“I’m worried my relationship with the sweet shop owner may be illegal.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am 15. I am in love with an older man. He works at a sweet shop and I’m not sure how old he is. We met last year when I was hungry and went to buy sweets, but then realised I only had 2p, so he gave them to me for free. He was really kind and generous, and the next time I went in we got chatting and got on really well. I came back again the next day and have never looked back. But now things are looking more serious and I’m worried that our relationship may not be entirely legal. I’m worried that if I confront him I’ll lose everything. I think I love him, but though he enjoys our relationship, I’m not sure he feels the same. I haven’t told my parents or friends because I’m worried that they’ll judge me. Should I tell him or would that spoil things? Have I gone too far? I’m worried about how people will view me, but I don’t want to end things because I love him so much. I don’t think I could ever love anyone as much as this again.

This first appeared in the Observer

My thoughts:

On first reading this letter sounds as though it is written by an adult pretending to be a child. Would an underage girl or boy write to a national broadsheet asking for this kind of help? Would such a person write things like ‘entirely legal’? There is something odd about being hungry and going to buy sweets – why state that you are hungry? It’s as though the act needs justifying. How odd then to go to the shop with no money, or, rather, how odd to state the exact and pitiful amount you had with you – 2p. How odd to call it a ‘sweet shop’ – sounds very old-fashioned.

However, if you really are 15, then what does come across loud and clear is your acute vulnerability and the fact that you are young for your age, unworldly and, by the sounds of it, not getting a lot of care at home. You seem to feel you lack the resources needed to be out in the world, you are hungry for sweetness but, far from being ‘for free’, the price is high – illegal sex. There is something about the hunger and the fear of losing everything, of feeling the need to point out to an adult that what he is doing may be illegal that points to domestic neglect. Also, the idealisation of a person who gave you free sweets suggests that you live off the merest scraps of affection and offer your love in return.

It hardly needs saying that this is in no way an equal relationship and you are aware of this – though you are in love, he may only be enjoying himself, you say. He is older than you, so much so that you apparently haven’t dared ask his age for fear of finding out. He is offering sweets in return for your affection and, if what is happening is illegal, we must assume, for sex. You don’t mention the sex explicitly and from the way you describe the situation it is not what’s important to you – it is the fact that the wants you, that he is generous towards you and enjoys your company. There is a distinct feeling that this is unusual in your life.

You are ashamed of the sexual element of the relationship and haven’t told your friends. You suggest you might confront your lover. With what? He presumably knows he’s having sex with you. He presumably knows your age. It sounds to me as though you are very uncomfortable with the sex (after all, you have written) but worry that if you withdraw it then you will lose the friendship and love you value so much. You relieve your abuser (yes) entirely of responsibility, wondering if you have gone too far. You? He has, by the sounds of it, committed statutory rape.

You don’t state your gender. If you are also male then perhaps your reluctance to tell friends, your fear about whether or not the relationship is allowed, your wish to confront your lover/abuser about the relationship, might have something to do with shame and fear around coming out. You may fear being judged for your sexuality and have conflated that with fear of being judged about the age gap and, perhaps, his status. ‘He works in a sweet shop’ is stated immediately and must be important in some way. It’s unclear whether this puts him in high or low esteem in your view but, I suspect, low.

However, male or female, the reality is that you are paying for affection with sex and you feel there is something wrong with that (illegal – but you’re using the word to express something about your feelings as well as the social facts). You fear that you have not much besides your body to offer and, like the hunger, lack of resources and gratitude at the beginning of the letter, this points to neglect, at the very least, at home.

I would like to know about your relationship with your father and whether you see any parallels there – do you feel unloved by him, that you have to produce something in order to secure his affection, that you can’t talk to him about what is honestly going on with you? You don’t say and I have no idea, but you need to ask yourself what it is about the relationship that might be harshly judged by your friends and parents, why you are afraid to talk to your lover and whether or not you are willing to continue to provide sex in return for what you really want – someone who is ‘kind and generous’ to you. (The fact that you have written suggests strongly that you want this to stop but don’t want to lose your friend).

