“My husband is negative and I am positive. How can I change him?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

“I have been living with my partner for 22 years. He is a lovely man but a negative person, and I don’t understand it. Everything is about mortality and ageing, traffic, too many friends coming over, will we make our flight etc. I love him and he is one of the loveliest men I know, but he can’t seem to live in the moment. I am younger than he is by a few years, but I don’t understand the negativity and the propensity to think that life really is a crock. We have a great life, great friends and family – what’s not to love? I am a positive person, I enjoy life, but sometimes I feel like I’m in a bubble and he doesn’t get me or what I am. Trust me, I try to be the understanding spouse, but sometimes it gets me so down I want to run away.

We both know so many positive, lovely people, and it is a real treat to have them in our lives, but I don’t understand why he feels this way.”

 

This letter appeared first in The Observer

 My thoughts:

There is something perfectly formed about this letter. It is a classic example of the ‘I’m fine, but someone else is rubbish’ letter. You end by saying; ‘I don’t understand why he feels this way,’ as though the whole letter really is about him, though these are not his feelings, they are your conscious feelings about his feelings. You haven’t asked for help in understanding yourself and nor do you think you need any understanding whatever – the need is all in him.

This is precisely the function of his negativity – to reflect well on you. If all the fears and anxieties about (by the sounds of it) the whole universe are in him then you can maintain your happy-go-lucky front, never have a care in the world and simultaneously accuse him of being miserable. You have projected your fears into him and he has received your projections, but the result of this is that you are left feeling a bit empty (‘like I’m in a bubble’).

There is a tiny chink of hope for self-awareness here in a) the fact that you have written for help even though you aren’t able to admit that you personally need help and b) the admission that he may not be able to understand you (ie. that you feel lonely) and that you get ‘so down I want to run away’.

The subtext of this letter is that you are unhappily married to someone who you fear doesn’t understand you and that you sometimes want to leave him. So forbidden are these thoughts that you have spun a very odd-sounding story to hide them. You feel, I think, that your life with your husband is so perfect that you are mean and ungrateful for being unhappy.

Instead of allowing yourself to say ‘we are just very different people’, you say instead that there is a big problem in him that needs to be fixed. So, not only have you projected any anxiety about the world into him, but you have also projected The Problem into him such that you can address it in him, solve it in him and never have to face yourself and your own issues.

You hope that if he could be helped to ‘live in the moment’ you would be able to live fully with him outside your ‘bubble’. You state that he is older than you as an attempt to explain his negativity. It doesn’t, but what it may explain is his role in your mind as a father figure. (I do wonder whether you were mainly raised by your father, which might explain why the idea of leaving, of being ungrateful to your husband feels so taboo, but this is a wild guess).

Husband is worrying dad, making sure you are on time for the plane, making sure there isn’t too much washing up to do, fearing for the safety of both of you. This frees you up to be absolutely unencumbered child, skipping about with friends and wondering what he’s so morose about. The trouble is that, having assigned these roles, you find you lack an adult partner and are lonely. I strongly suspect he’s lonely too.

You say you are tempted to ‘run away’, again a very child-like desire – running away from home. (The 22 years is interesting – in a way, if he is a father figure, about time you left home). What this would mean in reality though is splitting up, negotiating a divorce settlement, telling friends and facing the idea of having separate friends and the pain of forging separate lives. However, in your mind you would just run away and leave all the agonising to him.

It may be that you are so different in your world outlooks that you are not right for each other. It may be that you could discuss your loneliness honestly, look at your roles in the relationship honestly and talk about them without blaming and accusing him.

Either way, looking at what you are really up to, why you find it so difficult to face your own fears and anxieties and must hand them over to a father figure, is the only way forward, either alone or with your current partner.

Proper Advice via Skype or Email: anna@blundy.com

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“When I got pregnant my husband got addicted to a computer game.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

My husband and I are both in our late 30s. We had the perfect relationship. Talked for hours, enjoyed going out for meals, watching films and just cuddling on the sofa. We married four years ago and until the birth of our son, that was the happiest day of my life.

Early last year  –  it must have been just after I fell pregnant  –  my husband started playing an online computer game.

