ETCETERA / Angst: Expert advice on your problems

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The Independent Culture
My husband has been a habitual womaniser and although I don't like it and feel quite humiliated by it, I decided some years ago that I would stay with him as we have three children and in other ways he is good man to live with. I have dealt with the pain by keeping busy, developing my own interests and realising that, whatever else, I am unlikely to lose my security. Recently I joined an English literature course - a subject about which I am passionate - and was enjoying it thoroughly until a few weeks ago when a couple of the women began asking about my life and, because they are sympathetic people, I explained the situation. They were very, very critical of me, telling me I was diminishing myself by staying with such a man, that men would never treat women better as long as people like me put up with being hurt and that I would be much better off living alone with my children in dignity. I feel very upset and undermined by this and have the sense that probably everyone despises me for compromising, whereas I thought I had done the right thing for my children.

Dilemmas such as you describe rarely benefit from applying a 'right' and 'wrong' scale. The important question for you seems to be how to maintain positive feelings about yourself and your values in the context of the choice you made some years ago and your husband's continuing behaviour, which presumably serves as a constant reminder of the pain you are experiencing. I wonder if you have ever considered that you may not have to choose to suffer in silence? What would happen if you reinforced your intention to stay while, at the same time, making it clear to your husband that you disapprove of his behaviour and that it hurts you? In this way you could choose to be assertive about reality, rather than being humiliated by it. As far as your new friends are concerned, it may be appropriate to suggest they allow you to assess whether or not you feel 'diminished'. Taking an assertive stance on your husband's behaviour and choosing to remain in the relationship may be an indication of your strengths rather than (as they see it) your weaknesses.

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

Seven years ago we had a baby who died in his cot. We got a lot of support and help from friends which I really appreciated. We have since had two more children and they have kept me so busy that it seemed to keep the feelings about Jamie at bay. But in the last few months I have been thinking about him more and more, feeling terribly upset and convinced I should have been able to prevent his death. I wake up a lot in the night and find myself brooding about it. My husband has talked with me about this and been comforting, but he really seems to have come to terms with what happened and I am sure he thinks I'm being very neurotic.

What an appalling tragedy for you and your husband. It seems so hard to accept that a healthy baby can die so suddenly without warning or apparent reason. It is good news that you went on to have two more children, but it is only natural that it is Jamie whom you are now thinking about all the time. It sounds as if your busy life since his death has kept the agony of his loss at bay. You may not have had the chance after the tragedy to grieve properly for him and it is only now that the distress has surfaced, bringing with it all the tormenting feelings of guilt. It must be so painful for you. You are not neurotic at all for suffering such overhwhelming feelings after all these years. It sounds as if your husband has been very supportive, but men and women can grieve very differently from one another, so don't feel you are 'going mad' by reacting this way. Talking about Jamie with another parent who has also been through a similar traumatic experience may be helpful now. There is a local support group in your area, and you may like to ring one of the befrienders, and possibly arrange to meet her. Please ring our 24-hour Helpline whenever you want to, and that includes in the middle of the night]

Foundation for the Study of Infant Deaths, 35 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QB, tel: 071-235 1721