Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Margaret - How Can I Face The Future?

Hi Babs

I am a professional woman in my 60's. I married when I was 20 and stayed in the relationship until a couple of years ago.  We separated and divorced without rancour. We no longer felt we had enough in common to stay together. I have flirted with the idea of having a relationship but have never seriously pursued one. I've been introduced to prospective partners by friends and a couple of times I've placed adverts but I've never met anyone I've been remotely interested in.

This may seems strange but I am happy in my single state. I enjoy my work which is fulfilling. I go on holiday on my own. I love the theatre and cinema. I do have friends I meet up with for meals etc and I belong to a couple of groups which meet my intellectual needs. It's just that I had this idea that at my age I would be settled in a comfortable relationship and I'm not. It's as if I have this gap and I fear being ill and old and on my own. I do have a son who lives about 60 miles away and who I see on a regular basis and two grandchildren. I know he loves me but as 'they' say he has his own life. How can I meet the future with equanimity? 

Hi Margaret 

My first thoughts when I read your email is that this is a woman who is living her life and enjoying it. You clearly have all the ingredients for contentment but you seem to be saying that you are letting old dreams of being in a couple get in your way?

I wonder what stopped you from being interested in the men you met? Have you some preconceived idea of what you want from a partner? What would you gain from having a relationship? I get the fear aspect but to be honest being in a relationship doesn't necessarily mean you would be supported when ill. In fact someone wrote to me recently to say her husband had left her when she was diagnosed with cancer. 

It seems your son is unaware of your feelings. I understand he has his own life but discussing with him what you want to happen if you're ill and infirm seems to make sense. You don't mention your daughter-in-law perhaps you could include her in the discussions. Sometimes when people are busy living their own lives they don't notice other people's difficulties so the smart way in my opinion is to say.

Facing the future with equanimity seems to me to be connected with making sure all the pragmatic issues are dealt with and then working out how to fill your emotional needs. I wonder if one of them is to have someone to talk to about your doubts and fears. If so a supportive friend could fill that role. If you do want a partner and I'm not sure you do then Dating Agencies, the Internet, Newspaper Advertisements can work. Another good way of meeting someone with the same interests is a hobby or activity club. But in my experience romance seems to flourish when you're not actively looking for it. 

Monday, 28 November 2011

Buddhism, Change & Meditation

I have long thought that both sides of my brain are equally balanced and before there's a collective pouncing on that statement I mean I am an emotional person but I am also quite logical. This has always proved quite useful in my work insofar as I can connect with other people's emotions and then bring a level of reassurance in the form of logic. 

My world view in this respect is not unusual. I try to live my life without doing harm to others and helping where I can. I have trained in Reiki and EFT but at the same time I always feel rather surprised that they work. I am interested in the esoteric and the spiritual but I also find the idea of them quite challenging and disturbing.

I was christened into The Church of England and attended a Methodist Church as a Girl Guide. When I was at school, religion was part of the curriculum and every day we had assembly where scripture was read and hymns were sung and every week we had at least one period of RE. I was never bored by it. In fact when I reached a certain age there was a definite frisson connected with all the begetting in the Old Testament! When I went to University years later it stood me in good stead when studying since much of English Literature has its roots in the Bible. But I digress!

The religion/philosophy I am most interested in is Buddhism. The reasons are it highlights the power of the mind, individual and collective responsibility, that nothing is fixed, that change is possible and meditation is a cornerstone of self realisation  I remember going for classes in meditation years ago. I loved the act itself and I was intrigued by the chats after but I was spooked by what I saw at the time as a cultish threat. I am sorry and somewhat ashamed to say for that reason I stopped going and yet some of the things I learned have stayed with me. One of my most powerful remembrances is the ripple effect of small changes. We the course member were asked to make one small change in our lives to see what the outcome would be. My choice was to do with driving. 

At that time I used to work as a Practice Counsellor in Rotherham. So several times a week I would travel down the local bypass to the motorway. I usually arrived at work frazzled and it would take some deep breathes and a cup of green tea to restore my equilibrium. The reason I was so frazzled would be that I would be fighting hard with the other motorists making sure I didn't get cut up or give an inch. So the change I made was to let other motorists in and to drop back. The results were amazing. Instead of feeling attacked and compromised I felt in control and the nice thing was that without exception everyone I let in said thank you. I felt so different. I felt benevolent, magnanimous and appreciated but most of all it proved that small changes can produce results. 

I was then through the success of that one small act able to go on to make other changes which resulted in improved self esteem and empowerment. Whilst writing this I've been remembering those classes and wondering would my life have been different if I'd continued with them. I guess the answer is it would. I'm also thinking I must re-enrol. 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Shit Happens

I don't know who coined the phrase 'shit happens' but I've found it useful over the years to say to clients in encouraging them in change, 'shit happens but it's not that it happens it's what you do with it'. In my opinion never is that more clearly highlighted than when a tragedy happens like the death of Gary Speed. 

I believe there are always more than the two responses to everything but with something like this there seems to be two broad churches of opinion. One is that this is a tragedy and we should understand it and be sympathetic or two suicide is wrong and it's a cowardly and unconscionable act. Both responses could be described as fundamental in nature since they are immediate and knee jerk.  

If I am honest I am instinctively with the first group. I feel to take one's own life when seemingly in physical good health talks of real pain and despair and why anyone would want to castigate someone for that is beyond me. I don't know whether you've tried to hurt yourself whilst in sound mind but I have as an experiment and I couldn't do it. To the believers who think it's against God's law I'd like to say believe it if you wish but don't spill filth onto my timeline. My idea of God is of a kind and benevolent being and not a deity that call's you a cowardly shit.

