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My husband spends nights away, cross-dressing

QMY husband likes to cross-dress. We have been married for 15 years, have two children, and a comfortable home. My husband and I have a very good relationship, and I always knew about his desire to dress in women's clothes.

Sometimes, he wears lingerie. And he has often asked me to allow him to dress up as a woman when we are alone, but I have always resisted this as I'm afraid it will damage our marriage. He has never insisted on doing this, just merely asked me if he could.

For the past year, however, his work has taken him away a lot. Occasionally, he stays away an extra night, and I know this is in order to dress up fully - to do what I won't allow him to do with me.

He is a terrific husband and father - we are soulmates, and we have a very good sex life. But his desire to dress up causes me to worry, and the fact that his need to dress up is intensifying worries me even more. I do not know how I would cope with seeing him fully dressed as a woman. I also fear that he may end up leading a double life.

AMODERN society chooses to see cross-dressing as a simple choice, a whim even, or just a form of fun. That's decidedly missing the point. Many cross-dressers are driven by addiction. A man dressing up in women's clothes is seeking, and getting, emotional comfort - very often, most profound emotional comfort.

The psychological steps leading to this are complex, and perhaps we'll get to talk about them some time, but the basic principle is simple. Wearing women's clothes fulfils a deep need. And the individual feels a powerful pull to cross-dress and meet that need. He feels compelled. He's not acting on a whim. It seems terribly necessary to him.

Of course, different men will talk of different sensations - like feeling relaxed, or de-stressing, or being complete. But these are just words. Behind cross-dressing, very often, lies serious psychological distress.

I don't know if your husband falls into this category, although my guess is that he does. Otherwise, why would he pursue something which makes you unhappy? He loves you, why would he jeopardise your relationship? Yes, I know he may not see things in quite these terms. Society tells him he's fine. You've ring-fenced your marriage by putting down clear boundary lines about his dressing-up, which he respects. And he thinks he's found the solution - namely, to pursue his addiction elsewhere. His new job, he feels, has given him an 'out'. Except, of course, that it hasn't. Not really. Otherwise you wouldn't be worried enough to seek help.

The reality is that your husband is walking a dangerous tightrope in terms of your relationship, a tightrope that is so obvious precisely because you love him, because you are so close as a couple, because of your emotional intimacy.

What you're really asking me, of course, is whether or not you can rein your husband in, or whether it would be wise to try and do so. What you're thinking is that if you allowed him to dress up as a woman while with you, then, perhaps, he wouldn't stay away extra nights and lead this de facto double life.

There are several answers required on that. To begin with, you should not do anything that makes you deeply uncomfortable. That would, indeed, signal the end of your happiness. Doing something that is deeply offensive to us does not help a relationship, no matter how well intentioned, because it damages emotional intimacy.

Apart from that, there is no reason to presume your husband would be satisfied with just dressing up at home. Addiction, by its very nature, tends to seep out no matter what controls are in place. If he wants to dress as a woman, he may well want to appear as a woman, and the privacy of your bedroom may not be enough, particularly if he's already got a taste for public appearances while away.

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Addictive cross-dressing is, in one sense, just like addictive drinking. You can't contain it by having drinks together. Of course, many wives tried, thinking that if they went boozing with their husbands it would somehow limit their drinking. It doesn't.

I'm not sure that your husband's need to cross-dress is intensifying. It may simply be that he now has opportunities he didn't have in the past. Because, of course, I am not suggesting that he - or any other compulsive cross-dresser - simply gives in to the desire, whenever it occurs. On the contrary, he probably battles with it quite a lot. In other words, addiction can be combated by restricting opportunities, as well as by the individual's conscience.

Your husband respects your wishes. He doesn't dress up where his kids might see him either. So he is not a slave to his addiction. Being away from home just makes it easy, and apparently safe.

Your husband's behaviour is ultimately down to him. All you can do is be clear about where you stand. It won't help for you to do something you fundamentally dislike. Even more importantly, you have to be clear about the limits of your influence. You can't contain your husband's behaviour, let alone heal it, by allowing him the freedom to bring it into your bedroom, or sitting room, or kitchen.

All you can do is let your husband know the risk he's taking. Let him know how distressed you are, how worried you are, and how damaging this could become to your marriage. After that, you have to trust in the fact that it's down to him. Your husband, if he wishes, can tackle his need to cross-dress. There are plenty of therapists out there who know the score. It's his decision. It's difficult, but he has a choice, not a simple one, but a choice.

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