I've been married for five years and our sex life has never been very good but I love my wife very much. However, last week she suddenly dropped a bombshell. She told me there is a man she really fancies, someone she met at her yoga class, and that she wants to have an affair with him. She says why don't I find someone as well and then she won't feel guilty. I've told her OK, because otherwise it's over, but what can I do? I don't want to lose her. But I don't like the idea of an open marriage. Yours sincerely, Brendan
Virginia says... Has it occurred to you that one of the reasons your wife doesn't enjoy sex with you is that she feels you're rather spineless and passive? Has it crossed your mind that one of the reasons your marriage isn't working is because you too willingly cave in and let yourself be trampled over like a doormat? Do you realise that when two people marry, they don't just meld into one amorphous whole, but become partners, and, although united, are still fundamentally separate people, each with their own self-respect?
Finally, have you thought how incredibly unflattering it must be for her to hear you say "fine" when she suggests having an affair? Your response shows one of two things. Either you care absolutely nothing for yourself, and are prepared to be trampled into the dust on a whim. Or it shows that you don't love her at all, and are, effectively, saying, "sleep with who you like. It doesn't matter to me."
Imagine how she'd feel if, before all this had happened, you'd said that you wanted to lead separate sexual lives. She'd have felt rejected, unloved, and second best. Do you want to be married to someone who knows that's how she's making you feel?
This suggestion of hers is telling you something and you're not hearing it. She's either saying: "I'm certain you don't really care about me – just an idea of me. I'm going to test you to the limit. Let's see how you react to this totally unacceptable idea and then I'll see how good our relationship really is." Or she's saying: "Sorry, Brendan, but our marriage over. I don't want to tell you directly, so I'm telling you indirectly."
And how are you supposed to react? Go off and have sexual relationships with women who might well fall for you and be hurt when you say that actually you want to stay married? Her behaviour will, if taken to its ultimate conclusion so you're having affairs outside the marriage, lead you to behaving like a monster to other women.
It's not too late to put your foot down. Say: "I simply cannot accept this insulting proposition. If you decide to go ahead with this, it's the end of our marriage. Either you give up this man and we go for counselling, or I'm off."
I know you don't want to do this. And it may well mean it's all over – in which case, better it's over now than later. But there's a very small chance that this move could actually save your marriage rather than end it.
Are you man or mouse?
Put your foot down
The whole point of marriage is to have a loving and caring relationship between two people and you not being open to the idea of an open marriage is completely understandable. You need to tell your wife you are angry and hurt and that you don't agree with what she is proposing. If you think this all stems from your sex life, maybe that is something that the pair of you need to talk about and spice up. Don't let her have an affair and don't let her make you have an affair when you're clearly just scared of losing her. By letting her sleep with another man you have effectively lost her already.
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Look after yourself
Let your wife decide and do what she wants – and you do what you want. You are not responsible for any guilt that she perceives about her own thoughts, words or actions – you are responsible for you! Your wife may get closer to this man – or she might realise what she has with you is worth building on – and you both then start appreciating each other and find a way to enjoy your sex life.
Vivienne Brown By email
Next week's dilemma
Dear Virginia, For the last three years, my husband has forgotten our wedding anniversary, though we've been married nine years. It is coming up again and I find I am dreading the disappointment of him forgetting again. I know it's silly, and everyone says it's clear he loves me, but it means so much to me, and when he forgets we always have a terrible row. He says I should remind him, but if I remind him, then there's no point... he should remember of his own accord. I don't know how you can help me, but does anyone else feel like I do? Yours sincerely, Nollie
What would you advise Nollie to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent.co.uk, or go to independent. co.uk/dilemmas. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewinesellers.co.uk)