Now his attention to me/us has waned, while his attention to this blasted game has increased. I think he’s addicted  –  the first thing he does in the morning is play, which makes him late for work.

When he gets home, after a cuddle with the baby, he is back on it, constantly playing until bedtime.

Quite often, I go to bed but he stays up until the early hours. He doesn’t help with the baby  –  not making food or bottles (he will give him a bottle if I make it, but not at a critical part of the game) and hardly ever feeds him or changes a nappy.

I do it all. I love my son, but I do resent my husband for not helping out even a little bit. We don’t talk any more because he’s usually ‘busy’ online. When we went on holiday he had to leave his laptop behind, but someone else ‘babysat’ his game, so he texted to see how it was going.

Yet when I had a stinking cold, he didn’t once text me from work to ask how I felt. He doesn’t do anything to help at home, and if I remind him to do something he says I’m nagging. Anything that takes him away from the game is unacceptable to him.

At the weekend, he can be playing from the moment he gets up until the time he goes to bed. If we have people over, he sits and plays the game while they’re there, and even plays while he eats. One day our internet connection went down and he was like an addict without a fix  –  ranting and raging and swearing.

As I sit here now, all I can hear is the clack of one key he seems to press every other second. The very sound sets my teeth on edge. I won’t even bother attempting a conversation because it’s pointless; so after I have sent this cry for help to you, I’ll probably sit and read a book until bedtime.

I have tried to talk about it in a light way, and in a serious way, but he will not accept that what he’s doing is detrimental to our relationship. I actually think the game is the centre of his life now, and not me and not even our son. I feel very lonely and I miss the man I used to know.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail

My Thoughts:

The diagnosis here is relatively straightforward, but the solution, as ever, is likely to be far more difficult. Obviously, and you hint at it throughout, your husband is chronically jealous first of your pregnancy and now of the baby himself. The baby is the centre of your life and the game is the centre of his. Your ability to bear a child seems to be what sparked off his envy and his subsequent obsession with this game. From what you say, I gather this game (which needed ‘babysitting’) is a game that develops – a long game. So, as your body created a child, he began his creation as a counter move.

His absolute dedication to his game, the need to nurture it and in some way ‘feed’ it all the time suggests very strongly that he sees it as his child. His real child, who he views as yours alone, is being neglected. He will be replaying something from his own childhood, very possibly being usurped in his mother’s affection by a younger sibling. However, this is all psychopathologising him and he has not written to ask anyone for help – you have. Indeed, he doesn’t need help as far as he is concerned. He is narcissistically self-sufficient, playing God in the world of his game – not being usurped by anyone or anything.

But what are you up to? This is much harder to discern because the letter is all about him. A lot of problem letters are like this – ‘Some other person is a nightmare, what shall I do?’ Or, ‘How can I tell what someone else is thinking and why they behave as they do?’ Of course, these two questions are a complete abdication of responsibility, an attempt on the writer’s part to claim they, blameless and angelic, are being buffeted by cruel fate. This is never true. So, what is going on?

The first red flag is the claim that you had ‘the perfect’ relationship. Nothing is perfect, so if you idealized the relationship to this extent it was bound to crash down. The relationship you describe is one of being entirely wrapped up in each other with no need of anyone else. (You only use two lines and perhaps the picture is incorrect but, still, this is what you chose to relate). It may well be that you formed an isolated and narcissistic unit with your husband, one in which you were each addicted to the other and needed no other sustenance. So, when a third person came into the equation things began to fall apart.

You say your wedding day was the happiest day of your life until the birth of your son. So, in your mind the birth of your son was very separate from the union with your husband and, perhaps, having been addicted to and dependent on your husband, you transferred this dependence to your son. Meanwhile, your husband, having been addicted to you, transferred his to the game.

I suspect that he has always been an addict but that he became addicted to you (perhaps this was mutual). Once he was rejected he began to inhabit an entirely separate world. I suspect that he was always very needy and that you selected him for that quality – you liked being needed and playing mother to this childish man and you felt secure because he needed you so much. Now you have a real baby and need this man to grow up, to change, to become someone else. He can’t because he always wanted to be the baby and you liked mothering him.

