Wednesday 29 January 2020

'I'm dreading Christmas with my husband'

Each week, adult and specialist adolescent psychotherapist Belinda Kelly answers your queries

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Q I'M dreading having to spend Christmas with my husband. It's the one time when we don't have our busy careers to keep us distracted. We have been married for 10 years and have been through some pretty tough times. A few years ago, I lost a family member and that has left me feeling dead inside.

My husband's father died suddenly and he hasn't been the same since. He never wants to go out or try anything new. All he does is work and sleep. I find our relationship so boring. I keep thinking: 'Is this it, is this my life now?'

I work abroad and recently I had a one night stand which I feel really guilty about. It goes against everything I stand for. But I have to admit, I felt really alive. Now, I'm concerned about my marriage. I feel awful admitting this as he's such a kind, thoughtful man and I know he loves me.


A You and your husband have suffered two tragic bereavements in your immediate families. When a couple experiences intense loss like this, their relationship is changed. For they, as individuals, are changed. You say that losing your family member has left you feeling "dead inside".

I wonder are you now desperately searching for excitement as a way to feel anything at all? The thrill of illicit sex is the very opposite to feeling dead. Losing someone close to us can spark an existential crisis, whereby we begin to question our life and the choices we have made. Or we may fear that we are ageing and try to recapture our adolescence by thrill-seeking. This can also make us feel alive.

The relationship psychotherapist Esther Perel believes loss and yearning lie at the root of infidelity. She says: "At the heart of an affair, you will often find a longing and a yearning for an emotional connection, for novelty, for freedom, for autonomy, for sexual intensity, a wish to recapture lost parts of ourselves or an attempt to bring back vitality in the face of loss and tragedy."

You and your husband could really benefit from couples therapy. It would help you reflect on how intensely grief has impacted your marriage. And it would provide a much needed space for you to work out if you want to be together. At the very least, you owe it to each other to find healthier ways to communicate - even if that does mean separating in a loving and respectful way.

For more information, see: estherperel.com; iahip.com; iacp.ie; familytherapyireland.com


Q I am a 19-year-old gay woman, studying away from home. I'm from a small rural village. Last year, I came out to my family and the reaction was mixed. My elder brother and sister were great, they really support me. They ask about my social life and whether I'm with anyone or fancy anyone, or what gay networks are in my college. But my parents act like it never happened - they never mention it. I feel weird about going home for Christmas. My mother's obsessed with her grandchildren staying and spends the whole time on the phone talking about their presents and what she'll feed them on Christmas day. She never asks any questions about my life, apart from how my studies are going. It's as if I'm invisible or am no longer the daughter she thought I was. It makes me feel so lonely and sad that she is so disappointed in me. I know I shouldn't feel this way, they are my family and I do know that they love me.


A It's no wonder you feel sad and disappointed. We all need to be seen and heard for who we truly are. And you have taken the enormous step of trying to make yourself visible in your community.

For most of your life, you had to pretend to be 'normal'. You had to hide away, to pretend to be someone you were not in order to be accepted. This must have caused you a great deal of anguish. It's difficult enough to develop into an adolescent without the shame inducing experience of hiding who you really are. And now that you've become visible, an anti-climax has descended, where your parents are unable to acknowledge this momentous change in your life.

In a recent report, 90pc of LGBTI+ young people said their struggle with their mental health is 'ongoing'. This comes as no surprise if they are feeling unsupported or unseen in their communities.

I wonder if your parents are finding it difficult to adjust to their new reality. You mentioned being from a small, rural community. If your parents have existed in a heteronormative 'bubble', they may have no understanding of how alienated a young gay person can feel. They may be struggling to ask you questions about your life for fear of offending you or making a fool of themselves.

I wonder could you share with your siblings how you are feeling. Perhaps they could initiate conversations with your parents about how invisible and isolated gay people can feel - or direct them to www.belongto.org, who run regular parent support groups around the country.

It's so important for you to connect with other gay people your age who can support and underpin your experience in a minority group. To have a group of LGBT friends who have an innate understanding of the daily lived experience and challenges of being gay could be so helpful.

You might find that others have parents who struggle to connect with their LGBT teenagers too.

You are not the only one out there. I wish you all the very best with this.

Emily Power Smith is on leave





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