want divorce, you want your husband to desire you. That may never happen, of course, but it's still what you want - right now anyway. More importantly, feeling vulnerable about your attractiveness takes the focus off the real issue. Your husband has reneged on his marital vows, broken the contract you both signed up to. Marriage isn't about being room-mates. It's about sexual love.

Your husband has opted out of his marriage - as surely as if he'd actually left home. He spends little enough time with you. More importantly, he puts no energy into your togetherness. He fails to treat you as a romantic partner - with little presents, weekends away, emotional conversation, thoughtful gestures, man and woman togetherness in all its nuances. And he pecks you on the lips instead of taking you to bed. He has left you. It's not that you are ugly. Your husband has somehow died inside. That is the problem you both need to tackle.

He's clearly a good man. He is not being deliberately nasty. He has changed, and that needs to be discussed. Silence, rather than the absence of passionate sex, is what kills a marriage. Maybe he started to have erectile problems. Many men respond to that with a combination of embarrassment and self-protection, turning away from sex rather than raising the issue with their wives. Maybe he needed a different kind of sexual response from you, failed to ask, and retreated in defeat. Maybe he needed more active affection from you. Who knows. Well, he knows - even if his knowledge is not entirely conscious.

I can see you don't like confrontation. But it's certainly better than being invisible. And it doesn't have to be nasty. Done properly, it's just another word for communication. Talk to your husband. Say it like it is. And ask for a real response.

I Don't Get On With My Daughter


I'm 54 years old, happily married to my husband for 30 years and we have four children, three boys and a girl. All three boys are happy. Our daughter is extremely unhappy. And no matter what we do, she remains unhappy. She's had a skin complaint from early childhood, which has resisted all attempts at a cure. It can be painful at times, and unattractive to look at when it flairs up, and obviously this is very upsetting for her, and for us. We have given her every support in trying to find an answer. However, she wants to talk about her problem day and night.

When we feel we have talked about it ad nauseum and want to move onto something else, she retreats into her room. When we try to entice her out of her room, she is abusive towards us and won't come down to meals prepared for her. She has just turned 26. When she eventually comes out of her room it is only to fight with us about not being supportive enough.

I am beginning to feel my age and am just wondering if my parenting days should be over?

Long over. And misguided too, if you don't mind me being direct. A young child may legitimately rant at you when in distress. It goes with the terrain. Berating parents becomes unacceptable once children reach what used to be called the age of reason. So say by 7 or 8, they have to ask for help, ask for support, ask for attention. And learn to be grateful for gifts received. Of course they can't yet decide on a medical campaign plan, or get themselves 'sorted' in that sense. No matter how sick, however, they cannot be allowed to treat their parents badly. Because that's no longer the small child's inability to differentiate between herself and others. It's abuse.

Quite frankly, your daughter is being outrageous. And you are allowing her to be so. It doesn't matter what the disease, disability, or life-threatening disorder, even the sickest people must obey the basic rules of decency and good-manners. Sure, they will lose it from time to time. We all do. And then we apologise. Your daughter hasn't just adopted the 'sick' role, which is not good for her anyway. She's become an abusive bully. Not on.

Not only is your parenting role over, what you're doing isn't parenting anyway. It's kow-towing to bad behaviour. And that's never a good idea. Your daughter's problems are hers. And it's high-time she got a grip. Is it impossible for her to cook? Why hasn't she found some support group for herself? Can she work? Does she? And why on earth would you try to entice a badly behaved woman out of her bedroom? She abuses when she's around you. Why would you want the company of someone like that?

As you can see, this is a situation you have created. To change it, you have to ferret out your reasons for acting the way you do - and have done, it seems, all your daughter's life. What I found fascinating was your early statement that your daughter isn't happy - and that nothing you do makes her happy, which obviously upsets you. That would be a good place to start the examination of your personal belief-system. Happiness is our own gift to ourselves. Nobody can make someone else happy. It's an entirely personal decision. You cannot, ever, make your daughter happy. It is impossible. Not only is it impossible, the very effort perpetuates this awful situation you all find yourselves in.

Let me say it another way. Attempts at making someone happy are actually appeasement. And appeasing is what we do with bullies. So in a very real way, your daughter's bullying is a co-creation - all three of you are in there, yourself, your husband, and your daughter. If you as parents pull out, the bullying will stop. And remember, bullies aren't happy people either. You'd be doing your daughter a huge favour if you stopped 'enticing' her as you put it.

All this will take time and determination. After all, you've spent a life-time helping your daughter to be who she is. Start by leaving her to sulk, as and when she wishes. Just greet her with a smile when she finally emerges. Oh, and ask her to help you cook that dinner before a sulk starts. Feel free to say you're tired. Find something you need to do urgently when she starts her next monologue. Lots of dodging in other words, the point being that you don't discuss how you're going to behave differently. You just do it. And engage in relentless internal battle with the mind-set that got you where you are in the first place.

In Love With A Younger Man


I am a middle-aged married woman with teenage children. Some years ago I fell in love with a younger single man. Nothing happened between us, but it made me face up to the fact that I do not love my husband and never really did. I don't really like him. He can be aggressive and unreasonable at times and of course he is always right. He is also a blamer, mostly blaming me, basically about everything. I put up with it because he does have good points. He is generous, although he sees our income, home, car etc. as his because he's the primary earner. And he can be very entertaining. Overall, however, I am indifferent to him and am staying with him for the children's sake, and for convenience.

