“My lover only wants sex. I want a relationship. Oh, and I was sexually abused as a child…” Thoughtful Advice for Lasting Change

“At 50, I’ve been single for 11 years after a very abusive marriage.
When I finally managed to get rid of my husband I decided to concentrate on my ten-year-old and one-year-old. During that time I saw the occasional man, but never introduced them to my children. I’m very happy, at times lonely, but I have friends and we are a close family.
Over the past three years I’ve occasionally met up with one man I’ve known for years through friends, although every time I went to his place I felt pressured to have sex.

On the last two occasions I didn’t sleep with him and tried to explain that I wanted a relationship not just based on sex. I want to go out for a drink and enjoy other things – which we never do.
On Friday he came to my house, but as soon as he sat down on the sofa he was trying to touch me and I did not feel comfortable.
Originally, I said he could stay. Then, as the evening progressed, I asked if he minded not doing so.
He got angry, said he’d never known anyone as frigid as me, that all the girls he has had in the past are always willing.
He’s my age but is used to going out (and still does) with much younger girls. He said I have issues with sex and he wasn’t patient enough to put up with it because sex is a way to get close to someone.
I explained I need reassurance that he wasn’t just seeing me for sex and how I’m not used to the ‘pawing’ all the time. I said laughing, talking and going out mean so much to me.
He suddenly walked out of my front door, like a petulant teenager. I haven’t heard from him since.

In the past, every man who tried to befriend me had the ultimate goal of sex – including a couple of relatives when I was very young. And I was sexually abused at 13, which my parents never believed.
Because of that I want to change things and find a man who likes me for me. Is that wrong?
Perhaps I just didn’t fancy this guy. I said to him it was my body and I felt that it should be my decision if I want to have sex with someone or not.
Is there something wrong with me? I would love to meet a man who respects me. Surely sex comes naturally and isn’t an issue when you are with the right partner?
I wish you could reassure me.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My Thoughts:

This is a terribly sad letter. It starts out as a letter about a miserable relationship with a nasty man, but it turns out to be a letter about the adult sequelae of childhood sexual abuse. You say ‘abusive’ right at the top, referring to your marriage. You then describe a situation in which you are obviously feeling (and being) objectified and abused. Only at the end do you mention you were abused at 13 and that you were not believed. You are hoping that the ‘right partner’ and someone who ‘likes you for you’ will be the cure but it seems clear that this won’t happen until you have dealt with the aftermath of the original abuse and its dismissal by the very people who were supposed to protect you.

You say you want to ‘change things’ but it sounds as though you want this man to change. He won’t. By the sounds of it you have reenacted an abusive scenario over and over again all your life, half disbelieving it yourself, unsure about whether you deserve to be treated well and liked or whether you perhaps deserve to put up with objectification and abuse.

The first few paragraphs seem to be about resilience. You’ve had a terrible marriage and been lonely but you have put your children first and managed to be happy in some areas. ‘I saw the occasional man’ sounds pretty bleak, as though these weren’t relationships that offered you much. Then we meet your current lover and this idea that every time you see him you feel ‘pressured to have sex.’ It’s an interesting way to put it. You don’t say; ‘He pressured me to have sex.’ You say you ‘felt pressured’. Of course, someone could pressure you endlessly without you feeling pressured. The feeling is generated by you and seems to suggest that although you would like to be appreciated for something other than your body, it is all you really feel you’ve got to offer in return for affection or friendship. If someone wants it, you seem to think you’re supposed to offer it.

We then hear about the very unpleasant incidents when you refused sex and bravely asked for what you wanted. However, the situation had rejection and disappointment built in because you already knew that he was interested only in a sexual relationship. You allowed yourself to be used sexually and then tried to explain that you don’t like the dynamic. You accused him of ‘pawing’ you. He then became openly abusive.
The trouble is that you had previously allowed him to treat you in this way and he had perhaps imagined that the ‘pawing’ and sexual contact was something you enjoyed as much as he did. He perhaps didn’t know that sex for you is a bargain – you provide your body, you want affection in return.

Sadly, it has never worked like that for you – you give your part but don’t get what you feel has been implicitly offered (care). You go on to say that every man who has tried to befriend you ‘had the ultimate goal of sex’, with the strong implication that sex is something men want to take and you don’t want to give. Something horrible.

You want to meet a man who respects you, but this man would have to deny wanting to have sex with you. Your ideal man is an old-fashioned gentleman who would wait until you were ready, forming a committed and fulfilling relationship before having sex (certainly not impossible). However, I suspect, that when he finally did admit to wanting to have sex with you you would immediately add him to the list of abusers.

That’s not to say that the men you find are not abusers – it is likely that your early life and the fact that your suffering was ignored by (perpetuated by?) your parents has made you feel so worthless that you seek out men who share your one-dimensional view of yourself and reinforce your view of men and the world. Nonetheless, this imaginary man who does like you and respect you would end up on the heap of abusers if he did, in the end, want to have sex with you.

