Dilemmas

This week: how do I deal with this longing to get my own back? Paula's husband of 15 years has run off with her best friend leaving Paula feeling wretched and full of angry vengeful feelings. Her friend says that doing something like slashing her husband's tyres would make her feel better, but though tempted she doesn't want to look a fool. What can she do to relieve her feelings?
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What Virginia Ironside says: Oh, how Paula must long to get her own back. She must be tossing and turning, mulling over the most frightful ways to punish her betrayers. Should she sneak off to their love-nest and secrete prawns into their curtain rail like comedienne Kathy Lette? Should she be more straightforward and simply go round and daub: "Slut!" and "Two-timing bastard!" over their walls? Should she chop up his suits, or, more coldly, as one woman did, stuff every one of her husband's garments into a bin-bag, send them to a dry-cleaner, post him the ticket and get him to pick up the bill?

The answer is: none of these. If thinking about revenge gives her pleasure, think on. But doing anything about it is a great mistake. She's already been betrayed by two people; by giving in to her own worst instincts she wouldn't just be reducing herself to their level, she'd be hurting her own psyche as well. Plus the more bad behaviour they get from her, the more this fiendish couple is going to feel relieved of their guilt. "We went off with each other; she slashed our tyres. Now we're quits," they will say to each other gleefully as they hop into bed for the third time that day. Or, worse, they might nod their heads sadly: "Poor Paula," they would say, over a candlelit dinner. "While we are experiencing such love, all she can experience is hatred, poor twisted soul. If only, poor love, she would see a counsellor to heal her. We, her two truest friends, still only want the best for her." Is that really what she wants?

So what can she do? Wait for her fury to implode upon herself and erupt in depression, asthma attacks and unspeakable stomach upsets? No. Since revenge is a way of getting equal and restoring the balance of power that's been lost, she could try to diminish the harm they've done her. She could try saying to herself that they are not worth wasting her breath on, that they deserve each other.

She could try putting a home-made spell on them, a harmless way of getting rid of the most repulsive feelings - at least harmless as long as something doesn't happen to them. After I amateurly devised a spell wishing someone dead, he promptly contracted Hepatitis C and I've never been quite sure about how much I am to blame.

She could leave her revenge to God or whatever higher power she believes in. Avenge not, I will repay saith the Lord. She could leave it to their own karma to punish them, for sure as eggs both these treacherous people will slip on some emotional or psychic banana skin in the future.

She could maintain a cruel silence. Simply to be frozen out entirely is a terrifying revenge. No reply to phone calls, no news delivered via friends, no communication except through lawyers, no "civilised" discussions about the future, and no uncivilised ones either. The couple will each and separately experience a kind of painful bereavement of the relationship they have betrayed. Like the Macbeths, they may start blaming each other for their guilt and anxiety.

Or Paula could work off her rage by writing a furious letter, rewriting it each day until she reduces it to a couple of sentences that should, ideally, read something like this: "I hope you wont betray each other's trust as you have betrayed mine. Apart from that, I wish you well." And may they choke on her good wishes n

What readers say

Rise above them

Twenty years ago I was in your situation and I still regret some of my actions then.

These two people betrayed your trust in a cruel, despicable way and, despite appearances, they know it. Believe me, they feel guilty and desperately need to feel better about themselves. Your slashing their tyres will achieve this. At the least, they will feel less bad; at the worst, you could be prosecuted for criminal damage. This will not help you feel better. You must not give them that satisfaction.

They have proved themselves unworthy of you and you must rise above them. Aquila non captat muscas - the eagle does not go after flies. And as for letting them get away with it, they have each other. That is their punishment.

Joanne, N Yorks

Think before extracting revenge

Let me first tell you that tears do not solve a thing. A similar thing happened to me several months ago, and I made the obvious mistake of falling into a cycle of depression that was nothing but self-destructive. I stopped eating, refused to see my friends and nearly lost them too - and all the time my wife and her boyfriend (one of my childhood friends) were laughing about it. What you need to do is take a deep breath - and go for a compromise. Of course you are going to be devastated (who wouldn't be?) and of course you are going to want to exact terrible revenge. Just as the Bible holds conflicting views ("turn the other cheek" and "an eye for an eye: etc), you must gently go with both your raw instincts and your logical mind. See a solicitor early to organise a "fair" and quick divorce to surprise him (I wish I had done that). Destroy his clothes and favourite possessions within reason, if it will make you feel better. All I can say is think before exacting revenge (you don't want to do something you will regret when you've got over him ... and believe me, you will) and yet try to forgive him. Good luck.

Mike

Never forgive

Be dignified: we all live a long time, and you will like yourself much more in retrospect if you keep your dignity.

Get a ruthless lawyer: on no account get yourself some wishy-washy non- judgemental type who prefers compromise to the courtroom.

Do not speak to your husband and your friend direct: refer letters to your lawyers, change the phone number (it's free) and go ex-directory, get injunctions. Be hard, very hard about any property and money.

Do not forgive: "to err is human, to forgive divine," means just that. God can forgive the pair of them - you don't ever have to.

Keep busy: your anguish can be held at bay, and like bereavement it will fade. There are good friends to be found, and there are marvellous, faithful and loyal men. Good luck and chin up.

Marie Owen, London NW2

Express yourself

Paula is right to feel that she should act out all her feelings of anger and sadness. The "forget-all-about-it, carry-on-as-if-nothing-happened" approach can work; denying one's own emotions can only cause harm to oneself. But she is also right to be hesitant about taking active revenge, as that has a habit of back-firing. For example, damaging her husband's property could well lead to legal action.

What Paula must do is actively express her feelings. She could write hate-filled letters to her husband and his lover, which she would not post, or try writing poetry of some other literary work.

Perhaps she could set aside a couple of hours, take the phone off the hook and put on 10 or 15 appropriate records, singing along and letting the anger and tears show. She could engage in a session of pillow-beating. She might find it helpful just to talk openly to a sympathetic friend. As Paula releases her emotions she will feel the burden gradually lighten.

Jess Cully, London E15

Next week: my deceased friend's family won't let me send flowers

Dear Virginia,

Am I alone in feeling hurt when the family says "no flowers" at my friend's funeral? I can't attend because of a holiday with my young family booked months ago, and would so like to send flowers instead. The family have specified a particular charity they want money sent to instead, but I have my own favourite charities and don't actually like this charity much. I find being told to send money instead of flowers really painful. Man does not live by money alone. Should I send flowers, whatever the family says?

Cherry

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL; fax 0171-293-2182, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.

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