Yes, the relationship is illegal, as you know. However, there are plenty of 15 year olds having sex with someone a few years older than they are and not feeling the need to write to a newspaper columnist about it. You are really scared and isolated and, despite your saying you love this man, you clearly do not feel cared for and protected by him or anyone else. Perhaps you might find someone you really trust (friend, teacher, doctor?) and seek some help that might keep you safe and build your, entirely absent here, confidence?

The very short answer would be – stop letting this person abuse you because it is making you feel insecure, unhappy and scared. Then have a look at what help you might be able to get in terms of improving your confidence.

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

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“I’m 18 and having an affair with my married ex-teacher. It’s ruining my life.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

“I feel I’ve reached breaking point and cannot go on. I’m 18 and, over the summer, became embroiled in an affair with a much older man, who was once my teacher.

We developed a close friendship at school, but it was strictly platonic. Afterwards, we met as friends but, after a few meetings, became lovers.

I’d had a mad crush on him at school, and so at first could not quite believe that he was finally ‘mine’. Now pain has overtaken pleasure, leaving me feeling confused and lonely.

He has a wife and child. I’m not a horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills, but I couldn’t control how I felt about him.

I’m racked by guilt because of his child – but not his wife, wrong as that may be. I despise her because she has him and there is nothing I can do about it. I love this wonderful man, too – when I’m with him I feel so complete.

However, the affair is ruining my life. I’d planned to go to university, but decided not to bother because I felt too depressed and unstable to contemplate study.

I hope to go next year, but I worry that I’ve consigned myself to yet another year with him and will feel worse and worse. I find it hard to concentrate on anything but him.

I’ve watched my friends move away to uni, and they have made new friends and are having the time of their lives.

Meanwhile, I am hurting badly. My parents are angry because I am often out for hours – meeting up with him (saying I’m with friends), when I should be looking for a job.

My heart aches; I can’t see any future for myself that does not involve him.

He says we have to give things time until his son is a little older and then – if we are still in love – see what happens.

He says we should just appreciate what an amazing relationship we have.

However, I feel as though my life’s on hold – while he’s had his youth and fun, and is now settled. I’m desperate for commitment, but I can’t walk away because I love him too much.

The thought of life without him is unbearable. I don’t blame him because it was me who instigated the affair, and it’s obviously had adverse effects on his life as well. But I feel my youth has been taken away from me.

He gets upset and jealous if I mention other boys, although he says he knows he can’t stop me from seeing someone else.

But I’m not interested and find myself longing to have his child, though I know this would only make things 1,000 times worse.

I have no one to talk to. No one would understand. They’d accuse me of having a sleazy fling, whereas our relationship is built on love.

I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m considering making an appointment to see my doctor for depression if things do not get better. Please help.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mirror.

My thoughts:

It’s easy to plough in here with a diagnosis of unresolved Oedipus Complex – you have succeeded in seducing father away from mother but have inevitably ended up feeling at once guilty and abused. Part of you, I think, knows this. You have said you are at ‘breaking point’ and ‘cannot go on’. You end by wondering about seeking help for depression and clearly you do feel completely helpless, as if you have started something you do not understand.

You say ‘embroiled’ as though it was some sort of an accident. ‘Strictly platonic’ makes it obvious this was never platonic – you may not have had a physical relationship at school but you say you had a ‘mad crush’ on him, so your intentions, if not his, were clear. What does seem to have shocked you though is that it actually happened.

While Oedipal desires are a normal part of development, the disturbance around the desires being acted out is overwhelming, as with incest. You are 18, so nothing illegal is going on, but abuse is happening nonetheless. The father figure you desired decided to have sex with you and the reality of this has made you very depressed and frightened. It has made you feel completely worthless – you’ve lost education, friends and career and made this man the centre of your world, though he is married and has a child with someone else (a mother figure).

It’s possible to speculate about your parents’ relationship with each other and with you – perhaps you are closer to your dad and feel punished by your mum. This might explain why you feel no guilt towards the wife. You do, however, identify with the child who may lose a father. Perhaps your dad left for someone else and you would prefer to act out being the someone else than face the painful reality of being one of the ones left behind?

