Dilemmas: Don't sacrifice your skiing for your husband

There was more than met the eye to the problem of whether Christine, a keen skier, should take a week's holiday on her own, despite her piste- loathing husband's fear that unless they did everything together their marriage might founder. Her dilemma was less about simply whether to go or not than about personal space, to use the dreaded phrase, and to what extent relationships thrive or become destroyed by partners doing their own thing from time to time. In the past, marriages were like ballroom dancing. Men took the lead; wives followed. Today, like the Lillehammer ice dance winners, up-to- date partnerships operate more like rock'n'roll - together part of the time, but free to break away for the odd indulgence.

That's probably why most readers said there was only one answer to the question: Christine should take her skiing holiday and ignore her husband's emotional blackmail.

And better to find out his 'immature, jealous, manipulative and ungenerous' nature now, argued Mrs K Silver of Oxford, than later. When children came along, who knows what petty power-trips and attention- seeking behaviour he might resort to.

'The only couple I knew who lived in each others's pockets are now divorced, after nearly 20 years and three children. Terms like 'being one's own person' have relevance, even if they sound like cliches.'

Some readers, like Abigail Durant of Tooting, south London, suggested compromise. A ski-hater, she had agreed to accompany her husband to the slopes 'on condition the husband agreed to come to Egypt (a place he loathed the thought of) another time.'

Personally I can imagine little worse than either having to stay at the hotel and stuff my face with my millionth fondue while my partner zoomed down the slopes; or shivering in an air-conditioned hotel coffee shop reading George Eliot while he investigated the Valley of the Tombs. And anyway, imagine the pressure of being the one having the fun; the pleasure would be eroded by wondering if back at the hotel there was someone very resentful.

Better organised were the Easons of Beckton, east London. Paul's wife hates skiing, but he loves it, and does it. 'When people get married they undertake to share the life of another person who they love. But surely this does not mean that that person then has to change to suit their likes and dislikes? Christine should go on her holiday, have a great time, and she'll probably fall deeper in love with her husband by doing so, because of the freedom she will find within her marriage . . . If one party is prevented from pursuing their chosen activity, the ensuing build-up of resentment could drive a wedge between them.'

Similarly, the Stantons of Berkeley, Gloucestershire. Married 14 years, Jean's husband is such a ski addict that he even took to the snow when their twins were only two weeks old. 'I was devastated . . . but nevertheless I've always encouraged him to go . . . It makes it easier to say I'd like to go off and visit my family in America for a long weekend or attend a conference.'

Then there were the Pauls of Hanwell, west London. Ian, a keen birdwatcher, said that his wife, Jacki, loves skiing, which he can't stand, but 'she hates the thought of sitting for hours just to get a glimpse of a sparrow-hawk'. (I know the feeling; and you can't even read in a hide.)

'We therefore allocate time, during different seasons, to go off and do our own things. The result does not damage our relationship, but enhances it. Our time together is sacred and a joy because it is heightened by our mutual respect for one another's individuality. That Christine's husband is so unyielding begs the question: 'Is he feeling as fulfilled as he should be within his own particular scheme of things?' Perhaps he thinks he has to sacrifice his individuality for the good of the relationship and expects Christine to do the same.'

Ian has put his finger on it. It seems as if Christine's husband can't distinguish 'sameness' from 'closeness'. And it sounds as if Christine is finding it hard to distinguish self-assertion from disloyalty.

As one who has just read Harriet Goldhor Lerner's marvellous guide to changing the pattern of relationships, Dance of Anger (Pandora, pounds 5.99), I suggest that Christine says something on the lines of: 'I know that you don't enjoy skiing and I appreciate your feelings. However, I'm a grown woman and I need to make my own decisions. I don't expect you to be happy about my going, but I do need to make the decision for myself.'

Of course, he might react in a way that would upset her. There could be threats to leave; he could sulk, cry, throw a temper tantrum. As Ms Lerner writes: 'There are few things more anxiety-arousing than shifting to a higher level of self-assertion and separateness in an important relationship, and maintaining this position despite the countermoves of the other person.'

But the question Christine has to ask is whether she is prepared to sacrifice her own self for her marriage at any price. Whatever decision is taken, someone will feel resentment: she, if she doesn't go; he, if she does.

Mrs V Bendel, Halesworth, Suffolk, has no doubt about the right solution. 'For 25 years I foolishly did without certain interests of my own because I had been brought up to believe that a wife's duty was to fit in with her husband's likes and dislikes. 'I have now taken the plunge into separate holidays and hobbies and bitterly regret that I did not do so earlier.'

'The urge to merge may be universal,' writes Ms Lerner, 'but when acted out in extreme forms, these 'fusion relationships' place us in a terribly vulnerable position. If two people become one, a separation can feel like a psychological or physical death. We have nothing - not even a self to fall back on - when an important relationship ends.'

Perhaps Christine should give her husband a copy of Ms Lerner's book to read while she whizzes down the slopes.

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