My husband feels more or less the same way. He has told me so, and has said from time to time that he regretted marrying me. But he is also reluctant to leave.

The problem is that I still love this other man. In fact he is the only man I will ever love. And I feel certain that he loves me too. But I am aware that the reason we still feel this way is because our love was thwarted. If we had had an affair it would be over now and we would both be sorry. It could not have worked for many reasons. In particular there is the age difference - he is younger than I am.

The pointlessness of it all is getting me down. I know that even the deepest love does not last. I know that it is completely unreasonable to keep loving this man. I know that even in the unlikely scenario of us getting together on a permanent basis, we would end up, at best, in a relationship not much better than the one I already have with my husband. In fact it would probably be worse, because of all the heartbreak involved.

Despite knowing all this, I can't, or won't, stop loving him. Reason does not prevail. I feel that I am in limbo. Am I simply addicted to being in love? And if this is true, what can I do?

You are hung up on your fantasy. And yes, fantasy love can become an addiction. Certainly it can become an habitual escape from reality. Instead of working on your marriage, you disappear off into your head, playing out a hundred different scenarios with the young man of your dreams. Meanwhile, you fail to confront the daily disappointment of your relationship with your husband. It seems like impossibly hard work. Or impossibly boring. So you retreat instead. If this were a satisfactory state of affairs, you wouldn't be talking to me. But like you said, the pointlessness of it all is getting to you. Precisely. There is no substitute for engaging in the real world. Certainly, fantasies can console us in times of dire stress. But they provide no more than temporary relief.

This is down to you. Your husband's comments about wishing he hadn't married you, or the general list of his failings, or indeed his own failure to properly engage in a conversation about your mutual differences, are decidedly beside the point. You have to create a dignified and meaningful life for yourself, both inside and outside your marriage. And no, I don't mean extra-marital affairs. Does your husband have to be the sole bread-winner? Could you find a part-time job, just for personal spending? Have you taken a look around your local community for a suitable role volunteering? Do you need a new fitness routine, or a fashion make-over? Does someone in your family, or amongst your in-laws, need a bit of back-up? The point I'm making is that you're not just running away from the reality of your marriage. You're running away from life.

All relationships are a two-way process. Sure, some behaviour can be pretty intractable, and you learn to live with that. But the way your husband treats you is very much down to you. Loving him is down to you too. It's about deciding to appreciate him, to be grateful for the good things, to wish him well, to be on his side, to feel kindness towards his foibles, which is really his humanity. It's about behaving in such a way that he becomes a better man. Indifference, which you say is what you feel, is not lack of love. It's lack of effort. Love, in short, is a question of daily practice.

Finally, if you feel helpless, then start with small things, which are under your control, practical things. And remember, leaving our comfort zone is always hard. Fantasy love was your 'drug' of choice. It will take time. Be patient with yourself.

In Trouble With My Daughter-In-Law


I'm in a real pickle. I have a 22 year old son who married a girl nearly two years ago because she was pregnant. They lived with us for the first six months and then moved out on their own shortly before the baby was born. I have always been very close to my son. I thought our relationship was fine.

I did a lot for him and his wife and was a big part of the baby's life, or so I thought. My daughter in law is very spoiled and plays manipulative games with friends and other family members when she doesn't get her own way. She has done it with me a few times, and I've always given in because I love my son and I want to see the baby. Recently I went round to babysit my grandson and talked of how much fun we were going to have in the park and the baby-pool. He's just over a year old. My daughter-in-law cringed, I looked at her and said 'no-worries', assuring her that he was fine with me. I raised six children and have eight grandchildren. I thought she was just having a mommy moment and believed that was the end of it. And the baby and I had a great day.

Now I am banned from seeing him. You'd think I'd cut his legs off. I'm also banned from seeing my son. In fact my son won't speak to me, my husband or his sisters. It's like we were dead to him. I've tried apologising, writing letters, calling to their house. I get nothing. We were even excluded from a belated family party to celebrate my grandson's birthday. We were explicitly told not to come by my daughter in law. And while she was at it, she chewed me up and told me she would never forgive or forget what I'd done. She also assured me I'd never see the baby again. My son didn't even call me. The nearest we got were the pictures my daughter in law posted on Facebook. I felt the breath come out of my soul.

I am so hurt. I miss my son. I did nothing wrong. I don't deserve this. Even her mother had a threatening tone when speaking to me, so I am sure my daughter in law has seriously embellished her story. I don't know what to do. I'm getting so depressed that I'm starting to feel it health-wise. I had heart surgery not long ago and don't need this. I pray, but can't sleep and can't concentrate. It's been over a month now.

Let's get this straight. You did do something wrong. You planned an itinerary for a one-year old baby without consulting his mother. Worse, you knew she wasn't happy about it, patronisingly dismissed it as a 'mommy' moment, and went ahead with your plans. Worse still, you took advantage of her inability to articulate her distress, her failure to stand up to you, her helplessness in the face of being caught off-guard. You bullied her.

It doesn't matter whether you've raised six kids, or are grand-mother to eight more. That's decidedly beside the point. Your daughter in law is the child's mother. Her word goes when it comes to your grandson. It doesn't matter what you want, or what you think is right. It's down to her. It may even be as simple as her wanting to be the one to introduce her son to the baby pool. None of that is relevant. You bullied her and yes, I'm repeating myself, because you need to hear it loud and clear.

