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Relationships - February 2013

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.


Guilt can corrode

As I write this, Lance Armstrong is in the headlines. He has confessed to his long suspected drug use throughout his cycling career. It was apparent, at times at least, how a public confession might have been difficult for him. The pressure had become so great that he could not maintain his regular denials.

The guilt he might be experiencing remains a bit of an unknown. He didn't dwell on it for long.

Guilt is one of the most troubling things to hold on to without speaking of it to another person. That is why it is often held close for a long time before any sort of 'confession'. Of course, many people do find that confession is cathartic, and some religions do indeed encourage it. But is it always best to confess? To tell a loved one of an infidelity or a shadow in your past?

I've been married happily for over 15 years and have two teenage children. We are secure and contented but recent news has resurrected something from my past that haunts me.

When we were first married we had lots of friends who were young couples like us. We'd put all the children, then very young, to bed after they had played together and once they were asleep we would have a party. We all took food or drink and generally had a good time. One of the other husbands was very attracted to me and me to him. We would spend a lot of the time dancing together and would occasionally sneak a furtive and exciting embrace. The attraction grew. All this time my husband would be the centre of attention for quite a few women as he was handsome, witty and flirtatious.

After a year of these gatherings the attraction became so physical that our lust overcame judgment. We arranged to meet on neutral territory and became lovers.
The anticipation was everything I'd imagined - it reminded me of the feeling I had each time I prepared for a date with my boyfriend, later my husband. But the sex wasn't quite able to live up to the endless flirting that had led to it. The anti-climax was apparent to both of us after the second time and, without anything being said, we decided not to do this again.

After that, when we met socially, we never spoke about this. We still shared weekends and parties, but after his family moved abroad a few years later we just stayed in touch as distant friends.

A few months ago I heard that my one-time lover had died suddenly. His wife phoned to tell us and was in quite a state. Afterwards, it brought back vivid memories of those parties when I'd so looked forward to seeing him, how we spent so much time in each other's company.

Now I'm feeling so guilty at having done this stupid thing. How could I have lied to my husband, taken such risks with our marriage and potentially destroyed our children's security? I think of how I remained friends with them and spent many a morning with the wife, sharing childcare. I don't suppose she knows anything of what happened; nor does my husband. Thinking of all this now makes me so uncomfortable and guilty. Should I tell them?

You really are finding the weight of your memories heavy now. As well as grief for a good friend there are layers of guilt, attached to different people, guilt that the wife still values you as a friend and is seemingly unaware of what her husband did all those years ago. There is guilt that you were unfaithful to your spouse, and that you put your happy marriage and young family in jeopardy through your actions. You feel guilty about what you did.

Imagine the outcome of 'offloading' that bundle of bad feeling to your widowed friend, still grieving for her husband. Imagine telling your husband now, after one of his long-standing friends has died, that you slept with that person a couple of times. Having shattered their belief in you as a friend, as a wife and loved mother, would that relieve you, or merely exchange one load of guilt with an even larger load, following the inevitable repercussions?

Take a deep breath and prepare to shoulder your burden as a permanent reminder of how sometimes the best of relationships runs the risk of being derailed by such events. After all, young and relatively inexperienced couples find their hormones can still over-rule their adult sense of what is best. Now, you say, you would not be tempted in the same way. You are fortunate to know that. Many people are ambushed by the charm of someone who isn't their partner, not realising that after the thrill of danger and passion comes the reckoning. Your own reaction after taking that risk isn't unusual. Often the reality doesn't come up to the fantasy. It is good that you both realised this early on, before it had gone too far - and before your spouses suspected it.

Your guilt is there, a private, silent, but uncomfortable, reminder that such risks are seldom worth taking.

Telling either of the unknowing partners now would be disaster. The experience for both of you was to put you firmly back into the security of your respective marriages, probably a lot wiser than you were before. And both of you have remained faithfully married to your partners and made good lives. Be thankful, and be prepared to continue to adjust as your own children leave home and you and your husband need different things from your marriage. Be supportive of your friend in her bereavement, care about her as she grieves and wants to talk about her sadness and loss. She doesn't need to hear any of this.


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


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