Sex does not just come naturally to someone who has been sexually abused and who has no experience of the sexual act as making love, as a genuinely intimate and mutual experience. It is so strongly associated with abuse in your mind that men who want it are abusive and women who offer it are, or feel, worthless.

It is striking that the happiness you describe in your life comes from non-sexual relationships, your family life with your children. You are in control here, not the vulnerable and confused child wondering what’s going on and why your needs are ignored. Your confusion is extreme because what you think and know and want are very different from the way you actually behave. You tell this man what you want, what you do and don’t like and that your body is your own. All very true and courageous. (When you were abused you bravely told your parents). However, your words are hollow because, in fact, you have been allowing this man to objectify you for many years. You expect not to be heard and imagine that the relationships other people have are not for you.

It will be a long slog to deal with your history of childhood abuse and to get yourself into a position of being able to seek a relationship on a mutually respectful basis. For, it is important to remember that, assuming all men just want sex (as if sex is a nasty and abusive thing) is not respectful of them either. You don’t respect this man you describe (and he doesn’t sound like a person worthy of respect), or your husband or other lovers, any more than you feel they respect you. You’ll have to stop hating men and using your body to seek intimacy if you do want to move on and have a lasting and sincere relationship with a man. A difficult and painful process.

Advice for Lasting Change via email or Skype: anna@blundy.com

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“I am happy, rational and completely normal, so why am I a snivelling wreck?”

“I am a happy, rational and evidently completely normal woman in her mid-20s. In the past year I’ve started a great career which is fulfilling and fun, fallen in love with a wonderful man and started living the life I wanted when I was younger and directionless. But I have become more and more prone to stress, and my problem is that I’m not very good at handling it. Aggravating (but by no means catastrophic) situations leave me in a puddle of tears, from missing a flight to not being able to do my taxes properly; even one incident when my boyfriend suddenly couldn’t stay the night left me a snivelling wreck. I am living in a foreign country. I like it here and I am making friends, although I miss my family and home country.
I lost my mother at the age of 16 and the grief was never fully addressed, but pegging everything on my mother’s death will get me nowhere. Oddly, before getting together with my man, I would seldom cry, usually only when alone. Since I fell for him, I can’t hold it in. What can I do to stop crying and face a challenge without a tantrum?”

This first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My thoughts:

Great first sentence. You’re ‘happy, rational’ and ‘completely normal.’ More than anyone else has every achieved. But you’re writing publicly to a newspaper advice columnist about behaviour you find inexplicable. ‘Happy,’ ‘great’, ‘fulfilling’, ‘fun’, ‘love’, ‘wonderful’ – all in the first couple of lines. There’s so much emphasis on how fabulous your life is that it does start to sound a bit defensive, as if you expect someone to shout ; ‘No! It’s crap!Admit it!’

You feel you have to set the scene of having a perfect life so that your tears and tantrums are exposed as utter madness, some bizarre phenomenon. Of course, you know yourself that your life is not the perfect bliss your propaganda would have us (and you) believe. You say so. You are far from home and are feeling a bit lost by the sounds of it. The very kind of situation, of course, when you might need to call your mum.

‘Pegging everything on my mother’s death will get me nowhere,’ is an interesting sentence. Where are you trying to get? Why so irritable with yourself? Why do you have to peg anything on anything? You say yourself that you never fully dealt with her death, meaning, I suppose, that you didn’t manage to grieve at the time, perhaps because it was simply too overwhelming. Your announcement and then immediate dismissal of your loss in this letter is revealing. You know that’s what you’re grieving and yet you wish you could just get over it, or ‘peg’ your sorrow to something a bit more manageable.

This is the problem with giving up on fantasy – reality it often very painful and difficult. But the problems with maintaining a fantasy are more thorny – confusion, detachment, and so on. [Giving up a belief that he is Jesus is very difficult for someone delusional because he’ll have to face being unwell, lonely, powerless. He will feel more authentic, less mad, but he will have lost all the grandiosity of his delusion].

If we are to believe that your partner is wonderful, then perhaps that is the very reason that you’re finding yourself able to mourn now. Perhaps now that you are in a safe relationship, a safe space (as you would be with a good therapist too), you can be a little girl again sometimes, burst into tears, feel vulnerable, be upset. I hope this is the case.

Alternatively, of course, you may be feeling so lost and so unsafe that being without your mum on top of other things you are unwilling to admit (that things are perhaps not quite as wonderful as you say) is unbearable at the moment and you feel you are disintegrating.

From your letter, however, I think it is the former – you are safe enough to be sad. The problem, by the sounds of it, is that you are very hard on yourself and demand that you shouldn’t be a ‘snivelling wreck’ or a ‘puddle’. These are both very contemptuous ways of describing genuine upset. You feel you should be able to do your taxes, cope with missing a plane, your partner being absent – but why? Whose ‘should’ is it? The fact that you don’t allow yourself vulnerability or a normal emotional life is what is causing you distress.

I wonder if you mum was actually very strict and didn’t like snivelling and puddles. Perhaps your holding all your grief in was some kind of obedience to her? I assume there’s guilt in there too, of course, though there isn’t much information. You ask the columnist to fix you – to give you some tips about living without tantrums. You want to get rid of the childish part of yourself and be a serene, highly efficient and largely emotionless adult of the kind you perhaps imagine your mum to have been (or that your dad needed after her death?).

The challenge you face is to accept that you are vulnerable, bereaved and emotional, that you are not the person you perhaps wish you were and that you are going to be relying on your partner to help you. Depending on another when you lost the person on whom you depended most is, of course, monumentally difficult.

Thoughtful advice for real change via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“I left my horrid husband after 28 years, but now he’s seeing my ex-best friend and I’m mad with rage.” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective. No Glib Life Tips (I promise).

“After a difficult 28-year marriage (which produced four fantastic children), I asked my husband for a separation.
He’d been moody and withdrawn for many years — very rude to and about people, especially if they were close to me.
He had a strong dislike for my mother and encouraged our children to share his disdain.
For the last ten years, I tip-toed around his moods and began to dread being with him.

Added to this, we had always had a very sad emotional and physical connection. He always kept love-making (in fact any physical contact) to the minimum, for deep-seated psychological reasons.
Although this caused me enormous sadness, he refused to seek any help, so we lived with it.
When I told him I needed to separate, his response was angry, with no acknowledgement of his part in the breakdown.

He told me I was a victim; told me I was critical and dissatisfied.  He got a new job a long way away, saying he felt the separation would give us space to think, but I saw the geographical distance as final.
After about seven months, I met an old friend and began a relationship which has been very happy and mutually supportive.
A couple of months ago my husband announced that he’d started a relationship with a very close friend of mine.
This was a woman whose own marriage had recently broken down, someone I had supported and trusted. She had adopted a five-year-old child from Russia and I was sponsor for the adoption, and the child’s godmother.
The feelings of betrayal I’ve had since hearing about them have been overwhelming. 
I cannot get this woman’s treachery out of my head. I feel loathing.
My husband tells me that once again that I have re-cast myself as a victim, and that I had ended the marriage and started a new relationship so have no right to express these feelings.

But the raw hatred and constant chewing over in my mind continue unabated.
People tell me I should be glad for this woman’s betrayal as it has given us a chance to move on.  But I can’t.
What are these feelings? Abandonment? Am I wallowing in being a victim? Are they tribal (I hate the thought of her being anywhere near my children)? Or pure jealousy, in which case should I be trying to mend my marriage?
Incidentally, she’s repeating a behaviour pattern. She was the ‘other woman’ in the break-up of a marriage ten years ago, married her lover and they adopted the child. Then he left her for yet another woman — and in this raw state, she started a relationship with my husband.
I might also add that I had very recently told her that I was thinking deeply about going back to him. So it was with this intimate knowledge that she started their affair.
I am out of my depth.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My thoughts: 

You begin your letter, clear and direct, by describing a man nobody in their right mind would want to live with. He’s moody and attacking, hitting you where it hurts (people closest to you) and making you frightened to be around him. ‘Difficult’, ‘moody,’ ‘withdrawn,’ ‘rude’, ‘dislike’, ‘disdain’, ‘tip-toe’, ‘dread.’ You put up with this for nearly thirty years along with the ‘sad emotional and physical connection’ by which you mean lack of connection. He ‘refused’ to make any effort to improve the situation and was angry when you said you wanted to split up. As readers we are not supposed to have any doubt in our mind as to how things are.

Then, things get a bit murkier. You say, in the same tone of absolute certainty, that he didn’t acknowledge his part in the breakdown at all. This may well be (probably is) true, but what’s interesting is that you don’t acknowledge that you have any part in the breakdown. You present him as vile, yourself as reasonable and that’s that. Cut and dried.

He continues to attack you over the separation, but you brush this off and move on into a happy and supportive relationship. So far so good – no doubts in your mind as to your exemplary behaviour and none in ours.

However, he, apparently, was not supposed to move on. Here you get into a bit of a mess. We thought things were clear – your tone and choice of words assured us that facts are facts. Now your friend is not your friend but your enemy. Your husband is not the discarded abuser but a deceitful philanderer.

You mention that your friend is newly single and that she has an adopted child from Russia in whose adoption you were involved. I wonder what this information means. Outwardly, you are telling the reader how close a friend to this woman you are. However, the information contains an attack – you are making her very identifiable to any reader who knows her. Your visceral hatred is acknowledged. The sub-text is, I think, that you were the needed friend, the helper but, it turns out, you are not needed. The same is perhaps true of your husband – you wanted him to continue to need you but he didn’t. If you so need to be needed then I’d suggest you are defending against a terrible sense of neediness that frightens you. Perhaps you have never had your basic needs met (certainly not your sexual ones for thirty years) and defend against that by making others need you.

Half way through your letter you’re still clinging to your sense of certainty but the grip is less secure. You try to back up facts that aren’t facts. You describe their relationship as ‘an affair’ and say, very coldly that ‘incidentally’ she has done this before. You say she broke up a marriage and was ‘the other woman’, your speech marks particularly aggressive. Your tone ignores the fact that she didn’t break up your marriage but had just been left, like your husband.

But we get almost to the last line before you reveal yourself. You say you were thinking ‘deeply’ about getting back together with your husband. To the reader this is staggering news. From the first two paragraphs we understood that you found this man abusive and despicable and that you have no intimate life together. Indeed, you suggest that you fear him.

Are we to dismiss that? Which part of your letter is untrue? The contempt for your husband or your desire to get back together with him? Were you really as close to your friend as you say? Now it seems you always disapproved of her. Are you really happy and fulfilled in your new relationship?

So much of what you write, in such a forthright tone, makes no sense when looked at more closely. You stayed 28 years with someone who sounds cruel. You seem crystal clear about your reasons for leaving, but then you say you might want to go back. You say you’ve found someone wonderful, but still you want to go back to your cruel ex. You say you were close friends with someone but she betrayed you.

Your description of your state of mind as out of your depth seems very accurate and poignant. You are extremely confused and I think this letter is about self doubt. It seems to me that your need to sound completely certain masks a terrible doubt. You wonder (since you bother to quote him) if your husband’s accusations against you are accurate. You perhaps wonder if you were really as unhappy as you say (since you are considering reconciliation). You wonder if these ‘deep-seated psychological reasons’ you sound so knowledgable about are real or if he finds you unattractive. You wonder if you can recognise a true friendship when you see one. You wonder if you perhaps always hated this so-called friend, tried to control her, and that she was on some level aware of your unconscious hatred (or, rather, I wonder this). You wonder if husband and friend are together specifically in order to hurt you. You wonder if that thought is paranoid or justified. You wonder if you are mad or sane.

You ask; ‘What are these feelings?’ and it’s a very real question. You don’t know what to call how you feel because you doubt everything and try to mask your fundamental sense of doubt with a flimsy veneer of absolute certainty. Things have to be black or white – he must be vile or supportive, she must be a friend or an enemy. There is no grey area allowed because the doubt terrifies you. You want clear answers and when things are murky you try to tidy them up with a quick fix explanation/condemnation.

Freud wrote; ‘A man who doubts his own love may, or rather, must doubt every lesser thing.’ It seems that you doubt your husband and friend’s love for you and yours for them. Maybe he loved you? Maybe you love him? You don’t know. For all your bluster, it feels as though you just aren’t sure what this love feeling is or might be. Did you experience it as a child or were you told that cruelty or neglect was called love? You have strict codes of behaviour for everyone else – husbands should be like this, friends like this. But people don’t seem to obey. You are baffled.

Yes, you’re jealous. He wouldn’t have sex with you. Is he having sex with her? Was she ever your friend, or was she always this glamorous, international home breaker? Are you clear-headed and right about everything or do you doubt your perceptions? The not knowing, which really you have always lived with, is overwhelming.

The question of why you doubt your perception of reality and are confused about the names of emotions is more complicated and will relate to your early life, I imagine. You are out of your depth as you rightly say, but you are managing that by unleashing a hatred and anger that frighten you (and are perhaps misdirected) instead of looking in the mirror.

[Some wild guesses: Perhaps you stayed with someone unable to touch you because he seemed safe? Perhaps you were okay with not being touched for reasons of your own. Do you secretly desire your ex-friend whose child’s adoption you were involved in? In any case, if your husband didn’t desire you then you weren’t in danger of losing control of yourself or of him. You were safe. Something about being with an apparently impotent man seems to have suited you for a very long time, despite his cruelty. All we know about your friend is that she is a mother but that she couldn’t reproduce naturally – she needed your help (in a sense). This also makes her somehow inferior to you and under your control – or attractive? Then it turns out that sex is being had and you are not in control of it. You thought you were the needed one, but now you are not. This sense of things being out of your control is unbearable, but why is unclear. I would guess at a frightening childhood in which emotions were not named or were misnamed, a lot of confusion masked with certainties that turned out to be false or hollow.]

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

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“My husband is having a text affair. Now what?” Proper Advice for Real Change – no glib life tips.

I’m 42, married with two boys (10 and 12) and to the outside world I have a great life. But my marriage has not been easy – my husband has huge insecurities and is threatened by my doing anything that doesn’t involve him.

So I’ve shelved plans to go back to study, to travel with my job, to go on weekends away with girlfriends (even hen nights) – all to try to ‘save’ our relationship. He’s always been very moralistic, with a black and white view of things, and is very judgmental of others who he perceives as not living up to these standards. Me in particular.

He makes a fuss if I want to see a girlfriend who’s divorced, saying we’ll be on a manhunt.
I’ve been accused of sleeping with almost every man I have ever worked with, his sisters’ partners and even some of his friends. Honestly, his accusations are completely without foundation. I always knew he had double standards, as he socialises with friends who he knows have cheated on their partners.

But last week, I discovered he’s been continually texting a girl he met about four years ago. He tried to deny it, but eventually admitted it after I looked at his phone bills online – but is still insisting he hasn’t had an affair and doesn’t consider he’s cheated because nothing physical ever happened.

I’m devastated and can’t help but torture myself with thoughts of what might have been in the messages – flirty talk? Sexy talk? He certainly sent her picture messages of himself at a time when I know he would have been in the bath. How can that not be an affair? He can’t offer me any explanation, only that it was exciting because he knew it was wrong, that he felt like a kid with a new toy, and that he was bored (although he insists he’s never been bored with me). Many times he’s stayed at his sister’s after a night out and texted this girl before me the following morning. Many times he’s texted her at 7am on a Sunday when he has obviously got out of bed on some pretext, sent the message, then got back into bed and no doubt had sex with me.

Once, he sent her 81 texts in one day! I’m so confused. He says he’s sorry, he loves me (and the boys) more than anything and will do what it takes to make things work. Obviously I’m so scared what splitting up might do to my kids, but I can’t take this out of context. Yes it’s a betrayal and he’s been stupid, but I’m starting to think we might get past this if it wasn’t for all he has put me through over the years. The hypocrisy is worse than what he’s done. It’s like my whole life with him has been a lie. Please can you offer any advice? 

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail

My Thoughts

What’s interesting about this letter is that it lays everything out so clearly, as though you already know all the answers to your questions.

You begin, not with his text affair, but with the fact that your husband has controlled and bullied you throughout your marriage. You say you have spent many years denying yourself a life outside the confines of your marriage in order to ‘save’ it. The fact that it needed saving makes it immediately clear that it was seriously under threat. Your husband perceived that threat as outsiders trying to steal his wife or as an insider, you, threatening his authority and making a bid for freedom.

You make it clear that he is paranoid and insecure and that this has massively restricted your life.
Next you tell the story of his affair. At first it seems as though you are asking your reader to judge – is he having an affair? That suggests that you are hoping it might be possible that he is not having an affair, that the texts are the extent of it and that you can….what? Continue as you are? Would you want to? Clearly not. But then you stack up enough evidence (having taken the very paranoid/desperate step of checking his phone bills) that the reader has only one choice of answer. The reader judges – yes, he is having an affair. The way you relate ‘the evidence’ to his story sets him up as a ludicrous liar. You already know this and I suspect you wanted to the evidence to prove it. It did.

You say you are scared of splitting up – it would be very odd if you weren’t. But then you make the very clear point that it is not so much the text affair that upsets you – it is him. It is his personality and the way he has dominated your life. Finally, you can see a chink in his/your armour. The state of the marriage is no longer all your fault (for flirting or being potentially promiscuous in his eyes). It seems you have waited all this time for him to show himself as imperfect and now you are able to look at the marriage with open eyes. The bully is standing right in front of you.

You say very little about your own history, but you presumably chose a controlling emotional abuser because that kind of treatment was familiar to you. You perhaps have some confusion in your mind between control and cruelty and love. It is possible that you had a controlling father who made you feel that if you would only behave perfectly he might love you and you’d be safe. Or perhaps you were very neglected and initially felt safe for the first time with someone who seemed to care who you were with and where you were all the time. Perhaps you yourself see promiscuity and infidelity as a truly terrible thing and almost agreed with him about your potential for these behaviours. Of course, I’m guessing and you don’t say.

You worry your marriage has been a lie. He hasn’t been lying. He’s been bullying and controlling you quite openly. You have been lying to yourself about his behaviour, imagining that he wants to keep his marriage safe rather than understanding that he wants to wield complete power over you to your great detriment. Presumably his affair is designed to make him feel even more powerful – he has secrets from you and he may well be (is) trying to control this other woman too.

Advice? You don’t need any. You seem to have needed to lay it out in public in order to get it clear. It’s clear.

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

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“My dad calls my mum a waste of space and doesn’t like me since I’ve grown up [into a woman]. Is it my fault?” Proper Advice for Real Change

“I don’t know whether it is my fault that my father doesn’t seem to respect or like me. We were close when I was a child (I’m 23 now) and I drifted away from him during adolescence. I cannot put my finger on why, except perhaps I became more girly and less relatable to him. I am an only child and am very close to my mum. I am often a disappointment to him, but I cannot see my mistakes coming. I’m envious when my friends’ dads say they look lovely or when I see how tenderly the fathers of the children I babysit treat their wives and kids. Dad refers to my mum as bonkers, hopeless, waste of bloody space, mad bat, bloody useless, or just “ya mum” (“Where’s ya mum gone now?!”) or often just “woman”…”

This letter first appeared in the Observer

Though this letter must have been massively cut, and that’s a real shame, it is such a sad one. It’s tempting, as I’m sure your friends and probably the columnist you wrote to have already done, to say he probably loves you really and that you should talk to him about it or something ridiculous like that. The fascinating thing here is that you answer your own question. You make it pretty clear that your father is an angry misogynist who doesn’t like women. You have become a woman.

Obviously, he will have his own painful history around this and, if you did somehow attempt a direct conversation (often advised by advisors but rarely – ever? – productive as these kinds of confrontations put the blame with and beg resolutions from the other, when all we can ever really do is look at ourselves), he’d very probably deny any antipathy towards the opposite sex and tell you how proud of you he is.

It’s interesting that you say you want him to ‘respect’ and ‘like’ you. That leaves him free to say the empty thing, that he loves you, but you are aware that that isn’t enough, or isn’t what you want. You want a real relationship with him like the one you had before you became an adult woman. [It might be interesting to know about his relationship with his mother, but I don’t suppose it would help you at this point. It might eventually help him.]

You say you became ‘girly’ and this is an obviously denigrating word that suggests silliness, empty and vacuous preoccupations and all sorts of other things that we are generally invited to despise. It sounds as though he’s taught you that being feminine (female, actually) is a bad thing, so it’s no surprise that you blame yourself for being unlikeable now and that you are ashamed of the things in yourself that you consider to be ‘girly’ (perhaps simply enjoying being feminine).

You suggest obliquely that he might be jealous of your relationship with your mum and, given that he is so abusive towards her, he presumably does see your offering her any respect whatsoever as taking sides against him. Bullies (and you make it pretty clear that he is a bully) tend to perceive adversaries where there might be potential partners. There seem to be Oedipal issues here too, though I’m not sure if knowing this will be especially helpful. Instead of working through a process in which you fought your mother for your father and finally accepted them as a couple, you seem to have won your father from your mother in early childhood and then later rejected him for your mother. He senses this, but in fact he is probably responsible for it.

What is interesting about your letter is that you know the answers to your own questions on some level. You see other men who are not verbally abusive towards their wives. But the  heartbreaking thing is that you wonder if your father’s attitude to you is your fault. If you were married to him I would wonder what it is that makes you stay, why you chose him, about sadomasochism, guilt and, of course, your relationship with your father. But you didn’t choose him.

As it is, you are talking about the problem at source. It can be the hardest thing to accept – in fact, people go to incredible lengths to deny to themselves that a parent doesn’t like them. I once knew someone whose mother was very cruel to her but not to her sister. She took with her into adulthood the belief that her mother actually preferred her, but overcompensated by being extra nice to her sister and cruel to her so that her preference wouldn’t show. The years during which she confronted her mother’s real hatred of her were, of course, stupendously painful.

With your very sad and painful story, I would just be very, very careful about the men with whom you form romantic and sexual relationships. Make sure you don’t unconsciously go for an abusive misogynist like your father. They can be very, very hard to spot, especially when you have a hardwired, unconscious pull towards them – a desire to make this next one really respect you. etc. ad infinitum.

Also, I should think your mum might need some outside help with her self-esteem.

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

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“My husband told me to have sex with other men. Now I’m in love with one of them. And suicidal.” Thoughtful advice from a psychoanalytic viewpoint. No glib life tips.

“From the outside I look like the lady with everything. And I suppose I am, really. I have a wonderful husband of nearly 15 years, whom I love deeply and share an amazing life with. I met my husband when I was 16 and was married at 23.
We have three wonderful children, a beautiful house in a fabulous part of the country . . . from the outside everything is perfect. However, all is not as it seems.

Five years ago my husband encouraged me to start sleeping with other men. He said it would ‘spice’ things up. I wasn’t sure how to handle this. I was hurt that he could so blithely share me with others — but also curious.
I met a man at one of my husband’s parties a few weeks later. He was perfect — good looking, single and unlikely to fall for me as he’d just left a messy marriage and was known to be a ‘player’. I should have walked away.
At first this affair did spice things up. Everything was wonderful. I felt alive and attractive. Stupid in retrospect. The ‘Player’ and I have developed the deepest of friendships. Over the years we’ve grown to love each other deeply and intensely. 
My husband still encourages us to see one another, but has no idea of our depth of feeling towards one another.

