ETCETERA / Angst: Expert Advice on Your Problems

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We have always discussed sex and feelings with our two children and felt it important that they make decisions for themselves. So when our 16- year-old daughter became involved with a boy, we felt it important to let her know we would not be shocked or critical if we found she was sleeping with him. When Sophie asked one day if Don could stay over after a party I said nothing but put them in the same room. I knew Sophie had been to a clinic to talk about contraception. We felt rather proud of ourselves as liberal parents until two weeks later Sophie was very tearful and announced that the relationship had ended and she shouted at us: 'You shouldn't have made Don and me sleep together. I was saying I wasn't allowed to until then.' We feel very bad about what happened now and wonder what to do.

This sounds like a communication problem. You felt you were discussing sex in a way which enabled Sophie to tell you things; while she may have been wanting you to provide boundaries. It is very difficult for parents of teenagers, particularly if they want to respect privacy and not ask too much. One way to bring a subject up is to talk about another child, saying, for example: 'Joe seems to feel he must have a girlfriend and be seen to be having sex with her, what do you think about that?' In your case, the situation cannot be undone but perhaps you can learn from it. Knowing you don't always get things right, you may be able to understand better what Sophie really wants next time.

John Coleman, Trust for the Study of Adolescence, 23 New Road, Brighton, Sussex BN1 1WZ (tel: 0273 693311).

I was married in my twenties to a woman I worshipped. Getting married seemed so important because I was sent to boarding school as a young boy and it was the first time the sense of being unwanted left me. We had two daughters but my wife left me after a few years. I was shattered but found another woman within a few weeks and believed myself in love, but then realised I was not. There have been several other affairs but each time things appear to be getting close I feel a terrible sense of panic. I become impotent and find myself wanting to draw out of the relationship as quickly as I can. I am in despair and wonder if I will ever be able to experience love again.

The emotional damage done to you as a young boy when it felt like the people you trusted to love and protect you had in fact abandoned you, was probably great. When your wife left it may have re-activated that early feeling of rejection and compounded your sense that you could not trust those you thought loved you. Trying to overcome the hurt by immediately going into another affair was almost certainly going to make things worse; people need time to grieve over loss. Moving on to new affairs you may feel you want to find love but are probably also very frightened of what letting go that much means. If a relationship is to work you will need to build trust slowly and feel confident that you really do have feelings for the woman and she for you. Out of this a sexual relationship can grow. And slowly you will feel safe enough to trust yourself to love again. Pat Lloyd, sexual and marital psychotherapist registered with UK Council for Psychotherapy (tel: 071-224 6872).

My husband makes stained glass and has a business which has become busier and busier over the years. He works immensely long hours - often weekends as well. He could afford to employ help but he will not do that, and it is not because he is worried financially - we are quite well off. I mind how little I see of him, but I mind much more for our 14-year-old daughter who, I feel, particularly needs her Dad at this age. He is a kind, trustworthy man who would do anything for us except, it seems, spend time with us. I feel that he is running away from our relationship but talking to him about it usually ends in a row.

The first question is, has your husband got a reason for wanting to be unavailable? He is very likely acting at an emotional level, responding to inchoate feelings, and rationalising his actions - working hard being a 'good' thing to do. I suggest you try to find a way of enabling him to give you more time without making it an attack. You could express sympathy for the long hours he works and suggest that it might be pleasant for all three of you if you could do more together. Stress that you would really love to have him around. This might help, but if he is avoiding a problem in the relationship it is less likely to do so. If he won't talk to you about these issues, it may help to find a therapist or a counsellor who could act as broker between you.

Janet Reibstein, author with Martin Richards of 'Sexual Arrangements' (Mandarin) and psychotherapist (tel: 0223 561947).

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