I do understand that you didn't set out to be deliberately nasty that day.. But you did display your agenda on your daughter-in-law in very clear terms, however unconsciously. You don't think much of her. You don't like her. You appease her when you think it's tactically necessary. Your interest is your son and grandson. And with all that in your head, you challenged her on a very fundamental issue. You dismissed her as a mother. You showed serious disrespect. Not a wise move.

I am not trying to beat you over the head. These things happen. The first step to mending fences is taking your punishment on the chin. When we transgress, we have to pay our dues, accept the consequences, allow the validity of the other person's anger. We also have to feel real remorse. Whatever your feelings for your daughter-in-law, she didn't deserve to be dismissed as a mother. I am sure this didn't just anger her. It frightened her. A very mature and self-assured person might have felt able to confront you. Although I'm not so sure. How does any woman teach her mother in law proper boundaries? Would the mother in law listen? Look at your response. You don't get it, even now.

Instead you are hurt and upset and pulling a sickie. And that is a very very bad idea. Your energy needs to be engaged in combating your current illness, rather than slipping into the sick role as a way out of your emotional dilemma. You will sleep and concentrate and get well if you humbly accept you were wrong, and then believe that it will come out alright. Because it will, if you behave wisely. Your son hasn't stopped loving you. He's just trying to handle a hard situation.

Leave things be for the moment. Then, say sometime before Christmas, you could write to your daughter-in-law and say you are truly sorry. Explain that you see what you did, that it was unacceptable, and ask her to forgive you. A letter, or email, is better than the spoken word. It allows you to say what you need to say, and in the right tone. Don't push for an immediate answer. Be patient. She has a lot of reasons for wanting you out of her hair - not least because she understands you don't like her.

Meantime, do your emotional homework. This woman is your son's wife. You would think less of him if he failed to stand by her. He is now a husband first and a son second, which is the way it should be. You must accept her status, even if she's not your cup of tea. Even more than that, every human being deserves to be treated with respect. You get the picture. Now go take care of yourself. Loving our sons makes us want to be better human beings. And it will be fine.

Having Affair With My Boss


I am in a very complicated situation with my boss who is a married man. I'm 35 years old and have known him since my late teens as he's a family friend. He's over 20 years older than I am. He has always supported me in my working career - although I only started working in his company 18 months ago. And I do know he made the job offer for genuine reasons of friendship. There had always been a connection between us and I was attracted to him when I was younger, but thought I'd got over it. I was very wrong.

From the time I took up the job I found myself thinking about him all the time. Every time he sent me an email it would make me feel happy. I wanted to see him more and more and started to develop this fantasy world with him and me. At the Christmas Party we had a rather drunken but deep and meaningful conversation at the bar. The following Monday he emailed me inviting me out to lunch. He then confessed that he had always liked me, even when I was younger. He then asked to see me romantically and of course I said yes. Lots of lunch breaks, weekend meetings and yes, of course, intimate times too, have followed. Despite all this we really are still good friends, although you may find this hard to believe.

The strange thing is that he has always maintained that he is happy at home and will not leave his wife. So I know I was a fool to start this in the first place. But he is charming, clever and funny. The problem is that I now want more and the nicer he is, the more I want. Sometimes at weekends, when I know I won't be seeing him, my heart breaks. And even though I feel confident he has feelings for me, I do not think that it has the same impact on him as it does on me. I tried to break it off a month ago and he managed to talk me out of it.

The other thing I should say is that I am in a relationship with someone. We have lived together for nearly 10 years, but no longer sleep together. I know the answer is to leave them both, but I just don't know how. I am head over heels in love with my boss and love the job he's put me in. How the hell do I get out of this?

Your situation is certainly painful, but no, it is not complicated. You are in love with someone you can't have. He's married, does not want to leave his wife, and has made that quite clear. Of course you're right. The affaire doesn't impact on him the way it does on you. How could it? He's just having a bit on the side, to use that vulgar expression. Isn't he? Isn't that what he's saying, really? The solution is simple. You are going to have to end it. Believe me. Otherwise you'll start asking for more, directly or indirectly, and that will get very messy, not least because he won't like it. And if you can't handle a clean break while still working with him, then you're going to have to leave the job.

In terms of your live-in boyfriend, there are two possibilities. Either it was over long ago and living with him is just compromising your chances of meeting someone else, not to mention leaving you vulnerable emotionally because so much is unresolved. Or else the relationship has suffered because you're putting your energy into chasing rainbows and having an affaire. End the affair first. Make whatever decision you need to make in terms of the job. And then tackle the boyfriend.

My Husband No Longer Loves Me


I have been living in a very strange arrangement for a number of years now and am at a cross-roads as to how to proceed.

I've been married for many years and am blessed with great children, who are now grown up. I am financially fairly secure and outwardly would seem to have it all. Unfortunately, my husband doesn't seem to love me anymore and I don't know whether to separate or stay together for the sake of the children - especially as I still love him.

We were madly in love when we married and have had good times and bad times together. About four years ago he turned nasty, saying I was not attractive to him and everything was my fault. We started sleeping apart and had several terrible rows. I suspect he'd had an affair, but he denies this. A couple of months ago he told me he didn't love me anymore and was thinking of moving out. When I was confronted with this I suddenly realised how much I'd be losing, and how much I still loved him, and asked him not to leave. I've improved my appearance since then, lost weight amongst other things, and have generally been making a real effort. But even though we're getting on much better, I'm beginning to think things have gone too far and he has lost his love for me.

This evening I asked him if he'd like to go out for a drink to celebrate our anniversary, but he declined. I left the room and now can't get over the hurt and upset. I don't know if he's too afraid to love me again in case it goes back to the bad old days of fighting, or whether his love has just died. I feel if I knew for sure that he'll never again love me then I would ask for a separation.