I won't bore you with talking about mental health issues or statistics about depression but please in the name of all that is human show some compassion. As my old Mum used to say 'there but for the grace of God go I'.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

The Benefits of Me Time

Me time is something I recommend on a regular basis to clients. It's an important part of our well being. I guess some are curious about whether I follow my own advice. The short answer is I do.

One of my favourite 'on my own' me time activities is going to the cinema.  It has been from being a young girl in the 1950's. At that time my film of choice was one of the Warner or MGM musicals. I loved Calamity Jane and Annie Get Your Gun. These films were U certificate and so I could go in on my own. But if I wanted to see an A film I would need to go in with an adult. I would stand outside and ask any passing couple or individual if they would take me in. It would go something like 'could you take me in please' or 'take me in mister'. When I think of some of the possible consequences of doing that my blood runs cold. However, at the time in working class areas it wasn't unusual. To be honest I did have some hairy experiences but in the main I was safe in my celluloid world

Now as a 60 something and soon to be retiree I still love going to the cinema on my own. There's something about not having to relate to someone else and sitting in the dark totally engrossed in those flashing images which is magical to me. I have friends who do the same but I have others who see it entirely as something to do with a another. Now I don't know if you'd agree but I think going to the cinema is one of the easiest things to do on your own. In fact I have been known to suggest it to clients as a starting place when they find themselves facing life on their own. 

My other me time activities are reading another solitary pursuit but I do belong to a book group so that takes it into a more sociable arena. I have been a lifelong reader. We are currently reading Fahrenheit 451 which won Bradbury the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

I was introduced to the pleasure of reading when very small when as was the custom my mother enrolled me in  the local library. At that time you really did have to be quiet - even whispering was frowned  upon. As a note of interest I have just rejoined the library? I need to stop buying and start borrowing. I also love walking my Billy with or without OH. This is in spite of the fact that he's incapable of walking more than a couple of metres without a sniff or cocking his leg!

I use Twitter and Facebook and both allow me to be sociable in a limited way. I love the cut and thrust of it and the chitter chatter but of course I can step back if I feel uncomfortable or tired. I have also started blogging. Did I hear you say 'stating the b obvious'. I hope not because that would be most impolite! 

I am beginning to love blogging. I love jotting down my immediate thoughts and not knowing who will read it and connect. There's something rather exciting and appealing about that.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Andrea's Predicament - How To Stay in Control in a Relationship

Dear Babs

I am 32 and I work in the health sector. I have been having counselling on and off over the last year. What I mean by that is I have a couple of sessions, have a break and then attend again.

My counsellor is very good and I usually feel I've got something out of the sessions but, if I'm honest I'm still experiencing the same problems. The thing is I have had several relationships with strong women. I have started off feeling safe and ended feeling controlled. The endings have always been messy and I've invariably felt bad.

Now I've connected with this woman at work and I really want to take it further but I'm scared of losing control. I feel rather disloyal writing to you but just wondered what you would say? 

Dear Andrea

I was rather bemused when I read your eform because usually someone having sessions with a counsellor who 'is very good' would not be writing to me? I'm also interested in your on/off relationship with your counsellor and wonder just how useful it is?  However, I am happy to share my thoughts in the hope that it helps you.

It is not uncommon to be attracted to people who are different to us. I am assuming that the women you are attracted to are outspoken and unafraid of being disliked, perhaps they take the initiative and you feel protected and cherished? I am further assuming you are not outspoken and perhaps have a need to be liked? There are two things to think about (a) what makes you attracted in the first place and where does it come from? (b) what stops you from being more up front and sharing your thoughts and feelings with the significant others in your life? By the way if this has not been the thrust of the work you have been doing with your therapist perhaps you could consider introducing it? 

Now for the woman you have 'connected with'. If she's interested in you. I guess you could both share your past relationship experience with each other. That from the outset you could be more assertive or willing to share your thoughts, feelings and wants? It may be useful to set out the terms of the relationship from the beginning? I don't want to over simplify but a good relationship isn't rocket science it's two people getting their needs met in an appropriate way. It may be that you are not ready to have another relationship because you have unresolved issues? I strongly recommend you speak to you counsellor.

One last observation - you wrote to someone who could be perceived as a strong woman - what do you think that was about?

Thanks again for writing I do wish you well? 

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Domestic Violence in the 50's

I have been wanting to talk about domestic violence The NSPCC have recently published a study exploring the types of support given to children, young people and their mothers living with domestic violence in London. I tried to generate some discussion about personal experience of domestic violence on my Facebook page. To date I have received no responses. The interest was there. The request was RT'd but zilch response. This reflects in my opinion the secretive nature of this insidious practice.

Let me tell you about my experience. I grew up in the 50's in a working class family. I'm not sure how prevalent domestic violence was then. It was called a bust up or a row in our family. It was Dad being difficult after he'd had a drink? It was the boys defending Mam who was in fact probably in little danger? My Dad usually came off the worst because, not only was he attacked by my brothers but he was ostracised by everyone afterwards for causing the row? I can remember being witness to these commonplace conflagrations on a regular basis. I wasn't considered harmed by these incidents it was part of life. It was normal. 

Was I affected by them. Well of course I must have been. Though I wasn't aware of being affected at the time. I can remember being about 6 years old. I would have stayed on my own in the house perhaps for 2 or 3 hours until my 16 year old brother returned from his night out. It wouldn't have been late there we're no nightclubs then. We would then perhaps be listening to the radio when the others returned home and then metaphorically speaking 'the fat was in the fire'. I remember one time standing on a chair in the corner of the room screaming in terror but don't remember what the outcome was. It could have been that my Mam would announce she was leaving. She'd perhaps take me round to the next door neighbours to stay. Goodness know what they thought. They probably thought the same as we did that my Dad was a drunken shit. Then Mam would walk around Sheffield City Centre until the early hours. The following morning I would be redeemed like a parcel from a pawnshop and my father would be ignored until it was time for him to return to the pub. After which peace would reign until the next time. 

