Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.
Question: Dear Mary, I don't know if you can help me but there is nobody else that I can talk to about this. Up until a year ago, I thought that everything was perfect in my world. I have a long-term partner and beautiful children who are the greatest things that ever happened to me.
There wasn't much love in my family growing up, and I saw some pretty nasty stuff going on between my mam and dad. She drank a lot and was a very abusive drunk. He just took it all and I often wished that he would be more of a man and stand up to her.
They have both passed on now, and as you can imagine, I took great care that I didn't chose somebody who was too fond of her booze, and as I say, I thought I had the perfect family. But last year I discovered that my partner was having an affair with her boss.
I found out by total accident. I wasn't prying, I didn't suspect anything - even though, looking back, I should have. I picked up her phone instead of my own because we have the same make and I didn't realise it was hers, and I read a text that had just come in.
I still remember as if it was yesterday my feelings of total and utter disgust as I read what he was planning to do with her after work that day. I didn't know people could be that graphic about sex.
I would have walked away from it all were it not for the kids, and I'm glad now that I didn't. I confronted her and we had a pretty rocky time as I insisted that she had to leave her job and get another one if we had any chance of staying together.
She did get another job and told me that she was really sorry for what she did, and over the months we got back to a fairly normal life. But - and it's a very big but - whenever we try to have sex now I can't keep it up. I want to - I still fancy her in spite of everything that we've been through - but I can't seem to keep an erection long enough to do anything with it.
I can see that she is annoyed, although she tries to hide it, and I know that she would like to have another child although I'm not too sure - what if she went off the rails again?
My brain is addled trying to make sense of it all and I would really appreciate any advice you have to give. Please don't tell me to go to a counsellor. I couldn't talk about all this to anybody, and none of my mates know.
Mary O'Conor replies: It's a pity that you have nobody in whom you can confide because what happened is an awful lot for you to deal with on your own. The only person that you have spoken to about all of this is your partner, and as she is the one involved then she would find it difficult to be objective. People often find the anonymity and confidentiality of a counsellor to be helpful, so please don't rule it out for some time in the future.
You didn't have a great childhood, and I can see how trying to build your own loving family would be very important to you and then how utterly let down you must have felt by your partner's betrayal.
It is very understandable that you are having erectile dysfunction. I have seen this happen with clients in a somewhat similar position to yours, and there are a few reasons for this. First, you are afraid that the same thing will happen again, and so your brain, via your penis, is not allowing you to get into the position whereby you get fully back into a sexual life with your partner and then get hurt once more. Second, there is ambivalence about a third child and if you are not using any contraception then obviously sexual activity could result in a pregnancy. The pregnancy issue needs to be addressed, because as long as you are unsure as to how you really feel then you will continue to have problems
Have you actually forgiven your partner for her affair? This is crucial, because if you haven't then things will remain the same. It is not necessary - and indeed for the moment it would be hard - to forget, but you do need to forgive in order to get closure.
Do you know why she had the affair in the first place? If you don't then you need to find out, because there is always a reason, and then you will have to ask yourself if you in any way contributed to her being unfaithful.
As regards the future, I suggest that you live in the 'now'. Worrying about what might happen will serve no useful purpose, whereas enjoying each day to the full and appreciating what you have right now is much more beneficial. Then agree to put the question of a third pregnancy on hold for the moment, no matter how each of you feels, and try to get back to some form of regular sexual contact but with a ban on any attempted intercourse.
As a result of this ban, the erections are free to come and go as they please because nothing is going to be expected of you and this should remove a lot of your performance anxiety.
Gradually, your confidence will return, but only when you feel good about the relationship between your partner and yourself.
I admire you for trying to keep it all together and hope that things work out for you both.