It may be that your own fear of being dependent directed you to choose a partner who depended solely on you. That puts you in power. Perhaps your relationship itself was a fantasy ‘perfect’ world in which he could immerse himself. Now he has been thrown out of paradise in favour of a baby. You are baffled by his behaviour but he may well be baffled by yours – you now love another man more than you love him and he is not grown up enough to cope.

 

I imagine that he is giving you a taste of what he experienced when a younger sibling was born – a mother engrossed in another world with not a second to spare for him.Not that this is any kind of solution to your problem, but I imagine that you too are playing a role. Being a beleaguered mother might well be you imitating your own mother. If you can be the harassed and exhausted person who is unsupported then you do not have to be the child (that you perhaps were) hoping in vain for some attention. Your husband is now in that role and, while this is a nightmare for you, it serves the purpose of protecting you from being the needy child yourself, a role you would reject as fearfully as he does.

Your cry for help goes to a newspaper columnist. You have tried to persuade your husband that he is in the wrong, that he is damaging the relationship. You have not, by the sounds of it, told him you are sad and lonely, that you miss him. You show him the anger but not the vulnerability – and he is doing the same.

 Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“Should I move to New Zealand and leave my baby son in Norway?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I fell in love with a Norwegian girl four years ago and she became pregnant soon after. I moved to Norway, had a child and generally struggled with the way of life here. At the beginning of this year she left me. I live in shared accommodation in Oslo to be near my son. I still love her and asked her to get back with me – her reply was that she was not ready for a relationship, with me or anyone else. When we meet, I detect she is happier now than she ever was when we were together. I am here in Norway, without accommodation and no real sense of belonging, unable to sleep properly. I am starting to long for warmer climes where I have friends and a lifestyle more suited to my character. The problem is that the destination is New Zealand. I feel a sense of dread, guilt and worthlessness that this would mean I would see my son once a year. Should I sacrifice my own happiness just to be around my son as he grows up?

This problem appeared first in the Observer.

My Reply:

Hmm. It’s a fascinating first line. The fact that you say ‘fell in love’ and that you describe your partner as ‘a Norwegian girl’ makes it all sound very romantic and somehow out of your control. ‘Fell in love with’ is very different from ‘started a relationship with’. Her being a ‘girl’ makes her sound young, at least in your eyes, feeding your idea that this was a carefree time when things just seemed to happen.

 Then ‘she became pregnant.’ Again there is a feeling that there was nothing you could have done about this, a bit like ‘fell in love’. This is something she did or that happened to her. So, as a result of having been buffeted by fate, you moved to Norway and found yourself to be unhappy there. ‘Struggled with the way of life’ is an odd way to put it. Presumably you could have chosen your own way of life wherever you found yourself but again, very passively, it sounds as though you tried to fit in with a life that you had not forged for yourself, that just happened to you. It seems hard for you to say you felt sad, lost, helpless. Instead you feel hard done by.

 Then the Norwegian girl acts again, leaving you – you don’t say why, what went wrong. Again, just out of the blue as if you were no part of the relationship. You feel very sorry for yourself, something we can see in the ‘shared accommodation…to be near my son’. So, now your son is dictating how you should live, forcing you to live in a way you feel you haven’t chosen. You don’t say ‘I want to be near my son’ or give the impression that you enjoy spending time with him.

Though you were already struggling in Norway, you made another bid to stay and were refused – again this feeling that you are organised by others, that no choice is really your own. It was a kind of fate that you ended up shackled to her and now it is her choice not to continue in the relationship. The result is that you feel homeless, lost and unable to sleep. It sounds as though you are highly anxious, stressed and suffused with a sense of loss that you don’t face head on. Your passivity and the sense that you are not in control seems to make you feel very confused.

‘I am here in Norway’ sounds as though you are surprised to find yourself there, somewhere you don’t belong. It is cold and you long for warmth. By the sounds of it, your ex is cold and you long for human warmth. You feel rejected by the whole country, the whole way of life (your early home life?). My strong suspicion is that you have never felt the love and warmth you hoped to find by creating your own family, one that would give you what you didn’t get in childhood. Instead, you have ended up re-enacting something more familiar. I wonder if you feel you might meet someone in New Zealand who will provide the love and warmth you have always lacked, if perhaps your true self is there (ie. elsewhere).