I remember being told that this had gone on for years in fact it had started happening after she gave birth to my eldest brother who was 16 years older than me. That her escape had been putting the baby in the pram and walking the night. When I think of that  in context of today it seems horrendous. Now she would be deemed in danger outside whereas then she saw it as safety and freedom. I don't know if my father hit her then. He seemed to lose his temper out of frustration. I can only tell you that my mother seemed to have the locus of power. It was a little like a Sons & Lovers situation. Yes he was scary but he was scary because he shouted and I was told about all his shortcomings. Whereas Mam was strong, she had the answers, she was there to make things right and she did some of the time. 

I know there are much worse incidents of domestic violence than I experienced where real physical and emotional injury occurs. I thought I'd share how violence was minimised and normalised in the then average working class family.

I have just read this out to OH who queried me publishing it. He 'would keep it in the family as they say'. How many bells does that ring? Keep the secret. To tell is disloyal. I wonder how many have been injured by that particular edict!

Monday, 21 November 2011

Just Saying - The Dangers of Social Networking

I have been watching the Matt Albright series You've Been Scammed. It's interesting on a number of levels for me not least because I avoided the 'Microsoft' scam and a good friend of mine has been scammed out of £300. What I've realised watching the programme is that the people who fall for scams aren't unintelligent it's the scammers who are very clever and unscrupulous. This brings me to scamming of another kind - the emotional rescue. 

 As oft declared I'm really into debate etc and I love connecting on Facebook and twitter. But in my opinion it is easy to expose oneself unwittingly on social networks and sometimes I feel concern for other users. I don't know whether it is the counsellor in me, the rescuer, or the control freak. But I find myself shouting BE CAREFUL at my screen when I see them sharing their pain or the intimate details of their lives. I am so aware that they could be repeating abusive patterns and I fear for them. Why? Because there a whole slew of people equally willing to help them do that. They are not necessarily bad people they may be just as unwitting themselves. Perhaps they feel they are genuinely doing good and in turn get to feel good? However, there is, don't forget the audience. If the account is open anyone on the web could be reading and making use of their exchanges? 

Ok you could say they are adults so what's it got to do with you? In reality it doesn't have anything to do with me on a personal level but I guess though you could say that about many potentially damaging situations? Anyway aren't we supposed to care about each other? When is interference appropriate and when is it not? You may be interested to know I have never interfered with a conversation and I have backed off if I've been included. I've sent the odd DM, I've suggested professional help, but, that is as far as I've gone. Why have I done that if I care about others so much? The answer is because I do believe in choice? That whilst the individuals concerned may be operating in child, they are in fact adult. Put simply I sometimes question the wisdom of the choices made. I say that not from kind of superior I know best stance. But in a let's keep each other safe way. Just saying!

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Laura's Lament - How to Improve Damaged Self Esteem

Dear Babs

I am 26 and I separated from my boyfriend earlier this year. We met at school and frankly it was always a volatile relationship. He bought a house and I moved in with him against my better judgement and it didn't take too long before he was trying to control my every move. I may sound contradictory when I say he is a nice man it's just that his way of being a partner was to tell me how shit I was at everything. It took time but gradually he stripped me of all my confidence. I am content with my decision but the experience has left its mark and I find it difficult to have another relationship. Men are attracted to me but I act sarky and give them short shrift. I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to have another relationship? I feel as if I should just get over it but it's not easy.

Dear Laura 

I am so sorry you feel unhappy.  I really feel in your case that finding a good counsellor, if you can afford it, would be the best option.  I think understanding what made you move in with your boyfriend 'against your better judgement' is the crucial bit? But please don't castigate yourself for the decision. This man has clearly hurt you but if you continue to punish yourself by responding in the way you are then you are continuing his mission. Interestingly you appear to have started to forgive him 'he is a nice man' but not yourself which is in my opinion crucial in moving on. 

When relationships end it always takes time to heal and in terms of healing perhaps 'earlier in the year' is a blinking on an eye. I know it may not feel it to you? You don't make mention of the rest of your life, if you have the support of friends, if you feel fulfilled at work etc all of which enter the pot of how we feel about ourselves.

Much has been written about improving self esteem (I particularly like Gael Lindenfield's Self Esteem Bible) and all of the strategies work. I think the place to start is by looking in your mirror and saying 'I am worth it' and do you know Laura you are!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Retirement is Looming

My husband has been retired for ten years. In that time he has supported me working from home and I am really grateful. He has, in fact, made life so much easier for me. When he first retired he was very unhappy. He had so looked forward to retirement because his work situation was becoming more pressurised and onerous. The reality, however, was very different. Now he was no longer the main wage earner he felt less of a man. It was as if he'd lost value? He almost drove me spare, nothing suited him, and he resented the impact on him of my working from home. If I was working he had to be quiet, he couldn't go to the loo, he couldn't park on the drive! There were numerous impositions. Then several months into his retirement he had his second heart attack. That gave him a reality check and you could say he's never looked back.