You don’t say these things, so I’m guessing, but it is clear that you hoped for fulfillment in this affair and have found emptiness, like a child who desires closeness with a parent but is petrified and ruined when met with abuse, perhaps disguised as love.

You say you are not a ‘horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills’ as though you imagine other women might be – did your father have a girlfriend you perceived in this way? That might have been an easy way of blaming someone other than your father for whatever it is he may have done. (Speculation, obviously).

In the case of this teacher, you do explicitly say ‘I don’t blame him’ because you claim started the affair. Alone? With no invitation? Yet you say your youth has been taken away from you. By whom? The way you blame yourself entirely and yet feel buffeted by fate at the same time is interesting here. Anything, apparently, rather than blame your cowardly abuser.

This unwillingness to blame him is classic behaviour for someone in an abusive relationship – it’s easier to imagine things are your fault or that the fates are conspiring against you than it is to see that the person who is supposed to love you is manipulative, domineering and abusive. If this man was as wonderful as you try to persuade us he is, he would have insisted you go to university and end the relationship with him. Or, if it is what you and he both want as an adult couple, he would leave his wife and start a new family with you.

However, I don’t think that is what you want. You sound horrified, in fact, that the relationship has taken the shape that it has, that the secrecy and lies, consfusion, shame and guilt (again, typical in survivors of childhood sexual abuse) has made you wholly reliant on him, isolated and old before your time.

This is a confusing letter because it is tempting to treat you as an adult, persuade you of your own autonomy, that denying it is an infantile defence and that you need to take responsibility for your actions and see through the fantasy of helplessness. However, if you were three years younger it would be a police case and all your symptoms – depression, not eating (on the self-harm spectrum), insomnia, confusion, guilt, worthlessness, shame, desperate reliance on your aggressor – would be seen as symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.

Despite the adult nature of your letter, your symptoms and your efforts to excuse the appalling behaviour of this man who should probably not be a teacher, suggest to me that you are more in need of the kind of help an abused child might need.

Certainly, it’s obvious that you need to end this relationship, tell your parents and friends about it, get a place at university and move on with your life away from this man who would like to dominate you entirely. I’m sure the newspaper columnist you wrote to said the same. However, as always, this is far easier said than done. If you felt powerful enough to act you would have done so. It has taken all the courage you have to write for help and that is as much as you can manage at the moment.

The desire to have the teacher’s baby (have your father’s baby once you have seduced him away from your mother – a toddler’s fantasy) is a fantasy based in early childhood desire. A fantasy it would be disastrous to act out. Indeed the whole relationship is a disastrous acting out of early Oedipal desires, one in which this older man should not have colluded.

It would not be a bad idea to go to the doctor, but for some therapy and counseling rather than anti-depressants which might further pathologise you when the problem is the abuse you are suffering. This is a subtly abusive relationship from which you need to free yourself and you will have to look closely at what you really wanted from this relationship in the first place in order to get free. Probably your father’s love.
Proper Advice via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“My stepfather abused me 45 years ago. Now I need resolution.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective

I am 57 and was molested by my stepfather when I was 13.

When my mum and nan went out on a Friday night, he would pull me to him from behind and put his hand inside my bra. I asked him not to, but it went on for a while before I told my nan.

I then started sleeping at her house over the road, but he tried to control me by making me come back from nights out with my friends very early.

From the age of 17, all I wanted to do was get married so I could get rid of his family name.

I married at 20, divorced at 23, then got together with my current partner, whom I used to work with.

The relationship has not been easy, as he is verbally abusive when he’s had a bit too much to drink, and I’ve tried a few times to leave him, but we have three wonderful children and four fantastic grandchildren who make my life worth living. I still live in the same house.

My parents emigrated to the U.S. and I have had a letter from my stepdad saying he is sorry for what he did.

He has asked me not to reply, but I feel I need to write back and let him know how his actions have affected my life. My partner cannot come up behind me and wrap his arms around me, and I don’t like people close to my back in lifts.