I am very lonely and very afraid of the future. I don't know if living in a loveless marriage is better than risking a future alone with my children. Or do you think he will ever come round? Is it possible? I don't know why, but he's the love of my life. And it's torture being on the outside of his world, rather than fully part of it.

You are dodging. Frightened of the future, you're avoiding the conversation you have to have with your husband. And from the sounds of it, you've been doing that for a long time. Four years ago he effectively left you emotionally, socially and sexually. You may have challenged him then. Certainly you had rows. But you didn't reach him. You didn't confront him with the reality of what was going on between you. Instead you settled for some kind of Mexican stand-off. No, I'm not criticising you. Nor am I suggesting that your marital difficulties are your fault. I'm just telling you, perhaps in clearer terms, what you have already told me. The reality is that you really only woke up a few months ago, around four years down the line, when your husband said he was thinking of moving out.

And you're still dodging. And it's still doing you no good. From where I'm sitting you sound a though you're in a fog. Which undoubtedly means that you feel you are in a fog. Clear it. Clarify your own thoughts first. Even if you haven't got the answers, you have to think about the questions. Are you really interested in your husband? Or are you, understandably, just afraid of the future? Do you want him to stay, at any price? Or, as you seem to suggest, do you need him to do a lot of things differently in order to keep the marriage intact? If you did part company, what, would be your terms? Do you think you could reach an amicable separation in terms of money? And does he have to disappear entirely from your life? He's the father of your children, so could he remain as some kind of friendly support to you?XXXX

The point I'm making is that a separation is not just down to him. Staying or leaving, the terms have to be agreed between the two of you. It's not just a question of whether he loves you or not. It's a question of the quality of your relationship, be that a marriage or the life-long task of civilly respecting each other, particularly in the context of the kids. When you've at least framed these issues in your head, ask your husband what's really going on. He's dodging too. So tell him you need to hear the truth, and the whole truth, because you do. Certainly it's scary. But it's not half as damaging as living in limbo. Start talking.

I Think I'm Gay


I'm a woman in my early '30's and have fought for the last ten years against the fact that I feel attracted to other women. I have never been with a woman, due to lack of opportunity, plus an inner belief that it is wrong. While I have no issue with other people being gay, I don't want to be. In my heart of hearts I'm not convinced that it is natural, which is maybe the result of my religious upbringing. I have kissed a few men over the years, but have never been in a relationship. While I have enjoyed good friendships with guys, these all ended when the guy wanted to be more than friends. The whole thought of a physical relationship completely terrified me, and I ran a mile in the opposite direction, which ruined the friendship. Any guys I kissed were just men in a nightclub, or pub, and I found it boring and wanted it to end.

I think my fear of being in a relationship with a man, and my desire for a female, relates back to my childhood. Both my parents were in their late forties when they got married and it was more a marriage of convenience. They spent most of their married life shouting insults at each other. My brother and I woke up almost every morning to the sounds of their screaming rows. Then every now and again my mother would retreat into her bedroom for days on end. And she spent a lot of time threatening to kill herself, and making half moves in that direction. Although this happened on countless occasions, it still terrified me each time. It even cost me the course I wanted to study at college because I couldn't concentrate on my studies. That still angers me.

We lived on a small farm and had no money. There was no love in the house, my mother never hugged me, or my brother, not ever. Neither did my father. Nor did they ever praise me, or say anything positive at all. My father is now dead. But even to this day, I cringe at any physical contact with my mother. Her hand at mass causes my blood to boil. It even annoys me if my nieces and nephews try to hug me. The truth is I hate anyone touching me, even in a friendly manner. If someone does so unexpectedly, I jump and instinctively hit out, pushing them away.

When my father died it was positive in a way since the shouting and fighting stopped. But my mother went on for another 10 years regularly threatening to kill herself. She is a lot better now and has calmed down. At present I live away from home, and am in two minds about whether to move back or not. Several of my friends have moved back and I miss their company. But I'm not sure if I could take the mental stress of being around my mother. Anyway, I now just want to move on and not keep fighting the demons of the past. I'm tired of being scared of people and scared of letting anyone like me. I just need to find a path to get there.

This clearly isn't a problem we can sort out in a few sentences. So let me say a couple of things to you. I do not think it would be wise to move back in with your mother. There is too much history there. You need the physical and social space to sort out the emotional trauma. Find another way of staying in contact with your friends.

We can't just walk away from our past. The demons, unfortunately, dog our footsteps. You have to turn and face them. To do that, I strongly suggest you find a therapist or counsellor who will help you leave the anger and anguish behind you. At the moment, in a very real sense, you are still living in the past. You are stuck, helpless and trapped in the trauma. Like all of us, what you badly need is to stop feeling so helpless, so powerless, so undefended in the face of those demons. If you like, your unconscious mind needs to recognise the fact that you are now an adult woman, not a dependent child. Therapy helps us to feel the confidence and power and strength which comes with adulthood. It helps our unconscious mind to realise that we can now defend ourselves. It helps us to look at the past, rather than constantly reliving it. And then we can let go.

I don't think lesbianism is the issue for you right now. If you can't let anyone touch you, a sad legacy of your past, then it won't be any different with a woman lover will it? You are clearly longing for love, for physical contact, for comforting touch. But until you clear your head and heart of those demons, any partner, male or female, will be beyond your reach. You need to unlearn your distress at being touched. Then you'll see more clearly whom you want to be close to. You are a very brave lady. Find that therapist and get the support you deserve and need.