One of the drawbacks of his retirement for us was that because I worked at home we lost the me time that had been automatically in place. He'd worked shifts for years and I was used to having a certain amount of time and space to do what I wanted. It may not have been anything world shattering, perhaps reading or watching television, but I had choice. Then when he retired unless I was with a client we were with each other. Though we loved and liked each other we decided that we needed a plan. If not we thought we would become joined at the hip, or we'd become the comic bickering elderly couple and neither of us wanted that. We felt it was important to maintain our individuality and interests and we've done that quite successfully to date. 

Now we face another challenge with my impending retirement. Now I am the one wondering what value I will have when I'm no longer a wage earner. I have concerns because my retired girlfriends have better pensions than me and as a consequence more disposable income. Will I be left out because I cannot afford the numerous theatre trips we've enjoyed to date? I am not a particularly materialistic person but I am used to having the freedom to purchase within reason anything I may want. I'm talking books, music, clothes etc. now it feels I'll be going back to where we first started where I had to question every purchase even a packet of sweeties. 

I am aware that I could be panicking myself and indeed most of the people I know who are retired extol it's virtues. I'm not sure. I want to think it'll be great but to be honest I'm ambivalent. I think I'm at the place where I realise that retiring from counselling is the appropriate thing to do. It no longer excites me in the way it did. My fear is that I'll vegetate and gradually slide into a grey old age. I need an interest and perhaps for the moment blogging is that interest. In the main I enjoy it, but I guess I'm surprised that anyone wants to read my ramblings. I am, however, very pleased they do.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tony's Concerns - My Relationship No Longer Feels Special

Hi Babs

I am concerned about my relationship with my wife. We've been married for seven years and we lived together for a couple of years before we got married. I love her and she loves me but it no longer feels special. Our time is taken up with either working or taking the kids to their various activities. I've tried talking to her about our lack of  couple time but she just says it'll be ok when the kids are older. We have sex usually about once a week but I think if I didn't initiate I don't think she would. A friend suggested that you may help - he and his partner worked with you a couple of years ago and they both rated you. I looked you up and found you on here so thought I'd ask for some advice.

Hi Tony

My first reaction is that perhaps it's not just the couple time you're lacking? It doesn't sound from the tenor of your enquiry that there's much fun in your life? The theory for feeling good in your life and relationship is to make sure that you have me time, couple time and family time. If you don't have have all of these constituents then you're likely to feel dissatisfied.

It seems to me that the first thing to do is to talk to your wife seriously about your concerns and work out some me time for each other. It doesn't necessarily have to be a long time each week but it does need to be something enjoyable. It's your reward for the effort you make in your daily life.

Then organise some special time together. The special time doesn't have mean going out but it does need to exclude the kids and you both need to be invested in it. The best way is to take it in turns in choosing and arranging whatever it is. If you can get babysitters the occasional night out or night away if practical would be good.

The final constituent is that you have family time together. I guess this is self explanatory but just in case it isn't I'm talking about doing something enjoyable together. 

I'm not sure whether your once a week sex is enjoyable but it sounded dull. The best way to improve it is to find out first what your wife feels and what would feel good for her and, for you to tell her. There is plenty of good help out there and a plethora of self help books on how to spice up your sex life. Take a look at my book recommendations - there's also a very good DVD on there that could help.

Finally some good counselling, there's a link for Relate on the blog,  may be useful if my practical solutions don't help. I guess in the end it's what works for you but making practical changes really does change the way you feel. 

Wednesday, 16 November 2011


Have you ever felt that no matter what you say you will be wrong footed? That you have started out with the best of intentions and then something has happened that you don't understand and the communication has gone pear shaped? I think that's when the two parties are in different states. It happened to me quite recently. I was viewing something in an observational state and the other person was responding in a fundamentalist state. I was wanting to explore in an intellectual sense and the other person was responding in an emotional sense.

I sometimes experience difficulty in dealing with those situations in print. This may seem strange I am after all quite literate. I have a good vocabulary and good communication skills. As a therapist I have been trained to look at the dynamic of what's happening in the room. What is the client's pattern. How may that affect the work we do together. To look at my own responses and at the transferences that can occur. Above all I am present in the room. I can see the impact of what is being said. If I am interacting on line or by text or email then I am unable to see the other person. Also in these situations I am not the therapist. I see the interaction on my blog or on my Facebook page as very different from my work. We are in my opinion friends or adults together. I am not there to protect or nurture you, that is with due respect your job. I take it that those interacting with me know that my motives are altruistic. That I have no axe to grind beyond this is what I think and I genuinely want to know what you think. I try to be constrained in my responses because I don't want to bully, I want to explore. I also don't wish to be pilloried or abused because my thoughts don't concur with someone else's.

It has been suggested to me from time to time that with all my worldliness I am in fact naive, and perhaps that is the case. Perhaps I forget that we don't all want the freedom of debate. That we don't all find it exciting because we aren't able to. That perhaps unresolved issues get in the way and we aren't free to access that part of us. At the moment I am feeling bruised and anxious. It seems that the world of debate, which I value is on the retreat and left instead is concrete thinking and certainty which to me is the most fearful place of all? 

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Me / The Blog / Facebook / Twitter

I am happy to say I love Twitter. My only problem is it's character limitation but then again that's the challenge? I have lively interactions with great people and with the occasional exception it's a great mood lifter.

 I have in the past gone as far as to say I dislike Facebook and I have ridiculed it with the best. Why then may you ask have I started a Facebook Page? The answer my friends is twofold. I like debating and exploring and I'm assuming that they're are like minded people out there. I thought a discussion page was a good idea. Therefore, the prime reason is to discuss informally with you relationship issues, mental health issues, communication and well being. I will, however, talk about more or less anything appropriate for general publication. I am interested in interacting with YOU! 

