Thursday 20 July 2017

Dear Mary: My girlfriend doesn't trust me but really wants us to have a baby

Woman texting on her phone in bed while her husband is sleeping
Woman texting on her phone in bed while her husband is sleeping
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Mary O'Conor is a relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist who offers advice in her weekly column.

Here's my dilemma. I'm in a relationship with a girl who is 27 and I am 44. She is mad to have a baby. She got pregnant by accident in the early stage of our relationship and dumped me saying she would go it alone. However, she miscarried and we then got back together with some intervention from a close female friend of mine.

We now live together and we are constantly having the same argument over my female friend who is just a friend and was a support to me through my separation.

Recently my girlfriend in a drunken frenzy took a drunken rant at my friend unknown to me and this caused her great distress. She is suspicious of her because she gave me financial help although my friend was just helping me out.

What do I do to make her realise that's all it is? My girlfriend is also not happy that my friends advise me not to have a baby with her based on our previous history and her needless suspicion. If I say I don't want a baby she will probably be gone.

Please help me.

Mary replies: I have a few concerns about this relationship. Your girlfriend is very anxious to have a baby and yet she finished with you as soon as she was pregnant the first time. Was this because you didn't appear happy, or because she just wanted to get pregnant and didn't want the father to be around?

The second concern I have is why will she not accept your word that your female friend is just that - a friend? Why is she so unsure of herself if she is living with you and presumably you have told her that you love her? Is there something in her past that makes her so insecure? She was very disrespectful of your friend, and I don't think alcohol is a sufficient excuse.

You don't say if you have children from your previous relationship but even if you don't then I'm sure you have very good reasons why you don't want to have a child. Children are a huge responsibility even though they can give great joy. My late mother used to say that we worry about our children until we die, and I now know she spoke the truth. There is no way you should be coerced into having a baby. If she leaves again as a result of your decision then so be it. That would be far preferable to bringing an unwanted child into the world. There is a considerable, although not insurmountable, difference in your ages and if you were to meet somebody else nearer to your own age it is very likely that a baby would not be on the agenda.

So stay true to yourself and what you believe is best for you and everything will work out well.

Dear Mary: I managed to beat cancer but the treatment has killed off my sex life

I am 54, happily married for 30 years and have two grown up kids. I contracted cancer at 45 and had the usual treatment - chemo, radiotherapy and Tamoxifen for seven years. From the very first chemo I had my last menstrual cycle and what used to be a great sex life suddenly diminished and to date has not returned. I do love my husband and am very happy in my life but my interest in sex is virtually nil. I feel nothing, I do really try but foreplay is a total waste of time and sex is painful and I am very disappointed that I have lost the desire and the lovely feelings of arousal. Don't even mention KY/lube. I've tried that. It is as if that part of my body/chemistry had died. Even reading Fifty Shades of Grey does absolutely nothing for me. My husband is very understanding and I have assured him I have not "gone off him". I just do not have the wonderful feelings of arousal I had up to the illness. I have read some self-help books that advise that this happens to some women and to be content with extra cuddles and holding hands stuff, which sounds nice but very final. I live in hope. Have you any advice?

Mary replies: The whole area of post-cancer sexual functioning is not spoken or written about very often. Perhaps it is felt that the cancer sufferer should be glad to be alive and not complain about the effect the cancer has had on their sex lives. It is actually the treatment for the cancer rather than the cancer itself that causes the problems. For instance, chemotherapy can damage the ovaries causing menopause in younger women, radiation can irritate the delicate lining of the vagina leading to a decrease in the natural lubrication that arousal brings, and medication used to treat pain, nausea, depression or anxiety can decrease a woman's desire for sex.

It has been reported that about half the female survivors of breast and pelvic area cancers develop long-term sexual problems, and you are one of the unlucky ones. It is incredibly sad that you have gone from a very satisfying and happy sex life to one such as you describe, so in a way you will have been going through your own sort of grieving process.

I'm glad that you have reassured your husband that you feel just the same about him as you did before the illness - partners of cancer sufferers sometimes get ignored.

Let's first look at the pain that you experience when having sex. You are certainly not going to look forward to having sex if it hurts. It will naturally contribute to your lack of libido. So the first thing you have to do is to try and overcome this. It is likely that you have vaginal atrophy from going into menopause at the age of 45 and a low dose of vaginal oestrogen - either ring, cream or vaginal tablet can be very effective, over time, in reversing this atrophy. This, of course, would be done in consultation with your oncologist because of the risk factor, although there is currently no evidence that low- dose vaginal oestrogen therapy increases the risk of recurrence of the cancer. A non-medical tip is to insert a vitamin E oil capsule in the vagina every night or morning, and not at the same time as the vaginal oestrogen if you do try it. A hormone specialist with whom I was in contact stressed that you should avoid "natural" or "bioidentical" products - they often contain plant oestrogen or actual oestrogen and if taken orally it is unknown what risk they have of contribution to a cancer recurrence.

If you find that things are improving over time with regard to the atrophy then you can turn your attention to your libido issues. An acupuncturist I know has had a lot of success in treating women of all ages with lack of libido and although she hasn't yet treated anybody who has had cancer treatment she feels it would be to your benefit to have some acupuncture sessions. Sex therapy can also play a role here - especially if you are still experiencing painful intercourse despite treating the atrophy. A friend who has been through two different cancer treatments tells me that she finds using a vibrator an immense help in getting aroused and she uses this before she has sex. This is another avenue for you to explore if you haven't already done so.

I am trying not to be unrealistic and say that everything will be fine but it is worth exploring every avenue to try to get back to where you were before the illness.

Sunday Independent

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