My Husband Can't Get An Erection


I am a middle-aged woman married a good few years. My children are good kids who have caused very little worries. And my husband is a good man. However, he has erectile problems.

When I broach the subject I am told that he will do something about it. I don't say it to him constantly - as in nagging him - because I don't want to make him feel bad. But Patricia, sometimes I could just pick up the first man I see and do it with him, no emotions attached. If it were that easy, and guaranteed to have no repercussions, believe me, I would do it. Just for the sex, which I didn't realise was important to me until it was gone. I think about sex all the time. I try to keep busy, but the thoughts remain.

My husband has no sexual feelings anymore. We could try other things I know, but I miss the passion, the lust. I miss the feeling of being wanted. And it has affected our relationship. I know I harbour some resentment. I think that if he loved me, he would try and do something about it. Even if there was no solution, at least he would have tried. He's already said, several times, that if this was a permanent medical condition, I would have to accept it.

I have thought of leaving, but too many people would be hurt. My youngest is still at school. And the older one likes to come back to this secure world we have in our home. Yet I think that life is slipping me by. I do realise that any decision I make will affect a lot of people. But I find it hard to accept that this is it. No more sex for the rest of my life. Imagine. I never thought this could happen. I know the decision is mine and mine alone, but it would be nice to have someone tell me what to do.

Ok. I'll tell you what to do. Stop pussyfooting around. Stop worrying about making your husband feel bad. Sit him down and say your piece clearly. It's not nagging. It's a reality-check. If he were drinking too much would you let it go? If he was gambling the house-keeping money would you worry about sounding shrill? If he beat you, would you quietly hide the bruises? No, no, and no. Reneging on sex may be omission, rather than deed. It still has to be tackled.

I know you've tried it before. It's also clear that a one-off discussion is not enough. But you need to say it again, all of it. You are right. It's the fact that your husband is not trying which really hurts. He's quick to say that if it's a medical condition, you would have to accept it. The whole point, however, is that you don't know what's wrong. And until you know, you can't make any clear decisions. You say that your husband has lost interest in sex. Perhaps he has. Or perhaps that's a defence mechanism in the face of his erectile problems. He's loath to have it checked out. So it may seem easier to close down his desire - for him anyway. And then the passion is gone - which is the hardest thing of all to bear. A passionate man with a technical problem could still satisfy you. Not wanting you and just going through the motions is the unbearable bit.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to be insistent in the face of someone's reluctance, without being unkind. My guess is that your husband is terribly scared. He's scared about his health, about his sexuality, about his self-esteem and status as a man. He's also scared about the implications for his relationship with you. However unconsciously, he's picked up your restlessness. Consciously, he's aware of your resentment. Foolishly he's burying his head in the sand, which of course only inflames the situation. So when you talk to him, tell him you're in this together. Tell him this isn't a question of blame, but of finding out the truth, so that the problem can be dealt with. Tell him you want your marriage not only to continue, but to continue with love and dignity and kindness and respect. And that that is only possible if he takes your distress seriously enough to seek medical help. Because that's the truth. You want to wander, but only out of frustration, hurt and desperation. Seeing him love you enough to conquer his reluctance would make a big difference.

And then persist. Talking, and then playing happy families, doesn't work. The issue must remain on the table. Otherwise, as you've said yourself, silent resentment takes over, and it is emotionally corrosive and entirely non-productive. You can give your husband a couple of weeks to digest all you've said, and then you have to tell him again, quietly but clearly, that you need him to move. The time-frame of patience is up to you. So is the decision about what to do. All you owe your husband, your marriage and yourself, is clarity. He has to know it's serious.

Marriage Empty Of Sex


I'm not sure if I'm seeking a solution. I just wonder if I am alone. I am 55 years old and have been married for over 30 years. We have three children, all in their late twenties. After a life together with great ups and devastating downs, my wife and I are still together. If you asked me, I would say I still love my wife. But there is an emptiness.

My wife has never been interested in sex. I am not over-demanding, but I am really down-hearted as we pass through middle age in what I would describe as a good-friends mode. Even in the early years of our marriage there would often be three- or six-month gaps where we would not make love. As I write now, it is over two years since we last did. We have been on good terms, even in romantic locations, but no.

The situation now is that my wife stays up late each night playing computer games, and physically lies apart from me when she does come to bed. I have raised the matter often, have asked about counselling, but she is not interested. And so I look forward and see myself living for another 5 or 10 years in this friendly, but physically loveless, situation. Not very enticing.

It seems time to air this issue of love and sex and marriage. It's not new, of course. But it is now systematically forcing itself onto the discussion table. It's no coincidence that the lady writing the next letter is also stuck in the same sad place. My postbag is full of similar stories. It is predominantly men who suffer, or at least who write to me about their suffering. I can't tell if that means women are more likely to turn away from sexual intimacy, leaving more husbands lonely. It could be that women just deal with sexual deprivation better. Whichever, you are most certainly not alone.

In this era of rights, rather than responsibilities, desires rather than duties, self rather than others, the marital contract may no longer be heavy on what we promise to give. But the subtext is still crystal clear. Sex is central. We are not marrying to cement a friendship. Or simply to create children. Or solely to regulate finances. Sexual love is the unique bond which binds us. We promise each other to be faithful sexual partners. That doesn't just mean remaining monogamous. It means having sex with each other.