It sounds as though you feel completely worthless – your ex-girlfriend seems happier without you, your son perhaps doesn’t need you. The way you say ‘just to be around my son’ sounds as though you don’t really feel necessary to him, that you would be there for your own gratification rather than because you feel you have something to offer him.

There is clear resentment in ‘just to be around my son’ as though you have been cornered by fate, your own needs denied. It seems you feel usurped in your ex’s affections by your son, thrown out of the family home and left all at sea.

Going to New Zealand is a ‘didn’t want to come to your party anyway’ message to both your ex and your son. Unless you can try to understand why you feel so helpless, so managed by others and so rejected, you are likely to recreate the same scenario again in New Zealand. I suspect that this is either Oedipal material (you felt usurped by your father in your mother’s affections and left out in the cold after the honeymoon period of very early infancy), a sibling rivalry thing (new baby casts you out) or, perhaps, you were brought up by a single mother who then found a partner and left you feeling isolated and thrown into some kind of student accommodation (Boarding school? University?).

Obviously, these are wild guesses but you seem to scream;‘None of this is my fault! It just happened!’ without seeing that you, as the adult you now are, were making clear (if unconscious) choices all along. I suspect that leaving will increase your feelings of worthlessness and being unwanted (though it is designed to do the opposite) rather than forcing you to look them in the eye and prevent your son from growing up feeling as rejected, worthless and as devoid of choice as you do.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I am gay. Why can’t I kick start my relationship with my wife?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

At the age of 29 I was totally in love and knew I’d found the girl I wanted to marry. We had careers and so on, but finally married when I was 40 and she was 35.

By the time I’d reached 49, I felt that something was missing in our sex life but, because of my deep love for my wife, I couldn’t tell her.

In time, I discovered that I am gay. But I’ve been battling with my sexuality because I love my wife and feel very protective of and responsible towards her.

I have been to counsellors, psychiatrists, hypnotists, joint counselling and everything else. We did try living apart eight years ago, but I was made redundant and circumstances brought me back home to my wife again.

Though we no longer sleep in the same room, we have just slipped back into a happy, married state, but more one of companionship. My wife seems to be happy with this, so why can’t I?

We have a lovely home and possessions and do nice things together. But about two years ago I met a guy at football and everything resurfaced. Yet again, I have tried counsellors. My wife and I have been jointly to a psychiatrist and have agreed that perhaps we should go our separate ways.

We put our house on the market, but then got cold feet and took it off. Even though I accept I am gay, I have tried so hard to make the marriage work.

I’m empty and sad, but feel I have a responsibility to my wife and must ensure her needs are met before mine. She tells me she still loves me and I still love her.

I did not ask for these sexual feelings and she says she understands. But she keeps telling me how hurt she is and that she never thought I would do this to her, which makes me realise that she thinks I have chosen this.

She thinks I am abandoning her and that adds more guilt.

I’m scared of so many things, as she is, too, I’m sure, and that’s why we are clinging on to each other. This is destroying my brain, but she can’t see that.

I need to put her first even if I am unhappy for the rest of my life. She has an ability to put things in compartments or sweep them under the carpet, which is something I cannot do.

My present state of mind is  making me depressed, but I really need to resolve this issue with as little hurt to my wife  as possible.

Why can’t my wife and I  kick-start our relationship? What does she want from me? How does she feel? She never tells me!

I feel so alone and isolated. What shall I do?

This letter appeared first in the Daily Mail

My Response:

The ages that you immediately relate are interesting. Though you met your wife when you were 29 and say you were ‘totally’ in love, you waited 11 years to get married. I suspect there was already something holding you back. Nine years later you ‘discovered’ that you are gay but you have tried to repress your sexuality because you seem to feel you should ‘protect’ your wife (from yourself?) and that your responsibility towards her involves not being yourself. It sounds as though you feel paternal towards her, as though she is helpless and dependent, and it is apparent that this is not a relationship between two open equals.