The second reason which is entirely about self interest is that I'd like to drive traffic to my blog and the Facebook page seemed like a good idea. Whether it is or not will remain to be seen. I am a complete novice, as I've said before, when it comes to social networking and none of those close to me are that hot on it either. So I'm very much in a suck it and see situation.

At the moment I've been posting questions, articles and videos and inviting you to comment. I am happy for you to start a discussion with the proviso of course as I've said before it's appropriate and respectful of a serious discussion. If you want to muck about let's do it on twitter where I'm happy to play.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Pauline - I'm Not Sure I Want To Be Intimate

Hello Babs

First let me say thank you for the problem page. I wasn't sure whether to write but then I've seen the way you respond and that's given me courage.

I am a 60 year old widow. My husband died suddenly of a heart attack two years ago. It was a horrendous experience. We didn't have children - our choice. I was an only child so no sibling support either. However, I did have a number of good friends who stuck by me and eventually I gained some peace.  Why am I writing? A couple of months ago and old work colleague friended me on Facebook. He's 55 years old and he's been divorced 6 months. We've met up quite a few times and now he seems to be getting serious. We've not been intimate (I've said no) and to be honest I'm not sure if I want to be. I have never been particularly bothered about sex and I'm used to being celibate. I do enjoy his company and it's flattering to have someone interested in me. He's a really nice man but I'm wondering if it's a case of him not wanting to be on his own. I've made attempts to talk to him about my misgivings around his strong feelings for me but he changes the subject or fobs me off. What do you think is the best way forward? 

Hi Pauline

I felt quite heartened when I read your message. It showed that we can experience dreadful things and come through. I congratulate you on your bravery and endurance.

What do I think? I think you probably know already? He's a nice man - fine. He wants to have sex - you don't. You want to talk he doesn't. He's willing to continue without sex. You are willing to continue without talking. It feels like two people compromising but not in a good way.

My advice would be to ask yourself what sort of relationship do you want with this man and what are your reasons for wanting it? Once you know that you can spell it out to him what's on offer. 

Reading between the lines it feels as if you are perhaps intrigued and scared. I do have misgivings about him not wanting to talk - how do you resolve this or future problems without? 

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Janine's Fear - I'm Not Ready To Move In With Him

Dear Babs

I am 40 years old and I recently got engaged to a 28 year old man. I am very happy with him but I do have a few worries. Although I have had several serious relationships I have never lived with anyone. I left home when I went to University and ever since then I have had my own space. We have been together for a year and he's stayed over regularly at weekends. To be fair we've got on with no upset but weekending is different to living with someone permanently. My fiancee is already talking about moving in together but I've told him I'm not ready for that. He's upset about this and says I'm holding him at arms length and is questioning how committed I am to the relationship. I really do want to be with him but it feels as if things are rolling out of control. Perhaps it is me but I want to wait. My friends think I'm unhinged and should be grabbing the opportunity with both hands. I wanted to ask you am I being unreasonable? 

Dear Janine

Let me first say congratulations on your engagement and then ask what was your intention in getting engaged? I can understand you having doubts about sharing your space if you've been on you're own for 20 plus years but I guess implicit in the idea of the commitment is that you'll get married and live together. If you hadn't already told me your age I would have thought you were older, since engagements when not living together seem a little old fashioned? These days people often live together, have children, and then get engaged?  I am assuming with you weekending together it's not about chastity or religious obligation? Anyway, I'm digressing so to the point. Ask yourself :-

1)  is your want to be with this man greater than your fear of moving in with him? 
2) can you live with someone amicably?

When we form a relationship and or, live with someone there is inevitably a period of adjustment. The knack is actually talking about how it will work before you do it. I guess work out the contract. Another thing that causes problems is one person moving in with another and I think you're probably evidencing that anxiety. Perhaps a more useful option if economically viable would be for you to search for a mutually acceptable home.

I do also pick up on a power and control issue which clearly could become a problem insofar as he appears to be in an irresistible force and you the immovable object. I always wonder when couples get into this situation what that is really about and what makes that particular issue the battle ground - perhaps you could think about that and or seek counselling prior to living together. The only viable option it seems to me is to come to a compromise? I can understand where you're both coming from but in my opinion you need to negotiate so you both feel you're in win win situation. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Do You Ever Feel Dispirited?

Do you ever have days when you feel dispirited? Well today has been one of those days for me. It began when I awoke too early to attend an hospital appointment. I am not as they say 'a morning person'. When I arrived at the hospital I was told my appointment was at another hospital just down the road and then when I got there I was told they'd made a mistake and it was at the original venue! They, the hospital staff, took it in great good humour. They even suggested it was good exercise? I appraised them that dashing up and down at my age in a stressed state was more likely to result in a heart attack rather than an increased cardiovascular performance. I was fuming. 

Then my appointment turned out to be with a physiotherapist who looked all of twelve years old who used euphemisms like 'down below' when talking about my (here's another one) 'plumbing'. Anyway after a wasted half hour in which she explained kegels, an exercise to improve the pelvic floor, which I explain to other people on a regular basis. I was allowed out of the building with another appointment made for next month. At this appointment apparently she'll assess my progress and no doubt ask me more of the same repetitious questions.   I kid you not I have been asked the same questions by two registrars, one computer programme and a physiotherapist. What is wrong with them? Isn't there a cross over of data or are they trying to catch me out giving duff information? 