Said like that, it sounds harsh, crude, undressed, made all the more painful by the fact that we yearn for consensus, most particularly when it comes to sex. But that's what happens when people dodge the notion of duty, pretend there was no promise, avoid reality. We're forced into an uncomfortable level of clarity. No man wants to tell his wife that she 'owes' him sex. Things are pretty bad in a marriage when it comes to that point. But at a very fundamental level, it's true. Certainly, there are a thousand caveats. A couple has to adjust to differing levels of basic sexual desire - and no, it's not always the man who wants more. Someone can also be sick, emotionally distraught, seriously worried, or suffer stress levels way off the Richter scale, leaving sex as the last thing on their minds. Timing can be crucial too. So can technique. We know all that. And it's not the point.

The reason I'm harping on the contract is simple. If everyone stopped dodging reality, solutions could be found. Your wife is blanking you out at a sexual level. If she acknowledged the truth of the marriage vows, she wouldn't do that. She'd have to talk to you, find a compromise, be loving and kind, rather than blocking communication.

The tricky bit is what comes next. Your wife is dodging because she doesn't want to deal with herself. You are not the problem, she is. She has to face down why she's saying no to sex with her husband. It's not enough that she doesn't feel like it. Why does she not feel like it? And more importantly, why is she indulging herself, why is she allowing her disinterest to rule the day? We may not feel like doing lots of things. We still do them. And if we are wise, we go further. We learn to love what we have to do. Otherwise we spend our lives at war with the realities of life. Happy people are not those whose life is somehow magical. Happy people turn necessity into pleasure. OK, so they smile while cleaning the oven or doing the ironing. But they do everything else with gusto and goodwill.

Change involves courage and effort and preparedness to face discomfort. Love propels us up that hill. And breaking the silence starts the process. Do that. Talk to your wife, tell her how lonely you feel. And weather the discomfort of not getting along quite so smoothly while you continue to press your point home. It's not sex she's withholding. That's just the symptom. She's turned her back on love, and kindness, and due regard for your distress. Don't collude with the silence. Challenge it. Otherwise you remain invisible. Which robs your wife of the chance to really see you, and be loving.

Trapped With A Lover I No Longer Want


I've been in a relationship with a guy for five years now, and have wanted to end it for perhaps the last 12 months. But I feel trapped.

I think my boyfriend is depressed. He sends me texts when he is drunk that make me worry about him, just stuff like he has no friends, no confidence, and never has a good night out without me. If we do head out for the night he just talks to me. Even after five years, I barely know his friends. Professionally he's stuck too, lacking self-confidence and dodging projects whenever he can. And again, I'm the only one he talks to about all this.

I love him and he's my best friend. I want to be there for him, but not as a girlfriend. It's not that I want another boyfriend. I just want some time by myself. I don't want to constantly feel bad if I head out with the girls, or go home for the weekend. I don't want a relationship any more and this is quite independent of my boyfriend's problems.

My fear of his loneliness and lack of confidence makes me reluctant to break his heart. And it will break his heart, because he tells me so. He also tells me to break it off if I'm unhappy, but he thinks it's all to do with me wanting another boyfriend. I want to travel, to do girly things, to live by myself and feel free. As things stand, I feel I can't do any of these things. To avoid rows and hurt feelings, I turn down opportunities to do simple things like seeing my friends.

I feel terrible that this is the way I see things, and I know I should tell my boyfriend. But I worry about what will happen to him. I feel my life is passing me by. I also get dejected and upset quite frequently. I feel trapped.

Of course you want another boyfriend. Sure, you haven't got one lined up right now. And no, another man, per se, is not the reason you want out of your relationship. But let's be clear. You want a life. Part of that life is love, marriage and children. So yes, you want someone else, sometime.

The reason I'm harping on this is to demolish guilt. At the moment you feel guilty - which is why you're hanging in there. Your boyfriend knows this. He may be depressed but he's not an idiot. He sees the truth. It's guilt that binds you to him. He also knows that you want a life. You want out. He's just not strong enough to send you on your way, even though he knows there's no self-respect possible in the status quo. Just as you're not strong enough to admit the truth to him, well not openly anyway. So instead he's inviting you to leave, but in such a way that makes it difficult for you. And you're pretending you just want to do girlie things.

That's what we do in relationships. We try to get off the hook, while at the same time refusing to let the other person off the hook. Courage is just so hard, so we dodge instead. The sad part is that in the process we are destructive, rather than kind. Your boyfriend is clearly depressed and dependent. Those two go intimately hand in hand. In mopping up his distress, you reinforce his dependency. Certainly you mean well. But you are doing him no favours. Because it's not him you are actually indulging. It is yourself. You don't want to feel guilty. So you stay with him.

What's so wrong with walking out on him? Has your presence brought any discernable change in his situation? Is it not at least possible that the crutch you provide has hindered him doing something about his distress? Could it even be that he remains so dependent because he feels, not without reason, that this is the best way to keep you hanging in there? He says that you leaving would break his heart. But maybe his heart needs breaking. We have to leave our comfort zone in order to heal. Sometimes the crutch has to go before we can change.

It is, of course, manipulation on your boyfriend's part to say his heart will be broken if you go. But just so you know, manipulation is not a dirty word. It's what we all do, all the time, with everybody. We wend and weave. It's called social intercourse, communicating, making life work. It's his way of trying to get what he wants - maybe not what's best for him, but what he wants. It's your responsibility to make sure his words don't deflect you from the truth, don't trap you, to use your own phrase. That means facing your own weakness, which is the strong desire to be seen as good, and your faulty belief system that you are responsible for your boyfriend's happiness. Said differently, it's your failure to face the fact that you are part of the problem. The crutch is always co-responsible.