However, the paternal attitude is, I think, a defence against the reality of the situation – that this is actually a mother/son relationship in which you, not she, are hopelessly dependent, a replay of which you tried to avoid by choosing a younger partner. You say you tried to cure yourself of yourself (feeling that as you are you are shameful and not good enough). Then, inevitably failing, you split up but soon came back to your wife (mother?) when you lost your job. You now sound like a guilty and burdensome son who resents having moved back home but somehow had to. It is significant that you say your wife ‘seems to be happy’ with the separate rooms/companionship arrangement. You haven’t talked to each other about it fully, I gather.

You berate your wife for her unfair demands on you but you stress that the charade is a comfortable and somehow attractive, unsullied one (‘we do “nice things” together’ – ie. not sex). You expect the reader to join you in feeling she is unfair on you. And yet it is you who stays, who tries to change, who chooses punishment over freedom.

If, as you say, you are gay then the fact that you met a man and things ‘resurfaced’ is surely inevitable. Indeed, isn’t the reality of who you are the surface and the rest a façade? You are using your marriage and your wife to defend yourself against your own sexuality of which you are deeply ashamed. As far as I can make out your wife has not begged or forced you to stay with her – you keep coming back, keep trying to cure yourself of something that is apparently fundamental to you, and using your pity/duty towards your wife as an excuse not to face your own reality.

What is destroying your brain is your own desire to cling on to your wife and your need to avoid your sexuality. It may be that she is trying to make you feel guilty, but she can only succeed if the guilt is already there in you. You complain that she is demanding you put her first and be unhappy, that she is able to ignore the truth. This may true, but you are obeying her and you yourself are ignoring the truth and hiding your own shameful needs behind hers.

You say you are depressed, but you suggest that it is your wife’s demands on you that are causing your depression. If you were able to accept yourself and your sexuality you would not be using her as a punishing super ego. It seems to me that you are desperate to please and obey a rather authoritarian mother figure (I suspect your actual mother was such a figure, but I’m guessing) and that you feel denigrated and repressed when you do, but terrified of her annihilating rage when you don’t. You are attracted to men who do not seem to exert such a frightening influence on you and seem too weak (in your mind, of course) to combat the power of what masquerades as a happy, ordinary family but is, in reality, crushing you.

I suspect this is some sort of reenactment of early homelife – punishing mother, weak but attractive father and the charade of family life depending on everyone denying reality and obeying the rules.

You ask why you cannot kick start your relationship with your wife. Well, that’s an easy one – you are gay.

You are horribly isolated (by your own repression and denial) and ask what you should do. You very urgently need, for your own sake and for your wife’s, to find a therapist for yourself. Not joint therapy with her, not with a view to mending or addressing anything with her, but therapy that will help you to come to terms with yourself. If you can accept yourself without a terror of annihilation, you will be able to extricate yourself from what sounds life a dreadful situation. You are keeping up a façade and denying yourself – you must be exhausted and, as you suggest, very lonely. (As, indeed, must she).

Proper Advice in private via email or Skype: anna@blundy.com

 

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“Why do I keep having drunken sex with someone who isn’t very nice to me?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am a 28-year-old woman. For six months I have been involved in a sexual relationship with a man who does not value me. He is in the same social circles, so I see him frequently, and we only ever go home together when we’re out and have been drinking until the early hours with the wider group. Before I slept with him, he was much more interested, attentive. He’d be in touch. Now we are never in touch until I see him out and then find myself in bed with him later that night. I have told him repeatedly I don’t want to do it any more. I fancy him and want there to be an opportunity for something to develop. But he has said he does not feel the same way. I want to move on from this, but why do I keep putting myself back in this situation with him and expecting a different result? To make matters worse, he’s not particularly nice to me and takes great joy in telling people that he has slept with me, which really offends me. What can I do to put an end to this? I will still see him in a social setting and don’t want to excise myself from my other friends.

 This letter appeared first in the Observer.

My Thoughts:

It sounds very much as though you are sleeping with this man precisely because he’s not very nice to you. There seems to be something addictive about the apparent chance of ‘finding yourself’ in bed with him, as though neither of you takes any responsibility for the event -it’s all part of being  young and fun. And yet…

It is interesting that you say  ‘touching’ means that you are less ‘in touch’. You say he has made himself clear, but this is not the case – he is still going to bed with you, however much he says he is not interested in you. And you have not made yourself clear to him either. You have told him ‘repeatedly’ you want to stop, yet you carry on. Your bodies are expressing your unconscious desires while you vocalise the opposite. The fact that you both have to be drunk to have sex suggests that you need to remain totally oblivious to your motivations and in denial about them.

