“Wife of 22 years or new-ish lover? Help me make a choice!” Thoughtful Advice from a Psychoanalytic Perspective. No Glib Life Tips.

Slowly sinking into hopeless depression, I hate my despicable situation. I’m 46, in a 22-year relationship with the most attractive woman. We have three children: 15, 17 and 20. When the kids came I loved every minute but it was tough on our relationship. She felt isolated and lonely and the arguments started — with her constantly threatening to take the kids away.

I put all my time and energy into working and made our house fantastic to make her happy. But I always gave in to pacify her, so she wouldn’t want to leave. Over the years, this was to be the catalyst for my gradually disliking her and wanting to leave myself — even though I still love her dearly.

My main problem was our sex life. I was and still am highly sexed. She never was — always a problem but early on I was blinded by love. We’ve had many rows, discussions and even silence, so I’ve left her alone — but can’t hide my disappointment. I was faithful, despite chances of sex with other women.

At my age I began to think about the time passing. I recently worked for someone I had an instant connection to. Over a few weeks, we grew close and discussed my relationship. I expressed my unhappiness and my plan to leave when my youngest was 18.

I really liked this woman. Despite her terrible time with her ex, she was so gentle and understanding.

The job ended, she hinted at no-strings fun and so it began. It seemed perfect — until she told me she had a date. We’d agreed she would remain free to find a suitable man, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I realised I’d fallen for her — and everything changed from fun to heartache. I couldn’t bear the thought of losing this woman to someone else. It wasn’t just sex. She was my soulmate. She felt the same and didn’t go.

I left my partner and am now living with my mother — my head completely messed up. Having wanted freedom, I never stopped to think of its effect on everyone I loved. I hate myself for lying.

No one knows about my lady-friend. My turmoil begins with this choice: either go back and give my partner time to change her ways — or choose life with this new woman. I find my partner more sexually attractive than the new lady, but she touches my soul.

My children understand I need time to sort things with Mum — but I’m desperate. Knowing I must say goodbye to one of the ladies makes me cry. I tried Relate but they could see I wasn’t fit to be there, so I’m about to see the doctor to get some counselling.

In a perfect world I’d return to my family, but I’m afraid things will just go back to the way they were and I’ll have lost my soulmate.

Please help me make the right choice

This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail. 

My Thoughts:

The first line of your letter is the clearest and most honest (though you are not ‘slowly sinking’, you have sunk). You are depressed and hopeless, you say. Then you launch into great confusion. Your wife is ‘most attractive’, a bizarre description of a person. You ‘loved every minute’ of the children’s presence, though you say your wife was isolated and lonely and you were arguing to such a degree that she threatened to leave. You ‘gave in’ in order to make her stay and then began ‘disliking’ her, though you ‘love her dearly’. Sex was ‘always a problem’ and you told your new lover that you were unhappy and planned to leave your wife.

It sounds as though your relationship with your wife was fraught with problems all along and that it was never a rewarding relationship for you. You give the impression of having been crushed by your long marriage and you say fairly straightforwardly that you felt rejected physically. It was apparently a pretty sadomasochistic relationship, one in which you were always trying to please and appease an angry, depressed and castrating figure. You have stayed in the hope that things would somehow improve (i.e. that she would completely change) and you are now considering going back in the hope that she will have magically changed during your absence.

It is fascinating, of course, that you are now living with your mother. It seems likely that she is the template for this woman who cannot be pleased but in whose thrall you must remain at all costs. However, you don’t say this so I’m guessing. But your relationship with the second woman, your ‘lady-friend’ (back to the odd language regarding women – ‘most attractive’ wife), became serious when she too threatened to leave you. Your fear of losing these women seems to be the very thing that keeps you in the relationship, not the quality of the relationship but the anxiety surrounding loss. You now say you hate yourself and your ‘despicable situation’ as though you are guilty of some terrible crime that came out of nowhere. Why do you hate yourself for working hard for many years at a rewardless marriage? Why do you take 100% of the responsibility for what went wrong?

The guilt you feel seems to be part of your masochism. It seems possible that your mother demanded a lot of you and always left you feeling that you had failed, that you might lose her love and care by your failure to please her. Then, having failed, you punish yourself for not being good enough, feel guilty about your own shortcomings, never standing back to see that pleasing her was a fantasy, she would never be pleased. You perhaps grew up believing that if you could do enough then she would finally transform and accept and love you. That is, that you could change her by your behaviour. She perhaps encouraged you to believe this (of course, she may have believed it herself) thereby trapping you in an endless effort to try harder, be better.

Now you say you are in a position of making a choice and you are unsurprisingly paralysed. This is an omnipotent fantasy in which you assume all the responsibility and face all the guilt. Neither partner can really satisfy you but you must choose one or the other in this strange God-like way. And this power terrifies you, makes you desperate. Whichever way you turn the wrath and misery of one of these mother figures (both keeping you in by threatening to leave you) will be wreaked upon you. In an effort not to acknowledge your own chronic vulnerability at the hands of these three (I think) controlling women, you imagine yourself in complete control.

Of course, you say you are depressed, hopeless and desperate. You have been to Relate and you tried to counselling. These facts suggest that you are well on your way to understanding that the problem is your own. You feel buffeted by fate, conspired against by circumstance, pushed into a corner. However, you have carefully constructed all these dynamics from the point of marrying someone whose sexual needs did not match your own and who early on began to blame you for her state of mind. I would suggest that understanding your early relationship with your mother and allowing yourself to be vulnerable and in chaos, seeing the reality that you don’t have ultimate power over the lives of your women (terrifyingly) and that you need help yourself (as opposed to choosing which of them to ‘help’) might be a good start.

NB. it’s interesting that you chose to write your original letter to an older woman who would be likely to smack your bottom, tell you how selfish you are and send you back to your wife. More masochism in the face of a castrating woman.

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

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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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