I returned home grizzling and ready to blow up at the slightest provocation but then I logged into twitter and before I knew where I was I was engaging in repartee and laughing my socks off. Twitter is not without its problems but for me it's a mood enhancer. Every day I tweet with lovely people who care for each other albeit at a distance and go out of their way to be supportive sometimes in a tongue in cheek, ironic way which I love. So the message is yes on occasion I do feel dispirited but connecting with others takes me out of myself and results in the restoration of my usual good humour 

Monday, 7 November 2011

Parenting - We Need To Let Our Children Grow Up

It was recently suggested that I was being harsh in one of my problem page responses. I was commenting on the need to separate out from the mother (parent). I felt I was was being reasonable and pragmatic. My complainant a lovely young woman I tweet with, and have a lot of respect for, clearly felt I was being insensitive?  I thought for a little while and again came to the conclusion that we see the world through our own filter.

 I have an excellent relationship with my children. We go on holiday once a year together. We meet up socially every six weeks or so with our son and we perhaps speak to him once a week but, this isn't set in tablets of stone. We usually see our daughter on a weekly basis but not always. I know both my children would approach me if their backs were against the wall but we each live our own lives. I like it like that and so do they. 

I have friends who see their children more, who do nanny duties for their grandchildren. I didn't and don't want to do that. I did try with my first grandchild. I gave up my job so my daughter could continue hers but after 6 weeks we were both going nuts. Alison was missing Sara. Sara was bonding with me instead of Alison and frankly I was exhausted. We chatted and we agreed Alison would stay at home and I'd go out to work! it worked well for all of us.

I had my children young as I've told you before. I did that because I had some notion of creating my own family with the man I loved. In retrospect I think I watched too many Doris Day movies? My husband who is 8 years older than me was ready to settle down and have kids. It worked but it was hard work. I was really into my kids as a young woman and I think we grew up together. I made some mistakes and sometimes when I look back I think OMG but both offspring seem relatively unscathed. 

My own relationship with my mother was in retrospect complicated. As a child I adored her and no disrespect to her but that is how she liked it. We all grew up with the idea there was only one person who was perfect and that was mum. However, my eldest brother (her favourite) came very close. I genuinely have no angst about that. In fact he was one of my best friends when I became an adult. If we did anything mum didn't approve of or if we challenged her view she would let us know in a resigned way how we'd upset her and what a disappointment we were? My father was cast in the role of baddie. He was always the unreasonable one. I don't think I really started to see things differently until after my dad died when I was 21 and he was no longer around to act as a foil for mum.

Where am I going with this? families, parents how involved is it ok to be? Most of my clients fall into two groups. The ones who have had inadequate parenting and those that have had too much parenting. We need to make mistakes and grow whilst feeling safe and supported. I can't remember who said it but this is what I believe is the 'norm'.

That we start out looking up to our parents - they have the answers.
Then we judge our parents and find them lacking.
Then if we're lucky we end up being equals and friends.

Having said all that I am happy for you to see it differently?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Heather's Heartbreak - My Partners Resent My Mother

Hi Babs

I'm quite a logical person but I really can't sort things out in my head. I am 34 year old lesbian and my two year relationship ended a couple of months ago by mutual agreement. I have had two previous serious relationships both lasting roughly the same length of time. The first was ended by my then partner and the second one by me. 

I am an only child and I'm very close to my widowed mother. She doesn't interfere but my partners seem to see her as a problem and I don't know why? I see her every week and talk to her on the phone on a regular basis but we live our own lives. I don't get it? Is it unreasonable to want to maintain my relationship with my mother? The women in my life always seem to get jealous and it then begins to feel like my mother or them? What is their problem? How can I have a good relationship with a partner who doesn't see my mother as a threat? I feel really frustrated and unhappy.

Hi Heather

I would say from the mother-in-law perspective that the secret is to be friendly with your children's partners and only get involved in relationship issues when invited. I wonder what's happening with your mother? You tell me how your partners react to her not how she reacts to them? You say you see her every week and talk to her on a regular basis. How regular and on what basis? What is it you need to speak to her about so regularly? 

Please believe me when I say I am not anti mother or parent but if you are going to have a successful adult couple relationship you need to make that your prime relationship. I am not suggesting you stop being a good daughter but become a better partner. It sounds as if you  and your mother could to do with renegotiating your relationship. It is the norm that children grow up and resolve their own issues and problems they don't stay attached to their mothers. If that sounds weird check out the animal kingdom you don't see animals running back to mother at the first hint of trouble they learn to survive.

I am really sorry that you are unhappy and frustrated but if your mother has been an issue in three relationships don't you think that's telling you something? Is it really the partner's problem? Of course you could also be picking the wrong women and you may want to discuss this with a good counsellor. Perhaps also as a first step you could check out one of the books about relationships on my recommendation page.

Take heart you can learn to have good relationships but perhaps first you could learn about yourself and how to start to loosening those apron strings? 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Andrew's Apathy - Depression & Loss of Libido

Dear Babs

I thought long and hard about writing to you. I am a 49 year old professional man. I feel generally dissatisfied with my life. I no longer enjoy my job. My relationship with my wife of 25 years isn't particularly good. We rarely have sex because I'm not really interested in her in that way and anyway I've had problems with maintaining my erection.  I  find sex with other women exciting because it's just sex. I find paying for it keeps it on a business footing - you could say it's a business doing pleasure.  

Our children have left home and seem happy with their lot. When I look at them I feel envious. They seem so happy. I can't remember feeling like that with my wife. It's probably fair to say that I've stayed with my wife because of our sons but now it just feels as if I haven't the energy to leave. It all seems so complicated. My wife doesn't have a clue about how I feel. She's never been particularly interested in sex so I'm assuming she feels quite relieved not to be bothered by me. 

Why am I writing? I keep thinking there has to be something better out there? 