Once, when I took the kids over to visit them, he put his fingers inside my daughter’s top while putting her seat belt on, when she was just developing.

This could have been a fluke, but because of what happened to me I will never know for sure.

Also, my son went over to visit on his own when he was nine, and my stepdad went in the bathroom to show him how to wash himself and touched my son’s penis.

I have been told he raped his sister when she was 18 (he was 26 and drunk).

He told my younger sister this is a lie, but we cannot ask my auntie, as she died six years ago.

My stepdad has prostate and bone cancer and I don’t know how much longer he has to live, but feel I need some kind of resolution before it is too late.

Maybe I should have sought some help or advice sooner.

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail

My thoughts:

This, of course, is a letter about the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. Whilst you are speaking mainly about the abuse you suffered at the hands of your stepfather, you also mention that you are still being abused by your current partner. You mention it and then downplay it – acknowledging it and denying it at the same time. You had no autonomy in your early life and it sounds as though you still lack the confidence to be independent of abusive men.

You make it clear that you asked your stepfather at the time not to abuse you, but he ignored you. You managed to tell your nan but, by the sounds of it, she did not call the police or confront your mother and stepfather and he continued to abuse children. You say you can’t be sure about some of the abusive actions against other children (your own) and yet you cite them clearly. Again – acknowledgment and denial simultaneously. This kind of fear and uncertainty, worry that you are wrong or might be making it up, is a classic reaction to early sexual abuse.

It’s interesting that you took your stepfather’s name in childhood as it somehow underlines his complete domination of your life, a deletion of your original self. Of course, sexual abuse is very much about power and control as you rightly suggest. You say your current partner is abusive ‘when he’s had a bit too much to drink’. The euphemism for drunk, a way of trying to exculpate him, is strongly suggestive of your feeling of helplessness and uncertainty as to whether your own feelings are valid. You say you tried to leave ‘a few times’ but, instead of explaining why you didn’t, you mention your children and grandchildren. You are counting your blessings in a situation that feels helpless – something you have always had to do.

I wonder why you mention that you still live in the same house. I think you are saying that nothing has really changed – that the mental prison of self-doubt, domineering men and helplessness still surrounds you.

You say your abuser has written to apologise, but again he controls your behaviour – dictating what you should do. You go on to say how ill he is as if this might be a reason to obey him – again. Your own letter seems to be asking permission to disobey both your former and your present abuser, to have your own feelings. You do not feel you have the authority, the worth as a person to do this without the consent of some lofty figure – in this case a newspaper columnist.

Your childhood abuser has also abused both your children and still you doubt yourself. Although you should of course write whatever you would like to write to this abuser, it seems unlikely that resolution will come from the hands or mouth of the person who took your childhood away and made you, not without the collusion of your mother and nan, a frightened adult in an unhappy relationship. Your mother introduced this man as a father figure and continues, apparently, to live with him. This must exacerbate your feelings of confusion and abandonment.

You say you should have sought help earlier but, despite the measured tone of your letter, you have sought help only when you were desperate enough to feel you have to act. Now that this man has written to you and is dying, the situation has become intolerable. I would suggest that this is because he has written to you. Now that he has admitted what he did you can no longer maintain the half-denial you have maintained thus far in order to protect yourself.

Now you are asking in desperation for a magical end to the truth of being an abused child. A truth now openly confirmed by the abuser. Of course, this isn’t possible. I would strongly recommend that you read The Courage To Heal http://www.amazon.com/The-Courage-Heal-Expanded-Survivors/dp/0060950668 a book about the lasting symptoms of childhood sexual abuse, survivors’ stories and a guide through the healing process.

You are seeking permission to think and feel and suspect the things your think, feel and suspect. The thrown-in mention of your partner’s drunken verbal abuse is particularly disturbing. On the one hand you are obviously aware of the legacy of the original abuse and on the other hand you dismiss it. Presumably you had to carry on as normal when you were a child at the same time as being abused, and you are still doing this. The fact that you don’t mention your mother or nan’s role in any detail is interesting. You obviously felt entirely unprotected and assumed it was up to you to protect yourself as best you could. This must have been, must still be a very lonely place to be. It might well be that some proper therapy could help you find some of the resolution you are unlikely to get from your original attacker.

