Ask Fiona: Why can I not stop having affairs?
Columnist and trained counsellor Fiona Caine answers another set of reader dilemmas...
I HAVE a destructive streak where relationships are concerned, and I simply don’t seem to be able to control it. Although I am ‘happily’ married with two children and a caring husband, I seem to have a need for extra-marital affairs (I had my first on my honeymoon).
I know my behaviour is shocking by most people’s standards, but I don’t seem able to feel guilty. I even had a bit of a fling during lockdown, with someone I met while out walking. That’s ended now – but I’m now back at work and I’m being sent on a part-time college course soon, so the opportunities will be enormous.
My husband did find out about one relationship that got a bit out of hand, but he forgave me. You’d have thought that would make me feel guilty, but somehow it didn’t – it just added to the fun of it.
I would like to change my behaviour and be more loyal, because my husband really is a lovely man, but I don’t know how to start. My behaviour is like an addiction and, despite my good intentions, I seem unable to stop.
FIONA SAYS: Please contact Relate (relate.org.uk) and get counselling help as soon as you can. You are, it would seem, addicted to the thrill of an extra-marital relationship and, like most addictions, they can be dangerous. You really need to sort out your feelings and find out what is missing from your life that you are replacing with the excitement of an affair.
It sounds as if you have a warm, loving relationship with your husband, but I suspect there is something in your past that triggers this behaviour. It might give you a clue as to why you behave this way, if only you are prepared to go looking for it – and that is something that counselling could help you do. Some people have a dependency on sex and sexual activity to help numb negative emotions and difficult experiences – could this be you?
If it’s something lacking in your relationship with your husband, then you need to find a way of addressing this. It might, for example, be passion – but passion is something that can be created, especially if you truly care for one another. In spite of your affairs, it sounds as if your husband is still very important to you and that you do care about him.
I’m sure you realise that not only are you putting your marriage at risk by carrying on as you are, but you are also running a huge health risk to your husband as well as yourself. How would you explain to him if you gave him a sexually transmitted infection of some kind? How would you explain things to your two children if your husband decided he wasn’t prepared to forgive you?
Aside from Relate, another organisation you could turn to if you feel it might help would be ATSAC. That stands for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity (atsac.org.uk) and it might be an alternative route for you to follow. Whatever you do though, do please seek professional help – not just for your sake, or for your husband’s but for your children as well.
MY HUSBAND IS ABUSIVE BUT I’M TOO SCARED TO LEAVE
I KNOW everyone has found the last 18 months or so difficult, but for me they’ve been a complete nightmare. I’ve been married to a monster for the last 15 years and in that time, all my needs have been completely subservient to his.
He does absolutely nothing for himself and regards himself as the lord of the house. He snaps his fingers and expects me and the children to jump. If we don’t or we are a bit slow, he flies into a violent rage and shouts at us – he’s beaten me so many times, and he has also beaten the children.
He is so short-tempered, and it hurts me a lot, especially when it’s directed at the children. I feel so helpless during these outbursts. He scares me so much that I can’t stand up to him and dare not show any defiance, in case he gets violent again.
The children are terrified of him and the youngest wets the bed every night. I have tried to talk to him, but he won’t listen and just gets angry again. I am sick of what he is doing to us but lack the courage to end it.
FIONA SAYS: I do feel for you, tiptoeing around a bully like this for 15 years must have been sheer hell. I cannot imagine how awful it must have been for you, stuck at home together during the pandemic. For your sake and for that of your children, it is a hell you must call an end to.
Over the years, I have often tried to tell people that no matter how bad a relationship is, it is often worth one last attempt to correct matters. Where violence is concerned though, as in a case like yours, my attitude is always the same – you need to get out as soon as you possibly can.
Enough is enough, and while starting life afresh is never easy, especially with children, with support, it can be done. Many women before you have managed to escape this sort of destructive relationship and have gone on to lead fulfilling and happy lives, without the constant threat of violence. You and your children have a right to feel safe, secure, and happy, and you are never going to feel this way whilst you are with someone like this.
