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Relationships - September 2012

It could be you ....

 

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


Can an affair be useful to a marriage?

I noticed an article this morning in one of the newspapers declaring ‘Happiness is lasting marriage and an affair with lots of sex.’ Apart from making my blood boil it did make me think about its claims and brought to mind a couple who came to me some years ago with a ‘sackful’ of hurt, resentment, misunderstanding and frustration.

Briefly, the article, publicising a sociologist’s new book, described a website for married people who were looking for some sexual thrills and spills outside of their marriages, whilst having no plans or desires to leave their spouses. The newspaper piece discussed the possibility of the British and the Americans being stuck in a sort of Puritan time-warp of compulsory fidelity whilst the rest of the world, it asserted, has multiple extra-marital sexual relationships.

The couple it reminded me of came to see me bringing the unhappiness of an extra-marital affair which, when discovered, brought pain to them both.

The couple had been married 25 years and had two children. The familiar pressures had borne down upon them – mortgage, job insecurities, childcare costs and after-school club taxiing, followed by general tiredness each evening and weekends focussed on driving lessons and home maintenance. Now, as the children were on the brink of adulthood, their time had become freer but their pattern of being together mainly as parents had made their more intimate and loving relationship seem but a dim and distant memory. This was when the husband picked up the wrong mobile phone on his way out one morning and discovered his wife’s 2-year affair.

The wife was trying hard to reassure the husband that she still loved him but he was unable to see past the shock of his discovery and the feeling of betrayal associated with it.

Over 3 months of delicate unpicking and careful adjustment of their hopes and expectations for their relationship, which hadn’t been discussed since before their wedding, (something common to many marriages but needs to be a built-in regular check, as essential as getting the car serviced or painting the window frames!), the couple realised they had grown lazy. They were no longer in tune with each other and had long ago stopped being attentive during their infrequent and boring love-making.

He had forgotten that she, along with most women, needed to be petted and made to feel special before he made more overt sexual advances. He’d forgotten that she found his stubble uncomfortable.
She had forgotten that he found her more attractive without the long-sleeved PJs and shiny night-time face cream.

What the wife had found in the affair with a work contact, was someone who spent their time together exclusively focussed upon her, he took trouble to ‘woo’ her, to be smart and clean-shaven, and complimentary and considerate during sex. She took more trouble too. She wore pretty underwear and made sure to put on make-up to make the most of her lovely eyes. The sex in this affair had, for her, been the best she had ever experienced and, since her husband had discovered her secret, she was missing it. She had ended the affair, worried that now it was known it would break her marriage, which she really didn’t want. The affair was a puzzle to her husband, who couldn’t understand why, if she cared about the marriage, she should have taken a lover.

It took much of those painful months for the husband to separate love from sex, as for him the two were inextricably linked. For his wife they were not. She had not loved the other man but she had got what she had been missing in her marriage. She loved her husband but had somehow lost his interest and consequently closed off her sexual feelings towards him. He admitted that he had grown careless in his appearance, pleading the general exhaustion of a day’s work and the pressures of family life. In the absence of a feeling of romance between them, and to cover his self-consciousness over his no longer youthful body he had turned to humour, making crude and bawdy jokes when his wife wanted tender words and caresses to ignite her sexual feelings and reassure her of her attractiveness to him. It didn’t matter to her that he’d developed a few wrinkles and a few more pounds, she just wanted to know she was still desireable to him. He had unwittingly done the very thing that drove her further towards the affair.

The couple worked hard at finding ways of trusting and asking for things from each other, especially in their sexual relationship, and being honest but not critical if it wasn’t right for them. It took a long time and plenty of false starts before they began to attempt any sort of intimacy, but when they did – oh boy, could I tell when they entered the room! They looked much brighter and alert, she prettily dressed and he clean-shaven and groomed. They glowed like their younger selves and were ready to go on working at their marriage with the added wisdom that this extra-marital affair had given them.

Of course affairs happen, they always have, but there is almost always someone who loses because of it and the damage can only be repaired if both of a couple are prepared to be honest and work hard at rebuilding their foundation. Better to maintain your relationship, give it an annual check-up, rather than try to claw it back as it teeters on the edge of a precipice!


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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