Caroline West-Meads: Why do I sabotage every relationship?

Ask caroline

Q. In 20 years of dating I can see a regular pattern in which my relationships always break down. Around the two-year mark, which often coincides with moving in together, my sex drive just disappears. In my 20s I interpreted this to mean the relationships weren’t right, despite being in love, so I moved on. Surprisingly, the break-ups were always instigated by me, despite my partners’ frustrations at the lack of sex. Upon ending each relationship, my libido would come rushing back, giving me the confidence to feel I’d made the right decision. But I always regretted it further down the line. I’m now in a five-year relationship. I love this man and I want us to grow old together. I hit the disappearance of my sex drive around the two-year mark, but having recognised my previous patterns, I’ve tried to trundle through. I force myself to have sex when I can, but this approach is not working. It’s still always forced on my part and I’m tired of it feeling like a chore. He’s unhappy because he wants more sex, whereas I would happily do without. It would be easy at my age to dismiss this as the possible result of ageing and hormone decline, but I don’t believe it is. I know if I ended the relationship, my libido would come roaring back, as always, and I’d meet someone else, starting the cycle again. I want to fix this. I love my partner and I want us to stay together. But I have no idea where to start.

A. It must be upsetting to keep ending relationships in this way. I think what is behind the loss of libido is a commitment problem, which has its roots in a fear of getting hurt. Without being aware, when you get too close to someone, you fear they will abandon you. While you outwardly make a commitment – such as moving in together – your subconscious sabotages the relationship by going off sex. As you don’t seem to have been let down in previous relationships, the issue could stem from childhood. I wonder, did you suffer a significant loss – not even necessarily in one traumatic event? For instance, if you never felt loved or close enough to one parent (or both), you might have learnt to withdraw to protect yourself from the hurt of not receiving the attention you craved. Alternatively, a bitter parental divorce can cause a sense of loss (you may see less of one parent, for instance). I’ve also seen commitment problems resulting from the death of a parent while the client was young. This pattern may be being repeated – you leave before you can be hurt. If this rings any bells, there are steps you can take. I would recommend counselling, either alone or as a couple. It is important to explain this to your partner so he can understand and help. Try relate.org.uk, bacp.co.uk or cosrt.org.uk. Make sure the person you see has training in psychodynamic counselling (how your past impacts your present) and ideally sex therapy.

She’s become a liability in the driving seat

Q. I am really worried that my mother-in-law shouldn’t be driving any more, but my husband won’t discuss it with her. Recently, she admitted that she has had two minor accidents in the past few months. She is 83 and increasingly frail, but she is also very proud and still insists on doing her own shopping. I think my husband is burying his head in the sand, refusing to think about the practical problems it will create if she has to stop driving. She lives in a village a couple of hours from us and her other son and his family. How do I persuade my husband that it is not just herself that she is putting at risk but also others? What if she ended up killing someone?

A. This is a difficult decision for your mother-in-law, but your husband needs to address it as it is a safety issue. I expect he is reluctant to because he knows it will mean extra work for him and his brother (maybe you, too). Of course, it could also make a big difference to his mum’s social life. He might be struggling with the realisation that it marks a new phase of his mother’s life. If she lives in a rural area, it might even mean a move to sheltered
accommodation or a home. Ask him about this and explain that you do know how hard it is, and it could mean a lot of upheaval. But insist if he doesn’t talk to her, you will because you would not be able to forgive yourself if anything happened. There is a useful leaflet in the ‘In the Driving Seat’ section on ageuk.org.uk. The Royal Voluntary Service runs community transport services in many parts of the country (royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk).