“I’m impotent with my cruel wife but potent with her accepting sister. What should I do?” Proper Advice from a Psychoanalytic Viewpoint

My life is such a mess. I’ve been married many years. My wife had two girls by another man before we met and I look on them and their children as my daughters and grand-daughters.

But for many years my marriage has been unhappy. I have erectile dysfunction and nothing the doctor has prescribed has helped. My wife is scathing about my poor performance and continually humiliates me about this.

For several years, she has been thinking of leaving me and told her sister as much.

Four years ago, when this sister became single again, we began an affair. With her, everything is marvelous (we have found ways to cope with my problem).

Predictably my wife found out and threw me out. She said I was not to contact her sister until she had cooled down and then we would talk.

Then she said that if I was to go to her sister, she would ensure I would never see the grandchildren again — and her daughters told me the same.

So reluctantly I agreed to give our marriage another go — but four years on, nothing has changed.

My wife told her sister: ‘You are dead to me’ — and has no contact with her.

Her sister finds it hard to understand how she is cast aside, but I am not. We rekindled our affair shortly after I was supposed to be giving my marriage another go and I had discovered that nothing had changed at all.

So here we are — me in an unhappy marriage and my girlfriend deserving more than I can give her.

She says she would rather stay with me than have a better relationship with somebody else.

Because of me she has lost her entire family (her sister and the kids are her only relatives and she is distraught at their loss).

So what do I do? I dearly love my girlfriend who never makes any demands, puts up with it when I can’t get away, never complains that I am ‘not a proper man’ and would welcome me into her home like a shot.

But do I risk losing my wonderful stepchildren in order to be with her? I know my wife isn’t making idle threats because when she is in a temper she is capable of anything. I needed to get this off my chest to you, although I know there are no easy answers.

This problem first appeared in the Daily Mail

My Answer:

You begin with saying that your life is a mess, as though things beyond your control have conspired to confuse you. I think what you are really saying is that your head is such a mess, for the confusion comes from you.

You then say your wife had a family prior to meeting you and that you have accepted them as your own without question. There is already something slightly martyrish about your tone (only slightly), but I wonder whether your attraction to your wife was a masochistic one – that this was a person who would walk all over you and you were going to let her?

Here you pin the unhappiness on your erectile dysfunction but further on you say that you have a very satisfying sex life with your wife’s sister, so the problem is that your wife humiliates you, that you are not allowed to feel like a man. You feel impotent in every sense. I wonder why you have stayed with such a castrating woman. (You also say the doctor could not help, so in some ways you seem to feel that you are beyond help, or, at least, that you know the erectile dysfunction is a symptom not the cause).

You say she told her sister she wanted to leave you and you then took very potent revenge on your castrating wife by sleeping with her sister, presumably knowing that this would feel catastrophic to her. Since you say her finding out was ‘predictable’ you clearly knew what you were doing and how much you would hurt her. I’m not suggesting she didn’t deserve it after the humiliation she put you through (but that you allowed her to put you through) but it is important that you see that you made this choice for a powerful reason – in order to wield some power at last.

You then detail the threats your wife made and that her children confirmed. Yet you returned for more punishment, presumably feeling that on some level you deserve it. You seem to be trapped in a terrible situation of guilt and punishment all manufactured by yourself. One can only guess at your early life but, since you have surrounded yourself as an adult with monstrous and manipulative women, I can’t help wondering if this is some mirror of your early experience. I would be very surprised if your father was a strong, capable and respected figure in your family. It seems to me that you are shackled to a cruel and contemptuous mother who derides men in general and you in particular. You then take revenge on her by proving your potency with a different kind of mother (an idealised version of her since, as you chose her sister, she is close enough to represent clearly another version of the same) and then you gladly accept the punishment you know is coming. You collude, in fact, with the cruel woman’s view of you and I think on some level you believe she is right, that you are pathetic and worthless. You won’t escape the situation unless you work on how you view yourself and why.

Interestingly, it is the idealised mother who really gets punished, not the cruel one (though perhaps in your mind it is the good mother/good breast who is easier to punish as that version is less terrifying). You have gained the power you wanted over a mother figure. Not only do you seem to have complete control over this second woman’s life in exactly the way your wife has over yours, but you abuse the power by forcing her to ‘put up with it’. You say the sister ‘never makes any demands’, so she is a perfect masochist to your sadist as you are the perfect masochist to your wife’s sadist.

On a theory note, you have perfectly separated your mother into good breast/bad breast and one has told the other that ‘you are dead to me’. You live in a very binary world where one person (breast) is evil, gives no nourishment and humiliates you, and the other person (breast) is idealised, giving everything and demanding nothing. This presumably echoes your mind, a child’s mind that had to separate the two sides of mum in order to preserve the good side and attempt to ignore the cruelty.

In your life (acting out), you seem to have found the perfect solution to your mind’s problem – be abused at home but take revenge on your wife outside the home at the same time as having found a woman you can, at last control. You are abused (as you perhaps were in early life) and abuser (a measure of freedom and control at last, however much you fear and accept the punishment for it).

You ask what you should do. In some ways the answer is extremely easy. You should leave all these people and get yourself together, have a very good look at what you are doing in this desperately destructive power game. I would argue that being with the sister long term might be as destructive as being with your wife since, as you say, you stand to lose contact with your step-children and grand-children. You are also keeping the incestuous ideas in your mind in full play by staying within the same family. I imagine that the idealised mother figure would soon turn into the cruel torturer in your mind since this is what you expect and at least partly engineer.


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




About Anna Blundy

Honorary psychotherapist with a Masters in Psychoanalytic Theory and another in Psychodynamic Clinical Psychotherapy. Novelist - Author of the Faith Zanetti quintet - The Bad News Bible, Faith Without Doubt, Neat Vodka (US - Vodka Neat), Breaking Faith, My Favourite Poison. Also a memoir of my father, Every Time We Say Goodbye and my most recent thriller - The Oligarch's Wife
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