Look, you are both trapped. And in terms of solving the problem you're ahead, if nothing else because you bothered to ask for advice. Stop pussy-footing around. Stop trying to remain in your comfort zone by trying to insist that you stay close as a friend. Say goodbye. If he asks for advice, from a safe emotional distance, give it. Be a real friend. Go live your life.

I Long For Another Baby


I'm a 40-year old mother of three young children. We are just about managing financially, we both work, and childcare is expensive. Having said all that, I am getting increasingly broody for another baby. I know this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever and my husband does not want to hear of it. I know he is right and we should be very happy with the children we have and get on with our lives now.

Maybe hitting 40 made me realise that my baby days are over and I am mourning that fact. I find myself longing to hold a new-born, to touch the little hands and gaze at the beauty. My head tells me I should forget all this, but my heart sometimes aches for the feeling of being pregnant again, and giving birth, and creating something beautiful. Is this a normal part of growing older for a woman? How can I 'snap' myself out of this?

I think my husband is getting nervous about having sex with me in case I 'trick' him into a pregnancy. I wouldn't do that to him, or to our marriage. But I feel so lonely sometimes.

Telling someone to 'snap out of it' is unkind, if not actually offensive. It belittles the validity of feelings, denies the person's reality, and shuts down communication. It is also entirely ineffective. So stop being nasty to yourself. Feelings can only be changed, or eased, or dealt with, when we acknowledge them, and then start the process of putting them into perspective.

Everybody's situation is unique. There is no point in saying that someone with three children shouldn't want a fourth. Or that a woman of 40 shouldn't have a baby. Or that childcare is expensive. Or that another child would break the energy-bank. Or that we should be thankful for what we have. Or that babies shouldn't be born into tight financial situations. Such statements are simply noise, generalisation which mean absolutely nothing. Deep down we know that, and when we hear them, be it from ourselves or from others, we simply go silent. And the feelings stay.

Your feelings do make sense. It's life-affirming to want a baby. Of course we mourn the passing of various life-stages. At the very least we note them, acknowledge their passing. We miss the kids when they are gone. We miss the human comfort of cuddling babies when grandchildren emigrate with our children. We miss human touch when we lose a partner, particularly when we're older and that phase of life is done. And it's sad to face the advancing watershed, when babies are no longer a possibility.

It's not nice, but it's OK to feel broody and sad. Like all wishes, three things apply. Firstly, our wishes don't have to be fulfilled. Living with unfulfilled desires is part and parcel of maturity. You don't have to have a baby just because you feel you want one. Secondly, we can't saddle other people with the consequences of our wishes, can't override someone else's wishes in something so important. No, I know you wouldn't. I'm just reinforcing what you said. And in this your husband bears no blame. He just doesn't want what you feel you want. And by the sounds of it, he's not for turning. Thirdly, it sometimes suits us emotionally to put someone else in the role of policeman, the one who says no, we can't. That way we can indulge our thoughts, without taking responsibility for saying no to ourselves. Don't do that to your husband. Don't make him the baddie who is saying you can't have a baby. You already have all the arguments in your own head about why it wouldn't be a good idea. And you are a grown woman. It's up to you to be wise.

No, it's not easy. But saying goodbye is part and parcel of what we do, on a regular basis, right throughout our lives. And the sadness will pass.

New Boss Is Causing Havoc

For the last 12 years I have been working in a very demanding but challenging job that thankfully the recession has not hit. If anything, the recession has provided the company with opportunities for growth. During this time I have had two children, so on the outside life is good, hectic and busy but I count my blessings every day, as the children are wonderful and bring such joy.

The problem is my job. Up to last year I was lucky to work for people who were hugely appreciative of team effort. I learned a lot and enjoyed a great work/life balance. Then my present boss arrived. I can acknowledge that this individual has great vision and has implemented changes that are necessary for the company to continue expanding. It's his attitude that makes life miserable. He is an aggressive person and extremely demanding. He implements projects with totally unreasonable deadlines. He never backs down on anything, even when he is proved incorrect. He constantly puts down other members of the company and, to be honest, it is very wearing being in his company for any length of time.

It isn't just me that feels this way about this individual. I am a senior member of a large team and they all feel the same way. During the past six months two of my team have had health issues due to sheer exhaustion and the stress this individual puts them under. I know I must bring the problem to the attention of senior management. However, this is easier said than done. This person can talk himself out of any situation and I strongly suspect he would make my life a living hell, if challenged. The bottom line, I guess, is that I am afraid of the consequences of challenging him. I am living in an area with no prospects of another job which pays as well, and I need to support my family. My husband and family are supportive. Do I just ride this out and hope things will improve? Or do I take the risk and challenge this man?

Two things need to be clearly separated. An aggressive attitude is a pain in the proverbial, but not life-threatening. It's also hard to prove. A wise employee finds ways of coping, a large part of which involves dropping the sensitivity and switching off. In other words, it's possible to de-sensitize ourselves to someone's rough style. You just stop taking it personally, stop being afraid, refuse to be intimidated, and find comfort in the company of your team. It's not nice, but it's not the problem.