 Then, perhaps when you are sober, you lie to each other. You would like to blame him for somehow seducing you after drinking and then being cruel to you in public, but you are not buffeted by fate in the way you suggest. You go to bed with him because you have chosen to, not because you ‘end up’ there. You are getting something out of the situation and you will find it hard to leave unless you understand what makes you stay.

The group dynamic is interesting – that you are both part of this group that goes out on the town, drinking late and, at least ostensibly, having fun. I wonder whether he is the most immediately attractive member of the group? I suspect he is and that in some way you are invoking the envy of the rest of the group by sleeping with him. Perhaps you feel less a fundamental member of the group than the others and envy them – therefore you are trying to turn the tables. This, of course, is just a guess.

If it is right, then I wonder if you are perhaps replaying something from your family life. Did you feel left out of your parents’ relationship, or your siblings’ relationship with your parents? If so, then sleeping with the alpha male (father figure) in your group, might well be something you partly want to keep secret from them and partly want them to know. It sounds as though you are shouting to the group – ‘I am desirable and important!’ But this abusive man is saying to you – ‘No, you’re not!’

There is a sadomasochistic element that can’t be ignored. You are allowing yourself to feel abused, telling him you don’t like it and then doing it over and over again. The cruelty seems to be part of the attraction, something you can’t let go of. I suspect that you ignore or accept cruelty as part of an intimate relationship because you are not familiar with relationships from which cruelty is completely absent. As I say, it is not the downside to what is going for you, it is the attraction itself. Why you invite someone to abuse you is what you need to ask yourself.

You say you want the relationship to develop but I doubt that’s really true. In fantasy, maybe, but if he were keen and committed I suspect you would be very fearful. This is a relationship without intimacy and one in which you are not ‘in touch’. That suggests that being truly in touch with someone might be very unfamiliar and therefore frightening for you.

From this point of view your age is perhaps relevant. You are perhaps thinking about fertility and a stable partner. Given the emphasis you put on the group’s party atmosphere it sounds as though you are trying to prolong your youth and ignore (denial is very key for you) the aging process. The longer you go on having casual sex with someone who doesn’t like you, the longer you put off thinking about stability and possibly children. Your behaviour, and his, of course, is a defense against annihilation (inevitably futile).

Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I am unhappy because my husband is mean. How can I change him?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I’m 38 and have been married for 15 years. With two daughters, aged 12 and ten, we’ve generally been happy, but I feel our future is under threat.

My husband runs his own business from home and works extremely hard. Living with such a driven perfectionist, it’s very hard to measure up.

I can’t really get excited about housework, especially when it’s never good enough, and I also have a well-paid job, but it’s one that doesn’t really tick all my boxes. I have a good education, was a PA before having children and am studying for a qualification in accounting.

I wish my husband could understand that looking after children and running the home is hard work – and a job in itself.

I feel guilty if I so much as read a paper for five minutes, because he’s working in his office.

Woe betide me if I’m ‘caught out’. I’ll often hear him say: ‘It’s all right for you, I have to work’, as if what I do isn’t important.

I’m constantly being hauled up over minor things and I really hate it. I’ve tried to tell him how I feel, but he says I’m being over-sensitive.

Although he never works at weekends, all his energies are concentrated on the garden, which is of massive importance in his life.

It’s lovely, but never ‘finished’ – and we very rarely actually enjoy it. Work on it comes before everything else and is the source of endless rows because I feel he should be spending time with the children.

I’ve tried to make this point, but he says no one else will do the garden. He’s missing out on so much – but he’s not going to change after 15 years.

I really want us to stay together as I do love him, and I don’t want to deprive our girls of their father – but I feel I’m sacrificing too much of myself if things stay as they are.

You’ll suggest counselling, but the hard part is convincing him that things are that bad!

Five years ago I was diagnosed with depression, but manage fairly well. But, as with any problem, everyone thinks that when you behave a certain way, then it’s the illness talking, and not you, which causes me immense frustration.