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

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“After 45 years of happy marriage I’ve found out my husband visits prostitutes. Do we have a future?” Proper Advice Below

For almost 45 years I have been happily married to the same man (we are in our 60s) and have a married son and daughter and four grandchildren.  

But three weeks ago I found out that for the past five years my husband has been visiting a massage parlour about three or four times a year.

He tells me he has never had full sex, but that they have performed other sexual acts on him.

My husband is a good husband and father but for the past six years or so has not shown me much affection, especially in the bedroom.

Up until then we always had good sex then he told me he didn’t have the same urges.

I assured him it was not just about sex, but I needed love. I often told him that I felt he just had brotherly love for me.

I occasionally cuddled up to him but then I just felt he didn’t want me. He was even prescribed Viagra from the doctor, then made the excuse that his blood pressure was high.

I am writing to you because I have no one I can speak to.

I don’t want to confide even to my best friend (I’ve known for 60 years) because of the shame of it all and I don’t want my family to find out.

Why do I want to protect this man who has deceived me? He tells me he loves me and has never stopped loving me and wants us to stay together.

He is totally remorseful and very upset at what he has done to me and wants us to get back to how things were before this all happened.  

I am absolutely shocked, devastated, jealous and heartbroken and cannot believe his deceit.

I think about what has happened every minute of the day and how he prefers these other women to me.

Do you think there is a future for us? At this moment in time I feel I will never forgive him or get over it.
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My thoughts:

What you don’t say is interesting. It would be tempting to change the first sentence to ‘I thought I was happily married’ because what comes next, with the massage parlour, suggests that an illusion was shattered. I suspect you knew things were going on in secret since you say you ‘found out’ (how, I wonder) and that you had been feeling neglected for some time, in fact for years. Thinking that your husband has only ‘brotherly love’ for you and feeling rejected in terms of cuddles, sex and love is not being happily married. So your first sentence, and perhaps then some (at least) of your marriage is a lie. It’s the propaganda you want others to believe (you’re ashamed to tell the truth to your friends) and that you work very hard to believe yourself.

You continue here with an attempt to brush this under the carpet and to fit it in with the happy marriage ideal. He has done some wheedling and told you that anything less than full sex and ‘three or four times a year’ [please] is less of a big deal. You want to believe him but you don’t believe him. ‘Other sexual acts’ leaves a lot of room for imagination. It sounds as though he has tried to convince you that this isn’t as bad as it could be. You’re writing to an agony aunt partly in the hope that your charade can be maintained – ‘Oh, lots of men do this. He’s sorry, he loves you, it will all be fine.’

Then you go on to blame yourself, albeit obliquely. He in himself is marvelous, you say, a good father and husband, but not in the bedroom, with the unspoken suggestion that this might be your fault somehow. You describe the humiliation of the Viagra that you perhaps forced him to ask for (though you don’t say). In one sentence you say he is a good husband but that he consistently rejected you and made you feel awful. If he was a good husband and you were a good wife what could possibly be really wrong, you seem to ask.

The feeling that there is nobody for you to talk to is desperately sad and you are clear about how terrible you feel about the shock and betrayal. You ask why you want to protect him by keeping the secret, but I think you really want to protect yourself. If you tell people then the happy marriage charade is really shattered. If you can cover it up perhaps you can carry on regardless. Although you think about it all the time, you seem to feel that you are not allowed to behave badly, to tell people, to scream and shout and storm out. It seems you want to find a way of explaining it away so that you can go back to your pretence – you do not want to face this for what it is and you’re asking for assistance in not facing it, I think.

It has obviously been extremely important to you to be a perfect family and to ignore the fault lines that must have been there for a very long time. My suspicion is that you grew up feeling the need to put on a display of perfection for the outside world to cover up for things that were not right at home (very possibly with your father since that is what is being reenacted here).