Unreasonable deadlines are unreasonable deadlines. That can be shown, not as a once-off, but as a pattern over time. That means keeping careful records. It also means careful thought. It could be argued that things were, perhaps, a little too cosy before the new boss came along. I imagine he would definitely say that. The base-line by which you measure unreasonable deadlines has to laid out in detail. It can't just be a question of what you used to do. What are your criteria? What makes the deadlines crazy? Is it that suppliers or subcontractors can't meet the time targets no matter what pressure you put on them? Is it a question of safety due to cutting corners in some important and potentially hazardous way? I've no idea what business you're in, so these are just examples. Is it about constant overtime? Or regularly interrupted official breaks like lunch-time? Is there a product or service quality issue involved? Are there problems clearly piling up that would perhaps lead to future customer dissatisfaction, or worse? You get the picture.

You may be head of a team, and hence part of the official line of communication with those above, but be sure you are following proper procedure - which perhaps involves taking these things up with your boss first. You have to show him you mean business, and document it. Otherwise he could argue you just whinged, and he didn't take it seriously, not to mention being seriously cheesed off that you went over his head or behind his back or whatever. When someone is aggressive and has a bad manner of communication, there's a terrible temptation to side-step them. Don't. Talk to him, courteously but firmly. And often, not complaining, but documenting reality.

Finally, if you do decide to take the next step - and that's a decision only you can make - be sure the posse is close behind you. How often have leaders, or staff representatives, or managers, taken a stand and then turned round to find themselves standing alone. Don't forget. Others will be afraid of losing their jobs too. You may be team leader. That doesn't automatically mean you have to take on the world. All team members are adults. Tread carefully.

Can't Forgive My Dying Husband


My husband is terminally ill at present, and is not expected to live more than a couple of months. It has all happened so quickly that I am still reeling from the shock. So is my husband, who had no warning that something was wrong until 24 hours prior to diagnosis. He has undergone surgery, but there is no hope. My problem is this.

We've been married nearly 25 years, but our marriage has not been a happy one. In fact, the pain he caused me has resulted in emotional scarring that will live with me till I die. My husband was fully aware of this and I would think he deeply regretted his actions but never-the-less, I have been unable to overcome the hurt. He seemed to feel that I could just forget about it all and get on with life. Unfortunately it just did not go away and more than 15 years later, I still shed tears at the memory of what happened.

Last evening in hospital, my husband asked me to forgive him. Despite the fact that he is dying, I just cannot do that. I have stood by him over the years, supporting him when he needed support and even now visiting him twice a day and trying my best to do my duty as his wife. But there is no love left in me for him and it is purely my sense of duty which has kept things going over the years.

Do I let this man die, hoping I will not regret having forgiven him? Or do I forgive him and then regret having done so when he is gone? He has come between me and my God to the extent that there is absolutely no way I can pray now. I will carry this sadness with me until I die.

How terrible to carry such pain for so long. How crippling to live with that level of hurt and anger for fifteen years. What a burden to bear. I don't of course know what your husband did. I do know that your failure to move past it has blighted your life. And that's what matters here.

Your husband has raised the question of forgiveness. OK, so he did it, perhaps, for selfish reasons. He wants, maybe, to find a sense of peace. That's not the issue, frankly. What matters is the fact that you've now been handed a unique opportunity to free yourself. Because you are the one who has a future, a whole life still to lead. You have a choice. You can lay down your burden. Or you can choose to cry forever, which is a terrible thought.

Forgiveness is always for our own sake. Of course the person we forgive may feel much better knowing. But to forgive someone is actually a gift to ourselves. In fact, when you think about it, a lot of forgiveness remains in our own heads and hearts. We don't exactly go around telling people we've forgiven them for whatever transgression, big or small. We just quietly achieve a different perspective and move on. That's the first thing. Secondly, forgiving is not some form of words. You ask me if you'll regret having said it or not having said it. And I'm saying that's not the point. This isn't about whether you say some words to your husband, or fail to say them. It's about reaching a whole different emotional level. It's about freeing your soul.

Your question does show how angry you still are, and how focussed you are on your husband, rather than on yourself. What you're basically asking me is whether or not you should continue to punish him. Because that's what you've been doing all these years. Punishing him. No, I'm not saying that for his sake. I'm saying it for your sake. Anger is an awfully corrosive emotion to carry. Holding onto anger is also what victims do. It's one thing to see clearly that someone has done something wrong, and feel angry. That's a moral judgment. It's also a statement about our own self-worth. It's another thing entirely to remain stuck in the wound. Put bluntly, if what your husband did was so terrible, then dutifully staying and supporting him was the wrong thing to do. Do you understand? No matter what your reasons, it was a step too far, because it left you helplessly floundering, spiritually as well as emotionally.

There is a second scenario. What your husband did was wrong, but not insurmountable. You were right to stay. But you were wrong to allow the wound to fester. You nursed your anger, rather than having a series of battles to bring home to your husband the depth of your despair - and then letting go. Again this is victim behaviour. They feel helpless to fix things, either by leaving or by fighting for recognition of their hurt. Instead they alienate themselves even from their God. Your husband didn't make good, didn't make it up to you, didn't give you the consolation you so badly needed. But perhaps you made that impossible? At the end of the day no-one else can console us if we're not capable of consoling ourselves. You did your duty and suffered. What a punishment, not just of your husband, but of yourself.
You are still in shock, like you said. Give yourself some time. Then think, not of your husband, but of yourself. If you so wish, this tragic turn of events could carry within it a chance for you to reach a much kinder and gentler world. And maybe that's what your husband wants for you. Maybe he asked for forgiveness so that you could have a future.
Irish based professional therapist and journalist. Website By : Deise Design