I tried counselling via Relate a few years ago, but there was little they could do without my husband’s involvement.

I don’t want to meet anyone else; I want to sort out this marriage – but I don’t know how.

I’ve obviously tried to talk to my husband, but find it hard to control my feelings and it usually turns into a row.

He thinks I’m always criticising, so I’m at a loss as to how best to approach this whole subject. How can this be, considering I’m an intelligent woman?

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My answer:
This letter has a strange beginning. You say you’ve ‘generally been happy’ but no happiness comes across. The word ‘hard’ comes up twice in the first few lines and ‘under threat’ appears almost immediately. It is clear that you are struggling, but also that you find it very hard to admit that you are struggling. It’s easier to blame someone else for the struggle…

You instantly accuse your husband of being a ‘driven perfectionist’ to whom you can’t ‘measure up.’ It seems that reader is supposed to feel that you are being bullied and dominated by a man who accuses you of failing to perform perfect housework and cannot appreciate the work you do at home.

This may well be the case (and he sounds like a classic bully – looking for errors and negating your misery with the ‘over sensitive’ label) but I think it’s a bit more complicated than that. You say yourself that your job isn’t fulfilling and you feel the need to stress that you are not only educated but that you are continuing to be educated. You finish by citing your intelligence – you wouldn’t need to stress it if you really believed it.  It sounds as though your self esteem is under attack not only from your husband, but from yourself as well. You say you can’t get ‘excited’ about housework and there is a tone of denigration there that suggests your share your husband’s views to some extent but resent him for expressing them. ‘Woe betide’ has an ironic tone that again bats away the depth of the abuse you are allowing yourself to suffer.

You say you feel guilty when you’re reading the paper, not that he tells you to put it down and this makes you angry. Your guilt is your own even if the aggression is his. If you know you work hard why do you need him to confirm this? It seems that you actually worry about not doing enough and this comes from you alone. He just backs up what is already a harsh super ego.

Obviously you resent the work your husband does on the garden and you tell him so – it is the source of ‘endless rows’. Then you say ‘he’s not going to change after 15 years.’ What about you? Might you change? You say you can’t persuade him that there’s a problem, that you went to couples counseling alone and that you do want to stay together.

Eventually we arrive at the most important part of the letter which is, of course, your depression. You cope with it, you say, not giving any detail or any sense of what the source of the depression might be or how exactly you cope with it. Medication? It sounds more as though you grit your teeth. I wonder if you have had any psychotherapy?  I rather doubt it. You feel the depression allows people to dismiss your genuine misery but, in turn, you yourself dismiss the depression and the extent of your misery.

I think this situation is a lot worse than it sounds. Underlying the domestic irritation is a great deal of despair. You feel persecuted by your husband and he apparently feels you are persecuting him when you try to raise your issues. You say ‘he always thinks I’m criticising’ and, by the sounds of it, you are indeed attacking him as he attacks you. You want him to change. You are locked into some kind of sadomasochistic exchange that neither of you feels able to get out of. I wonder if he knows how unhappy you are? I wonder if he would care? Is he hiding in the garden because he is unable to cope with your unhappiness? Are you allowing him to bully you because of your own lack of self worth?

You worry you are sacrificing too much of yourself, but I wonder why you are allowing this sacrifice to take place? This is one of these letters where someone projects all their problems into their partner and then says; ‘I don’t know how to make him/her change.’ It seems to me that you want to locate the problems in your husband because you are afraid to face the real problem which might be; ‘Why do I allow someone to treat me like this? Why do I consider myself to be of so little value?’

You feel helpless because you can’t get him into counseling, assuming you will be told by an agony aunt to have couples counseling.  I think you need to look at yourself before looking at the relationship – you could perhaps get yourself into therapy? There is real desperation here and you have positioned it all in your husband’s bullying and absence. I think your unhappiness probably predates your relationship with him though, and I suspect you chose him because of, not despite, his incapacity for real intimacy, for his perfectionism and the fact that he would collude in denigrating you. You have found someone who will be the cruel parent to your resentful but longing child. You want him to give you points on a wall chart for what you do (and you feel he’s filling his own in unjustly), but you don’t suggest that you really want to spend time with this man, get to know him or to let him know you.