Bab's Response

Hi Andrew

My first thought reading your email was that this man is depressed? I gained that more from reading between the lines than your actual words. Perhaps you could check out this depression  link to check it out or go on Google but put simply the symptoms are:-

Extreme pessimism
Feeling worthless
Decreased Sex Drive
Difficulty focusing or concentrating
Sleeping too much or being unable to sleep
Heightened Irritability
Quiet and sullen moodiness
Lack of interest in hobbies
Persistent irritating health problems
stomach problems

Now to deal with the points you made. That you don't enjoy your work. That you don't feel your relationship is good enough. That you don't enjoy intimacy with your wife. 

If you aren't enjoying your job what's stopping you from making a change? I'm assuming that money is part of it but you are young enough to retrain or perhaps go it alone ? I know the economic climate isn't good but it is possible or, if you improve the pleasure aspect of your life the job could be less of an issue

What stops your relationship from being good enough? I'm wondering if the lack of sex has something to do with it? You say 'she's never been particularly interested' in sex. I wonder whether initially you felt rejected by this and then you've eventually withdrawn?

 There isn't anything I can say that will make you desire your wife but what I can say is that good sex is about communication. So if you improved your communication with your wife it is possible that good sex would follow. 

You mention erectile dysfunction but you seemed to intimate that the problem is eradicated when your feelings aren't involved so it sounds as if the problem isn't physical. Another indication that all is well is if you have morning erections but as a precaution you could get checked out at your GPs. At this point you could discuss any medications you may be taking which can effect sexual desire. 

What I would suggest is that you do some kind of audit on the various aspects of your life to clarify your thoughts and gain some sense of control. It's clear you need to make changes but if you could start small and work up to bigger changes you would gain some confidence in your ability to resolve your difficulties.

I would suggest you talk to your wife about how you feel. As far as the relationship is concerned your choices as I have said on many occasions are lump it, leave it, change it. It sounds as if you've been lumping it for too long? Perhaps it would be more useful to consider the other options? Perhaps you could consider some relationship counselling to help you make that decision? 

There is a very good book on my recommendations page about resolving sexual issues in later life called Better Than Ever which you could find helpful. Finally remember the old question - how do you eat an elephant - the answer one step at a time. I wish you well.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Boom or Bust - Polly Toynbee

Last night I went to see Polly Toynbee speak about the book she co-wrote with David Walker called The Verdict: Did Labour Change Britain. It was an Off The Shelf event at Sheffield Hallam University. The book is in my estimation a fair analysis of the Labour years. Her score for their performance in those years was 6/10 my own was nearer on reflection is 8/10. However, in reality she spoke very little about the book (most unusual for an author) and more about how this coalition are tackling the economy.

She spoke about Osborne flying in the face of Keynesian theory and that she feels that the cuts won't work. That the strategy is resulting in job losses and thus producing less tax revenue. That people are scared of spending and as a consequence the demand for goods and services are declining and so more jobs will be  lost. That the strategy was sold on the back of we're all in this together but that it is intrinsically untrue because the poor are paying more as the cuts bite and the rich are unaffected. Bob Diamond the CEO Barclay's for example was paid a bonus of 6 million and paid around £30K in tax. In the words of the old song it's the rich what gets the pleasure and the poor that gets the blame!

I think it would be fair to say the audience was mainly left wing and so I guess she was preaching to the converted. I wouldn't say Toynbee is the most inspiring speaker I've heard but when it came to the question and answer section at the end she really came into her own. She is clearly erudite but also in touch with the ordinary man and woman. The discussion was lively and it made for an enjoyable evening. Me and OH still are talking about it!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Darren's Difficulty - After The Affair

Six weeks ago my wife told me she'd been seeing a work colleague, that she no longer loved me and that she wanted me to leave the family home. After lots of gut wrenching talking and soul searching I moved in with my parents hoping she'd come to her senses and realise she wanted the marriage. This hasn't happened and now I don't know what to do.

We've been together for 15 years - we met at school and I can't imagine life without her. I've seen a solicitor and know my legal rights but as far as I'm concerned it's not about money it's about having a relationship with the woman I love. In any case she's agreed to split everything equally so it's not a problem.

I feel so frustrated. It's as if she's shut the door on me. The only positive as far as I can see is that we don't have any children. Please help if you can.

Bab's Reply

Dear Darren I felt really sad when I read your submission form. I can understand your feelings of helplessness and I'm assuming you also feel angry at the way your wife appears to have cut you out of her life and the decision making process. You don't mention any difficulties in the relationship or whether you felt everything was ok? It does seem rather strange. In fact it all seems rather unreal? Is that how it feels for you?

What I can say without further information is that you can't have a relationship with someone if they don't want it. By the way I don't say that lightly and I do realise how difficult it can be to let go, but if she's not willing to negotiate that really is the only option.

In my opinion, however, when a relationship ends, there is always a period of mourning and how long that period is depends on the individual. There is an excellent book in my recommendations called 'Moving On' which deals with much of what you will go through. It's not the answer to your dilemma but it could help.

If I wrote a plan for you it would be mine and not yours which really in the final analysis wouldn't help but my advice would be perhaps to start with the first question which is where are you going to live? I'm assuming that staying with your parents isn't ideal? Then look at restructuring your life as a single man. There is help available out there and I don't necessarily mean counselling. However, I suggest you talk it and or write it out of your system. Explore what happened and learn positive lessons.  Try not to assume victimhood in the end it won't help you. I am sorry for your loss but I know you can get to the other side and be ok.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Momentous Marrakech Moments

I remember sitting in Marrakech Airport. The atmosphere is warm and stuffy. Jim and my daughter-in-law @pinklizzyg have just returned from spending our last few Dirhams on cokes and crisps - not the healthiest option but the cheapest.

