ETCETERA / Angst: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
The woman I have lived with for 15 years had an affair two years ago which lasted nine months. I found out about it last year and confronted her. She promised me it was over and tried hard to explain why it had happened, and we talked a lot about our relationship and our feelings for each other. She told me clearly that she had not wanted to leave me and our two children for the other man. But she was very depressed for quite a long time, and I am sure she wished she was with him. Although she seems a good deal more cheerful and warm now, I can't get over the feeling that she regrets losing her lover and I feel more jealous now than I did when I first found out. I've tried talking to her about it, and although she says she knows she hurt me, she will not discuss how she felt with him or exactly what it was all about. It's very hard to cope with.

It seems from what you say that you have experience of how to handle difficult situations with others in a helpful way. You could build on your success by identifying exactly how you managed to maintain a relationship while at the same time discussing very painful issues. It may be timely to seek outside assistance in working on how you manage feelings from within. Given that your partner has voted with her feet to stay, and that she is 'a good deal more cheerful and warm', it may be appropriate to leave her out of the equation for now and do some work with and on yourself. Make sure you tell her what you are doing and a little about why.

David Smallacombe, director, Kensington Consultation Centre, 47 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RH, tel: 071-793 0148.

My wife and I are divorcing, and we have twin teenage daughters who are working towards their A-levels. The divorce has come as a shock to them, as we have tried to keep our troubles from them; they did not realise how impossible it has become for us to live together. I know enough about the effects of divorce to fear the girls will suffer a good deal, and I am worried it will affect their ability to work well for their exams. They are both ambitious and keen to do well in life.

Young people are likely to be profoundly affected by the divorce of parents. However, the reactions of teenagers are dependent to a large extent on the way parents deal with the situation. You can help your daughters enormously by: (1) being open and honest with them; (2) trying to prepare them for each step; (3) listening to them and taking account of their needs; and (4) making sure they have support from someone with whom they can share their feelings, and who is independent and outside the family.

John Coleman, director, Trust for the Study of Adolesc-

ence, 23 New Road, Brighton, East Sussex BN1 1WZ,

tel: 0273 693311.

I live with a woman in her forties who has always dressed in a fairly casual, down-to-earth way. A few months ago she bought a very tight, sexy dress for a party we were going to and she got a lot of attention. Since then she has been buying more clothes which I would call provocative and designed to attract men. She has a good figure and I have to admit she looks good. But I find it uncomfortable and, frankly, I think she is making herself look common. Far from being sexually excited by her I am turned off and she is aware of this - but I feel that if I tell her why, she will be upset and furious.

It is not uncommon for couples to feel a need to re-define their relationships as they mature, and it sounds as though your wife's changing needs have caught you unawares. Some women reaching their forties worry that they are physically unattractive and less lovable and need to seek reassurance of all kinds. Others feel an increasing sense of freedom and autonomy which can lead to a dramatic change of lifestyle. Either way it will help to explore what your wife's new, overtly sexual way of dressing means for her, so that you can begin to respond appropriately. Looking at this together will help reduce your feelings of threat.

Mary North, counsellor, 32 Bolehill Road, Wirksworth, Derby DE4 4GQ, tel: 0629 824258.

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