Caroline West-Meads: ‘Am I selfish to want more from life?’

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Q. I’ve been married for 25 years and have two sons aged 19 and 13. My husband had a huge stroke a few years ago and this has left him with lifelong disability and major mental impairment. As you can imagine, my whole world has been turned upside down. I cared for him for a year at home and now have full-time carers, which allows me to get back some of my life and, importantly, spend time with my children – since my husband is unable to leave the house. I’ve started to go out more with girlfriends, visit the gym (which has helped my mental health) and work.

I feel and look better than ever and have new zest and confidence, although I battle guilt every day. I feel so terribly sad that I’ve lost all intimacy with my husband and I fantasise about finding that again with someone new. But then I feel guilty because I know that at the moment I’m not in a position to offer anything other than a sexual relationship. I’m 49 and still full of life and have started to think more and more about this. Am I being selfish? Should I just accept things the way they are?

A. This is tragic for you all. Your world has indeed been turned upside down – you have effectively lost a husband and your children their father. A purely sexual relationship could be very upsetting for you because it would only serve to remind you of all the parts of your marriage that you have lost: the emotional intimacy, the support and love of your partner in life. The likelihood also is that, even if it started out as just sex, you might well fall in love.

But actually, I don’t think that you should feel at all guilty about trying to find love again – not just sex, but a relationship. This situation is devastating and ongoing and you probably need the support of a partner to help you cope with the stress and unresolved grief. Of course this would not be easy. Your husband’s family could find it very difficult to cope with, and of course your sons might be angry at first because they could see it as a betrayal of their father. But as long as your husband remained well looked after and a priority in your life, I believe that your sons would learn to accept it as long as it is carefully and tactfully done.

Your husband himself sounds as though he lacks awareness of much that goes on around him, so he would only need to know that you have a friend who you see. I know that some people will find my advice controversial because we pledge to support our spouses ‘in sickness and in health’. But I know in my heart of hearts that if I had been cut down and changed utterly by a stroke when my husband was in his 40s, I would absolutely not have wanted him to live a desperately lonely, celibate life for the rest of his days. It is too much to ask of someone.

‘I wish her “tiger granny” would back off’

Q. Our 16-year-old daughter wants to choose art, psychology and maths for her A-levels. She has always been passionate about art, but my mother-in-law is very pushy – a real ‘tiger granny’ – and says that it would be a complete waste because there are no careers in it. She was a doctor, as is her son – my husband. He was initially supportive of our daughter’s choices, but his mum has swayed him and now he is also asking if our daughter will be wasting her time.

I think this is beginning to rub off on our daughter too, who is saying that maybe she should just do art as a hobby. But I think she would regret it if she gave up art. How do I help her make her own choices instead of having them made for her?

A. It sounds as if someone wants a third doctor in the family. But I agree with you – as your daughter is passionate about art, she could regret it if she gave it up. While for some people their A-level and degree choices may be focused on their future career, for others, who may not know what they want to do long term, they are far more likely to excel in a subject they love than one they think they ought to do.

Her ‘tiger granny’ sounds very domineering, so ideally your husband should tell her gently to back off. Also remind him that students who choose certain A-levels because they felt they should can be more likely to drop out or have to repeat the first year of sixth form or university. They often then switch to the subject they wanted to do in the first place. Your daughter should be able to get good advice from her head of sixth form or careerpilot.org.uk.

Find more of Caroline’s advice here