Showing posts from September, 2011


My wife and I don’t make love very often, and when we do she seems to enjoy it. Recently she has started bargaining with me and now expects an expensive present or foreign trip every time we have sex. What’s going on?
This is not about love and sex, this is about power and money. Frankly she is behaving like a prostitute, exchanging sex for costly rewards. This puts you unwillingly in the role of client and her in control of the transaction. Not only is the sex devalued, both of you are as well. Her behaviour is demeaning. Regular sex in a loving marriage is a realistic expectation. Gifts and trips are an entirely separate matter. I suggest you sit her down and tell her quite firmly that the arrangement she has set up will no longer work. If she withholds sex you have a different problem, but at least you’ll regain your self-respect.


A friend of mine has committed suicide. I am shocked and devastated but I also feel very confused. Can you help me.

I am so sorry, suicide is always shocking. Bereavement is hard enough in normal circumstances. But when a partner, relative or close friend commits suicide there are additional emotions to deal with. Along with shock and sadness you may well be having overwhelming feelings of responsibility, guilt and anger. This is normal. Could that person have been saved? Those left behind may think that it could have been prevented and that they have failed in some way. But ultimately the decision was made by the person who killed themselves, you should not be held responsible in any way for that choice. Suicide is an immensely selfish act with lasting consequences. Those left behind may forgive but may not forget, the scars remain.


I went to a lecture hosted by Ruby Wax about depression and mindfulness, given by an Oxford professor of psychology. It turns out that mindfulness is just another word for meditation. So sit back, close your eyes, drop your shoulders, be aware of the sounds around you, breathe in and out deeply through your nose. Let the thoughts come and let them go. If your mind wanders too far from the present moment focus on your breath again. You can do this for 1 minute or 20 minutes or for however long you want. You can do it in bed, on a chair, on the floor, on a bus or a train. Just about anywhere. It can only do you good either as an emergency stress-buster or as something you do on a regular basis for long-term benefits. Give it a go, you've got nothing to lose.


I’m a divorced man in my late 60s. Why do I keep falling for beautiful women in their 30s who are unavailable?

This is the age-old story about the selfish gene. From an evolutionary point of view you still want to have sex with fertile women. The selfish gene in women is looking for someone who will provide and protect. It helps if you are rich and handsome. This explains why some young women do marry older men and become trophy wives. May I point out that there is a surfeit of wonderful divorced, widowed and single women in your age group who would love to be in a relationship but who can’t find any available men. Older women can still be sexy. Think Helen Mirren and Catherine Deneuve.


I have just seen a new film adaptation of “Jane Eyre”. As she struggles penniless and alone across the desolate stormy moors after the catastrophe of her wedding day she seems yet again to be the victim of patriarchy in a world where riches and class have not favoured her. But Jane is too strong, too determined and independent to ever be a victim. She is a great survivor of physical and emotional abuse. Plain Jane is intelligent and principled with a strong moral sense of what is right or wrong for her. She refuses to elope with Rochester but she also refuses to marry St. John Rivers. Jane asserts her identity against all the odds in a patriarchal world. She is true to herself and never loses her self-respect. This authenticity is what Rochester loves in her and when he calls for her in his moment of great need she responds. She does not submit to her circumstances, she makes a conscious choice.


When I read the book I could see why it was such a success. But the film was disappointing. The yearly date, such a clever device in the book, didn’t really work on film. The characters came across as losers. Emma wrote a children’s book but couldn’t get pregnant and fatally didn’t wear a helmet on her bike. Ian, failed comic, ended up in insurance. And Dexter, the glamorous bad boy, first divorced and then widowed, was working for Pret a Manger. The episodes in Paris were clich├ęs. And where was the sex? In my day if you shared your bed you shared your body, especially if you went away on holiday together. Immaturity, passive-aggressive behaviour and settling for second best – I am so glad I am not young anymore.


Because I speak French many of my clients are French. I love working with the French. They are on the whole logical, rational, analytical. They are also intellectual and cultured. Their attitude to sex, relationships and marriage is sophisticated. And no, they are not all having affairs. They are quite old-fashioned and strict with their children, who are expected to eat at table at regular hours and do their homework on time. Their year is structured round the school holidays which traditionally often involve both sets of grandparents, skiing in winter, South of France in summer. They hop on and off the Eurostar as though it were the Tube. Most of them love living in London (there are at least 300 000 of them here) but they never lose their inborn chic, their sense of style, the precision of their language. They may sometimes appear to be offhand, rude and arrogant, but then they have a lot to be arrogant about. They gave the world the revolutionary ideas of liberty, equality, fratern…


I got up in the middle of the night and found my husband watching pornography on his computer. I am feeling shocked and betrayed. What should I do?  Sally

I do understand that you are upset. Whether we like it or not the internet has taken over from the printed word and now all kind of pornography is available 24 hours a day. I have to tell you that most men nowadays have accessed porn in this way. This is pretty normal behaviour as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. Men have their private fantasies (as do women) and can put their thoughts away in separate compartments. Your husband is not actually being unfaithful and it certainly doesn’t mean he no longer loves you. You are not in competition with some porn actress who is paid to fake it. It would help if you were able to talk to him about the incident and how you feel about it. I hope he can re-assure you and that you can forgive him.


I’ve been using Viagra on a regular basis with good results but a friend has told me it can have damaging side-effects. What should I do?

I’m wondering who provides your Viagra. I hope it is from your GP with a private prescription. If not, you should really check in with your GP who will explain the possible risks to you so that you can make an informed decision. Viagra has been around for many years now and works well if there are no underlying health or psychological problems. Its successors, Cialis and Levitra, take effect a little quicker. It’s a great shame that these life-enhancing drugs are not available on the NHS. But it is not a good idea to buy them over the internet because you can’t guarantee what you are getting. The side-effects of some unknown substance may be more dangerous than the real thing. Good luck and enjoy.


I sat down on the Tube next to a man on the phone. He was well-dressed, good shoes, expensive watch, nice tan, greying hair. It was obvious from his conversation that he was negotiating a difficult divorce and had children aged 8 and 6. He sounded anxious and stressed. When he ended the call he looked down and gave a mournful sigh. As a therapist I wanted to tell him that help was available. If I were American I would have said “Tough call!” If I were French I would have handed him my card as I left. Being English I said nothing and got on with my book. He took out his paper and started on the crossword, having completed the Sudoko. Did I make the right choice?


Abortion should be regularly available in any free society as it is in the UK.
Should abortion counselling be restricted to “independent” agencies, some of whom may be faith-based, and exclude organisations such as Marie Stopes and the BPAS who provide terminations?
Counsellors who are properly trained and accredited will abide by their professional ethics wherever they work. A good counsellor does not give advice or tell you what to do. We help you explore your options so that you can come to an informed decision.
A pregnant woman considering abortion is vulnerable and under time pressure. Abortion, like miscarriage, is likely to bring a sense of loss and grieving. There is often the added burden of guilt and shame. Talking about it with a non-judgemental professional can be very helpful, even well after the event.
Let’s not forget the men who are often excluded or bewildered. It’s your body but it’s their baby too.