Your husband’s been found out and has tried to play it down, all remorse and promises, wanting it to go back to how it was before (where you kept the pretence up and he visited prostitutes unmolested). How did you find out about this though? Did you have suspicions and investigate to confirm them? If so, what you say has been a happy marriage has involved your not trusting him and yet being unable to talk to him about it. You must wonder if he is now telling the truth, but you will also have to decide what is true for you – do you want to stay married to a guy who goes to a massage parlour for blow jobs on a regular basis? Or not?

It is not for any agony aunt or therapist to tell you whether or not your marriage has a future. Your fantasy marriage certainly has no future (and may not have a real past either), but whether or not you feel you can create a new and truthful relationship with this man who does this kind of stuff is something you will have to think about. You say you don’t think you’ll ‘get over it’ and that is of course true. You may be able to think about it together, to accept it and to create something more truthful or you may not be able to. What you will not be able to do is what you want to do most – make it go away and keep on with the happy family display.

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

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“Shall I leave my wife and daughter for my girlfriend?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

“My wife and I are in our early 30s  –  married for more than nine years with a little girl of two. Over the past two years, I have realised that we have grown apart  –  both mentally and physically  –  and we no longer have anything in common. I feel I should continue with our marriage for the sake of our child and also because I’d feel sorry to leave my wife.

I have been seeing someone else for a while and everything I miss in married life is fulfilled by this relationship. My unfaithfulness has brought a strange balance to my married life, as well as to the other person’s marriage. I’m almost certain that myself and my girlfriend were meant for each other in many ways. These feelings are mutual  –  and have developed over a few years. We share this wonderful affinity that we’ve both been missing for a long time in our marriages. But we have no control over the future and I don’t know where we could end up.

This relationship is not why my marriage is failing  –  in fact, it’s made me see things about myself and marriage in a different way. I think my marriage has failed largely because of a natural progression (which I think many married people experience today), though I am aware my infidelity has been a factor.

The question ‘Were we meant to mate for ever?’ comes to my mind when I use the term ‘infidelity’.What do you think? People keep advising me to work on my marriage  –  but I don’t feel there’s anything left to work on. I think we have drifted too far apart. I can’t think of any similarities between us at all.

My philosophy in life has taught me to be concerned about our journeys and worry less about our destinations, but I’m also aware that every action has a reaction and am concerned about everyone’s future here  –  especially my daughter’s.

I do love my wife, but I’m not in love with her any more. I don’t think I will ever be. As much as I feel sorry to leave her, I feel that there is no good reason for us to continue as husband and wife. The only reason for us to continue with this marriage is for our child. But is that enough?

I feel I am denying myself if I stay. Please help me, my wife and our little girl.
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail

My thoughts:

Firstly, it is fascinating that you wrote to the Daily Mail with this problem. You must have known very well what the advice would be. No Daily Mail columnist is going to advise you to leave your wife and family unless there is very serious abuse going on. This strongly suggests that you want someone to tell you to call off the affair and stay. It suggests that you already know what you are going to do and require a strict mother to tell you to do the right thing morally. In turn, this tells us that you have a strict internal moral code, a powerful super ego, apparently embodied by your mother, since you wrote your letter to someone who is, in fact, a grandmother herself.

You ask for help for your family, you do not ask for advice about how best to leave. This whole letter sounds like an argument with your mother – she is a strict Mail-reading person with strong views about marriage and family. With her in mind (and she is, I think, very much in your mind) your ideas sound wishy-washy and you seem to know it. Philosophy, journey, destination, meant for each other, not in love any more, mate for life.

Between your lines your mother/super ego/Mail columnist can almost be heard shouting hers. “The ONLY reason to stay married is for your small child? Is that not reason enough, young man!” she chides. Your own uncertain voice can hardly get into the debate, tentatively suggesting that your girlfriend gives you what your marriage cannot, but then, fearful of the fantasy matriarch’s reaction, you immediately say you aren’t sure, of course, what the future would bring you if you did leave your current spouses for each other.