Recently my ‘Player’ has been begging me to start a new life with him. I don’t know what to do. On the one hand I have my family and my life — which I treasure beyond compare.
On the other, I have this man who understands me completely, has never judged me or my life choices, and with whom I share a connection I thought existed only in novels and films.
I think of him every second. I know he could never offer me the lifestyle to which I am accustomed — but does that matter? I’m not so sure.
I can’t bear the thought of hurting either of them. I love them both but this situation can’t continue. I know that. I don’t know what to do. 
I’m on the verge of walking away from everything or ending it all. None of my friends know of my situation, so I can’t talk to anyone about it. I’m lonely and clueless.”

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.

My Thoughts:

It’s hard to know where to start. So many things are striking here. I suppose the first jarring thing is the style. There is something Mills and Boon about the tone and the vocabulary. ‘The lady with everything.’ You describe yourself as a ‘lady’, but the schlock-fiction style immediately suggests something hollow and empty. It almost sounds as though you mean you have all the latest gadgets. The hyperbole suggests hollowness too – ‘wonderful’, ‘deeply’, ‘amazing’, ‘wonderful’ (again), ‘beautiful’, ‘fabulous’, ‘perfect’. That’s all in two lines. Nothing is that good.

The fact that you have been with your husband since you were a teenager is another factor that makes it unlikely that things are simply marvellous, as you try to suggest. But the truth is shocking. You’ve written it in a way that shocks the reader so that the appalled reaction is projected into us (me, in this case) and you ‘blithely’, in fact, bat away your own horror with the little line that is almost an aside – ‘but also curious.’

It is what you don’t say here that’s interesting. You don’t say whether or not your husband is or was sleeping with other women – it would be ludicrously naive, of course, to imagine that someone who suggests his wife have sex with other men is not already enthusiastically having sex with other women. But you don’t mention this, but much of the hurt, confusion and desperation you’re experiencing may well be connected with this apparently unconscious (or seen but unseen) knowledge.

The words ‘share me’ are deeply disturbing. The suggestion is that you are a possession of his and not a person in your own right.

The blindness with which you seem to have obeyed your husband is bizarre. You seem used to being treated as a commodity – you don’t mention your childhood but I worry about the neglect (or worse) you may have experienced there. You immediately located a target for sex and imagined that he (like your husband?) would treat you purely as a fairly inhuman object because he is ‘known to be a player’. The ‘spice’ the affair injected was to make you feel wonderful – in order to feel good it seems you need to be sexually desired as you perhaps feel you have little else to offer. You apparently could not imagine that a man might love or value you and were subsequently shocked to find yourself in a real relationship, one which your husband continues to encourage. Again, there is an assumption that you invite the reader to make whilst you yourself turn a blind eye to it – your husband is also in another serious relationship outside of your marriage.

As soon as you mention your husband you go into Mills and Boon language again. You have your home life which you ‘treasure beyond compare.’ Though I think you believe this sounds true, it is clearly untrue. You have expended a lot of time and effort on risking this life and bringing it to the brink – then you seem surprised that it might be at risk.

A man you claim understands you entirely says he wants to spend his life with you. You are worried that he’s not as rich as your husband (if I understand correctly) and imagine your husband will be hurt. Will he? Isn’t he the one suggested you have this affair? Isn’t he seeing someone else? Is he really as blind to reality as you are?

Then, after all this hyperbole about the wonderful life you have, you throw in a line about being suicidal. You say you are thinking of ‘ending it all’ and that you are ‘lonely and clueless.’ It would almost be possible to miss these very serious expressions of your disturbed state of mind in all the sex and chaos of the rest of the letter. It seems to me that under the manic and florid style is someone terribly confused and vulnerable, someone who is being abused by a careless (at best) husband and who is unable to accept real affection from a person whom you portray as very honest and open whilst calling him ‘a player’ in order to defend yourself from him.

The picture you hope to paint of yourself, propaganda directed at yourself, as desired by two men and unable to choose between them is an omnipotent fantasy designed to protect you from reality. The reality is that you are helpless, have no sense of autonomy at all and are, in fact, being pushed out of the marriage you have valued since you were pretty much a child.

You seem very confused as to what is love and what is cruelty. I assume this confusion originated in you childhood home. Seemingly sold on by your husband, suspicious of the new partner, the only thing you trust is perhaps the material wealth offered by the former. You say you might leave everything behind or commit suicide as though those are the only two options. In fact, you are being offered a partnership with someone you value, but you are as blind to this as you are to what is happening at home.