Your youngest is already clearly showing signs of emotional damage and needs to be protected. Chances are that your other children are equally at risk here. They cannot leave on their own – they need your help to do so, and so for yourself and for them, even if you think it’s hard, you need to do something and soon.
Do you have any friends you can trust and talk to? They could help you to plan a strategy for how to escape this violent cycle you are in. And I’d really urge you to contact Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk) who can give you the support, advice and information you badly need. Not only could they be your trusted friend, they can also help you to find emergency accommodation for you and your children.
With your husband at home all the time during lockdown, it was probably very hard indeed to make any plans or get help. Now lockdown is easing, hopefully you can find a safe place to talk to somebody who can help you, and the National Domestic Abuse Helpline number is 0808 2000 247. That website too (nationaldahelpline.org.uk) is full of useful and helpful advice and information. Truly, you are not alone – you and your children can be safe and happy away from this man.
WHY AM I SO STUCK IN A RUT?
WHY can’t I change my life? I feel like I’m such a failure and I’m so depressed with myself that I can’t see me ever amounting to anything. My boss offered me a fantastic promotion a couple of weeks ago, but in the end, I just turned it down – don’t ask me why, I just don’t know, but it all seemed too much.
On top of that, I’m in a relationship with someone that I’ve long since fallen out of love with. I’ve been trying to finish it for the last six months but just can’t seem to summon up the energy for the argument that’s going to ensue.
Why am I stuck in such a rut, and what’s wrong with me?
FIONA SAYS: Something is clearly holding you back from what you want to achieve. It might be a fear of change, or it could be that you’re depressed – it could be a bit of both. You clearly want to change your life, but the fear that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence can hold us back.
Most of us experience this battling of the two sides of our nature quite regularly, and it is often perfectly normal. It only becomes a problem if, as with you, you let the negative side continually come to the fore.
Also, huge numbers of people have become depressed because of either Covid itself or the repercussions from it. If you think this might be you then perhaps a chat with your GP would help, or you could try other remedies, like exercise, which is known to help.
If you had more confidence in yourself and in your abilities, I think that would help too. For some reason, your self-esteem has taken a knock, so think about, perhaps, reading up on ways to help yourself like yourself a bit more. There are lots of great self-help books out there.
As for your boyfriend, you might find that once you fall back in love with yourself, you start feeling differently, so if you’re not 100 per cent sure, it might be better to wait until you feel better.
MY PARTNER NEVER WANTS TO TALK
I AM in a relationship with a previous boyfriend I had off and on during my teens and 20s. We stayed in contact over the next 20 years off and on but there was nothing serious. This last time something clicked again, and we’ve been together for two years.
We are both in our 50s now, but my issue is that his personality has changed and I’m sure mine has as well. He used to be so open we could talk about anything. Now it’s like I have to force him to have a conversation, which just means I do all the talking.
I ask him if he’s happy and he says he is, but I guess I am just needy because I want to talk and get answers back etc. What can I do? I am starting to question myself on why we did get back together.
FIONA SAYS: We all change as we get older, but I think almost all the men I know have become less talkative. Ask them what they’re thinking about, and the response is often ‘nothing’. I’ve concluded that they can actually do that – think about absolutely nothing, or at least something so abstract that they can’t even vocalise it.
If you can talk to each other when there is something important to say, then perhaps try and relax and enjoy the relationship for what it is? For conversations of the deep and meaningful kind, I have turned to my female friends, perhaps you could do likewise.
I would encourage you both though to have a regular ‘date-night’ at least once every few weeks or so, where you do something together that involves communication. It might be taking part in a physical activity of some kind (sport/dancing) or it might be more mentally challenging (quiz night/reading group). Whatever you both fancy.
Whatever you do, it will keep you in touch with one another, and mentally alert to one another as well.
If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.