We have had a great holiday. The Riu Tikida Palmeraie is good. It is not the best hotel I have stayed in but the staff are really helpful and friendly. The hotel is in the middle of nowhere and is set in extensive grounds which are really well kept. The swimming pool is about the biggest I've seen but some of the poolside furniture has seen better days. The gym has good quality equipment. The general opinion in our party was that the standard of the food and drink was the best they'd had in an all inclusive tariff. The downside is that because smoking is allowed in reception and the bars there is a constant smell of stale tobacco. I found it irritating but I have to say I was in the minority.

We have seen some wonderful sights. We have been on a tour of the Atlas Mountains and visited the famous Souk and both are unforgettable. The day we set off for the mountains the weather looked changeable. We were both concerned about whether we'd get any good photographs but we need not have worried. We were travelling in a four wheel drive jeep. Our drivers name was Ibrahim but one of our fellow travellers Derek renamed him Brian much to Ibrahim's and everyone else's amusement. The journey was hugely entertaining thanks to Derek and Ibrahim who taught each other various words. I was saying to Derek's wife Kate about something getting on my mammary glands and Ibrahim heard me and kept repeating over and over again 'mammary glands, mammary glands'. It was hilarious but a lesson in being careful before opening one's mouth! We had a couple of photo stops and were given the inevitable shopping opportunity and then made for the designated Berber settlement. When we arrived we were immediately surrounded by runny nosed children and a herd of goats. The children were shouting 'Dirham, Dirham' to which we responded 'no thank you'. We had been asked not to encourage the begging but it was very difficult to resist. However, the children soon disappeared and we began wading through the goats. This was quite an experience for a townie like me. Then we repeated the process as a young woman drove another herd straight at us! When we finally managed to look around we saw men standing about looking watchful. The women we saw were either leading their one cow and or leading their one cow and carrying huge loads on their backs at the same time. We were told each married woman is eligible for a grant by the government to purchase a cow.  This is to encourage them to be self sufficient and from what I saw they've clearly taken advantage of the opportunity. It made me reflect on my own comfortable lifestyle and I suggested to Jim that he remind me of how lucky I am when I begin moaning about my lot!

When we'd regrouped we were led down a sharp track and then we were invited into a Berber home for mint tea with bread and argan oil. The making of tea is a Berber ritual which is full of charm. Though they are paid to allow tourists in we were still made very welcome.  While I was watching the process I noticed that behind the old woman's back was a stereo system and a TV shrouded in a floral cloth. A real sign of encroaching civilisation as were the numerous satellite dishes on the ramshackle rooftops.The tea and bread were delicious and I felt privileged to have been the recipient of their hospitality. Our time there was soon over and we left for lunch in a small village. In the restaurant we sat with a family from Skipton. We swapped some personal information. The mother was a part-time teacher but was interested in becoming a counsellor so she asked questions about appropriate training etc. The time passed quickly and pleasantly. The meal was typical Moroccan fare. A mixed salad with bread, couscous and chicken tagine followed by fruit. When we finally left to make our way back to Marrakech we were replete. We both agreed it had been a brilliant day.  

The following afternoon Liz led us in a expedition to the Souk in Marrakesh - my response to that was wow! The first thing about the experience is the madness of the traffic. They drive on the right which always seems alien to me but they also drive really fast and what feels like an erratic manner. There are push bikes, mopeds, cars, trucks, buses and men pulling carts. One of the oddest sights was a man on a moped dragging a scaffold pole on the ground. Sparks were flying off the pole and the pole kept wandering across the road. This didn't seem to bother him or anyone else either? The pedestrians seem to cross the road in a leisurely fashion while the traffic zips around them - madness! 

We were dropped off just outside the Souk. The Souk itself is a series of market alleys and what a colourful scene. The smells, the colours, the sounds. Traders shout continuously at the shoppers inviting them to look at what they have to offer. We went into a watch sellers to buy a fake Rolex for Alan at his request. We had a brilliant time with the shopkeeper and we bartered him down to a third of the price. When we left we were all smiling.  We wanted to return to the square so we asked the way. The shopkeeper shouted to a passing market worker to take us. On the way he took us into a metalworkers, a cotton dyers and a pharmacy and all the time he kept saying no pay!  In the pharmacy we were given a demonstration of the various lotions and potions and Jim was treated to a short massage. If you knew my OH you would know how funny that was.  My grandaughter created a stir - you'll see from the photographs she is small with very red hair and in fact that was the only discomfort for me. I did feel extremely protective and finished up holding her hand. On a lighter note a young man asked me 'how many camels?' and he nearly fell on the floor laughing when I said, 'five hundred'.

When we finally arrived in Medina square we were assailed with the wonderful sight of snake charmers, musicians, storytellers and henna women but at the same time some of it was distressing. There were tethered monkeys and hawks with clipped wings surrounded by bedraggled pigeons and reptiles in tiny cages. Vendors shouts filled the air offering their wares and offering food. Fish and chips was shouted after us and after being asked where we came from it changed to ee bah gum, Yorkshire pudding and mushy peas! 

We ended the afternoon sitting in a roof top cafe drinking mint tea. Then we made our way to the bus pickup to return to the hotel. We'd all loved it and commented on how non threatening the experience had been despite the fact that we are not used to being swarmed on. On our return we had a drink in the bar regaling Alan with our stories and telling him how much he'd missed! 

The remainder of the holiday was spent sunbathing and reading with occasional alcoholic drink thrown in. If you have not been to Morocco give it a try. It really is a fabulous place and the memory of it will linger with me for a long time.