This ability to see and not to see things simultaneously must have enabled you to survive your early life, but it is causing you chronic confusion as an adult. Underlying the chaotic material in your letter is a despair and sense of complete worthlessness, a terribly hollow feeling that is filled by acting out sexual drama but that is evident in the language you use, the hyperbole, the mistrust and, most significantly, the admission of suicidal depression that I strongly suspect predates your affair.
You don’t really need advice on what to do here, but you do very much need help with your (probably very longstanding) sense of worthlessness and confusion.

Real Advice for change via Skype or email: anna@blundy.com

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“My girlfriend doesn’t want me.” Thoughtful advice – no glib life tips.

My girlfriend doesn’t want me. I met her in France and when I left we made plans for the future, but despite my efforts a life together doesn’t seem hopeful. I’ve Skyped her a few times recently and we ended saying: “I love you.” I sent her a letter about how I want her here for Christmas. She said she’d apply for jobs in the Boston area, and I’ve been helping her. Yet I believe she only said this (and other things) in the moment, to appease me and continue on with something else. She just keeps taking her distance, pulling back. I know her dad is her chief adviser, and she said that: “He is against me.” She’s 26 and I’m 23 – I’m aware of the age gap. I feel strongly for her and there are some things about her I wish were different. I feel there are more compatible women for me out there. Yet this woman, the French one, I am really having difficulty letting go of, and I wonder why we aren’t together, and why she doesn’t feel the same way about me. Despite the I love you’s at the end of our Skype calls, when she writes to me it’s cold, logical, friend-like but not loving. A while ago her friend said that it’s best that I just forget about her.


This first appeared in the Guardian


I’m not sure if the first line of what the Guardian printed is really the first line of your letter but, if it is, then it is an odd problem. What you seem to be saying is that you are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to be in a relationship with you. Someone preoccupied with ‘something else’.


There is a great deal of confusion here and it’s not at all clear what you are asking of the advice columnist. You seem to be expecting the columnist to agree with your girlfriend’s friend (a convoluted way of second guessing her feelings) – ‘best just forget about her.’ Though it’s clear what the friend means, it’s quite odd wording – we can’t choose to forget important aspects of our lives.


You say her communications are cold and flat but this letter (despite a repetition of ‘I love you’ is very cold and flat). What your girlfriend says to you directly is loving and reassuring, but you suspect that the truth is different. You have decided for her that she’s not keen, though she says she is. You suspect her of keeping her real, negative, feelings secret from you ‘to appease you’. Why?


You also say she’s not ideal for you anyway. I’m not sure if this is a defence against being hurt or whether the reticence, in fact, comes from you.


You’re aware of the age gap, you’d prefer to be with someone else, you feel her dad disapproves and a friend has suggested it’s over. She, however, says she loves you. From this letter it sounds as though you don’t love her but for some reason you don’t dare to accept that and you’ve projected your own doubts and fears into her. There is no other evidence of her reticence. Only your private fears.


The fact that she is older and that her father disapproves shoves your whole issue into the Oedipal arena. You have strong feelings for mum though you know it’s not going to be a fruitful relationship in the long-term and know someone else would be better for you. She provides you with empty-seeming platitudes ‘to appease you’ while she gets on with ‘something else’. It’s easy to imagine a busy mum fobbing a needy child off with affectionate words that sound empty. Dad forbids the relationship in any case.


However, your fear that perhaps mum doesn’t really love you is important. Might that be true? Do you fear that your actual mum isn’t as loving as you’d like? Very obviously I can’t know this from your letter but I suspect that’s right. Mum says she loves you and you hope that she does but that Dad is a bit forbidding so you never got close to her. However, there is a nagging doubt that she doesn’t love you, dad or no dad.


The ‘my girlfriend doesn’t want me’ is such a devastating beginning and I wonder if you feel very rejected indeed by your mum? Are you even adopted? Okay, going a bit far now with the extrapolation. I also wonder what ‘French’ means to you. From your letter it seems important that she’s French. A happy family holiday when you DID feel loved? A French birth mother?? (I know, I know).


Anyway, it seems you don’t really want to continue the relationship with this woman. A defence against being dropped or a projection of your doubts into her, I can’t know (of course). But I think this is about your own doubts and fears about being loved in a very fundamental way and has little to do with this woman who you yourself feel is unsuitable. What you can’t let go of are your deep-seated issues about whether or not you are loved by, I think, your mother. That is probably the button that this relationship is pressing and is why you’re so confused. Your feelings of loss and being unloved have got mixed up in your relationship with a woman about whom you are only able to feel, at best, ambivalent. You probably unconsciously selected her as ideal for this psychic purpose.


Why are you guessing at her feelings and writing to a newspaper instead of talking to her about your fears? Because your fear of rejection is so extreme and because it comes from an infantile place that cannot articulate the terror.


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

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