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

 

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“My parents sent me away to school and I still bear a grudge.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I was born to an expat family and sent to school in England in my early teens. I held a grudge against my parents over this, and in an act of rebellion I left school, stopped their financial support and never returned “home”.

This decision shaped my life for good and taught me values beyond those acquired through an expensive education in some stuck-up toff institution. My relationship with my mother has greatly improved, and I talk to her as a friend, but with my father it’s still that of a worried dad to an angry teenager.

 My career and lifestyle keep me on the move, hopping continents, and I’ve missed out on some prime dad-son years. When I see my family I feel like a bystander. I’m not fitted into the schedule; there is always something more important. I don’t get treated as an adult or friend.

I just want to make up for the years lost, for us to get to know each other, but he blocks all emotions, which makes us both very anxious when we are together – it feels like mutual guilt. I have a feeling that my dad disapproves of my lifestyle and career choice and the fact that I did not follow in his footsteps. I think it hurts him that I have decided to get on with life without involving him in it.

This problem first appeared in the Observer.

My thoughts:

Your teenage anger is audible in the first few lines. Feeling terribly rejected, you decided to reject them back. This is a kind of ‘didn’t want to come to your stupid party anyway.’ However, it’s a worrying beginning because you have translated hurt into anger instantly – bearing a grudge is very different from being devastated. And I think you were devastated. The inverted commas around “home” make it clear that you felt you had been cast out of home forever. In response to that feeling, you never returned.

I think the ‘stuck-up toff institution’ that you rejected is your father, not just the school he chose for you. Again you are saying you didn’t need him or what he offered anyway, you taught yourself better alone. This is a narcissistic regression in response to pain. Instead of processing and understanding the pain you felt at your father’s rejection, you have become completely, defiantly, self-sufficient and rejecting. While your father’s rejection was unconscious, yours is very conscious, though its results baffle you.

You say you speak to your mother as a friend, though not as a son, but that your father still treats you like an angry teenager. You sound like an angry teenager, presumably your defence against feeling like a lost little boy. It seems as though you were never able to let either parent see how lost and abandoned you felt and, perhaps, you never really let yourself know about it either. You don’t mention whether or not you have other siblings, but it sounds as though being cast out by a couple who remained more or less happily together was a crushing defeat and possible castration for the Oedipal child in you, one you have not been able to think about.

You have coped with your despair by constantly acting out the rejection meted out to you in moving countries a great deal. If you leave first then perhaps you won’t be left, won’t be abandoned. You don’t say so, but perhaps you have defended against your enormous feelings of envy of your parents’ relationship and their self-sufficiency in not needing you, by becoming enviable. I suspect you are wealthy and have a lifestyle you expect others to envy. This is supposed to stop you feeling needy and envious but it doesn’t work, of course, since it is removed from the real source of the problem.

You say you have become a bystander and that your parents make no room for you in their schedule, either because of their own cruelty (perfectly possible) or because of your making very clear to them that you do not need them or want to see them. Perhaps, sadly, both. You say you would like to get the time back, that you would like to have now what you missed out on then. This is very moving and suggests that you are partly still in touch with a boy who loves and needs his parents, who regrets his counter-rejection of them and would like to make things better, to get the love and care he wanted at the time but refused to come “home” for. [I suspect you make yourself a bystander in all of life by not getting into dangerous intimacy with people or even a country - the unacknowledged fear of rejection will make that impossible.]

You talk about mutual guilt and anxiety and I think that’s right, but what you then do is to project your feelings into your father and then to perceive them as real. You say your dad disapproves of your choices, your life, the fact that you did not follow him. You say it hurts him that you have got on with life without involving him. The truth is exactly the opposite – you disapprove of the choices he made regarding you, the fact that he did not follow you to England, did not want to be with you. It hurts you that he got on with his life without involving you.

Perhaps if you were able to discuss your pain and sadness with your family instead of showing them your anger and manic independence, there might be some chance of real healing.

(There is a lot of unprocessed sexuality that I think you are trying to escape from in your travel, narcissism and rejections as well, but since you do not give much detail I won’t give reign to my fantasies.)

Proper Advice in private via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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