So, apart from this rather boyish argument with a domineering mother, your way of talking about both your relationships is strikingly odd. Neither wife nor girlfriend sound very human. There is a strangely abstract quality to the way you describe them and it seems to suggest that both women are somehow symbolic in your mind. One represents a very romantic uncertainty, a kind of breathless suggestion of the forbidden, the impossible, but incredibly tantalizing. It is the uncertainty and the forbidden nature of the relationship that seems to attract you. ‘Meant for each other’ takes the whole thing into a supernatural realm.

This leaves the poor, denigrated wife/mother/’mate’ (!) figure failing at every turn. You have nothing in common (except the glaring fact of a child – my Daily Mail voice) and, most importantly, the future IS relatively certain. This is your life, your choice of partner, your future and, by extension, your death. You would hardly be the first person to have an affair as a defence against annihilation, but my suspicion is that if you do leave your wife and marry your girlfriend she will quickly fall into the denigrated ‘mate’ (gorilla?) role and you’ll be on the look out for uncertainty and supernatural immortality all over again.

Your affair is a rebellion against your moralistic and suburban mother and, perhaps, father, represented by your girlfriend’s discarded husband. Until you sort out your feelings towards your actual mother and come to terms with your inevitable extinction (no easy task, admittedly) you seem likely to repeat the pattern whether you stay or go. Your letter asks permission to leave – permission you already know will not be granted by the mother/super ego, aka yourself.

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

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“My wife is stressed and angry. I just stand and watch.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

“My wife has an important and reasonably high-profile job which she enjoys, but it is causing her a lot of stress. Apart from lying awake at night fretting about things, her confidence has taken a knock and often basic situations become difficult. She worries about what to wear and is frequently late for work because she stares at her wardrobe for ages trying to decide. Her ability to shop has suffered and she often ends up buying something that is not right and so suffers even further. Packing for a business trip sometimes has her in tears. She can be short tempered it’s difficult to discuss things rationally. I am worried about her, as I cannot see how this state can be sustained.”

This first appeared in the Observer.

My Thoughts:

You are fascinatingly absent from your own letter. The only thing we know about you is that you are worried, not about yourself, apparently, but about someone else. How are we to find you in there? Where are you? You are observing this rather powerful, rather glamorous, but obviously unhappy woman. You feel helpless. Perhaps we have found you – a little boy, possibly brought up by mother alone or, at any rate, mother very dominant in the home, and feeling lost and unable to help this big, grand woman. Feeling castrated.

You are so unable to have needs and desires of your own, it seems, that if you are feeling worried you must express is at as anxiety on behalf of someone else. I agree with you – I cannot see how this state can be sustained. You are projecting all your anxiety into her.

You describe your wife’s issues in a way that makes it obvious that you are there as witness, observer. It sounds as though her misery is paramount in your mind, that you stand watching helplessly as she gets dressed and shops and packs. Again, the idea of a little boy watching is extremely strong. She is dressing and shopping and packing – she is preparing to leave you and yet she is distressed, you are only unhappy for her. It feels as though there is nothing you can do. You can’t find a way to speak to her because she, you say, is so upset that she won’t respond properly.

You are trying to speak rationally to her rather than trying to comfort her. I wonder why. I suspect it is because you know you can’t comfort her, you are a small child (in your mind) with little understanding of what is going on with her. You just want her to speak rationally to you so that you feel safe. It sounds to me as though you are an Oedipal child without a father to step in and set things straight – the Oedipal situation is real. You feel you really are supposed to be lover and protector of this powerful and adored woman but you do not have the equipment on any level, being only a child. The woman is deeply unhappy about this. You are, therefore, utterly helpless and desperate.

The letter is fascinating as regards your state of mind and your absolute denial of it, inability to see it. And yet you have written. So there must be a chink of understanding that what seems to be going on is not what is really going on. Your wife sounds as if she is indeed facing a crisis and needs your support and perhaps also some professional support. However, what you are writing about is, I think, your own feelings of castrated helplessness which stem, I would guess, from a childhood in which the situation you describe with your wife was very familiar. In reality you are now a grown man who can help. But you need to find that out somehow.

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

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“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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