I am in a long-term relationship with a wonderful man but it bothers me that when sunbathing he never uses sun cream except on his face.
I am terrified of him getting skin cancer, especially as this is something his parents have experienced, and also because I was widowed at 34 when my first husband died of cancer. We both have children from our previous relationships.
The prospect of loving and then losing someone else to cancer is very scary and occupies my thoughts a lot. Watching my late husband get cancer and die within two months was the most awful experience of my life, and having another chance of long-term happiness makes me want to cling on to it all the more.
I have mentioned my fears to my partner many times, but I don’t think he takes it seriously or knows how much it bothers me. Ironically, he always makes sure the children are protected and reminds me to wear sun cream. As he tans easily I think he thinks he is invincible.
Am I just being selfish – perhaps I should let him make his own decisions, however potentially damaging the outcome? I am at a loss to know what else to do.
I’m so sorry to hear about your husband dying, that must have been incredibly traumatic. It all happened so fast, I wonder if you had a chance to process your grief, then or since? Grief is a massive emotion which we can’t avoid, and unprocessed it can manifest as other emotions, such as extreme anxiety. If your children were very young you probably just “got on with it” to be there for them.
I went to Louise Tyler, a BACP accredited counsellor, who says:
“At first sight this may look like a problem about sun cream, but it’s not. This is how couples get stuck arguing about the same thing, because it looks like it’s about sun cream or doing the dishes, but what it’s really about is ‘Do you know me? Am I important and does what I want matter?’ But in this case it’s also about trauma and loss and the risks of ‘living’ again.”
Tyler says couples tend to have two types of problems: “solvable” problems, such as who does the housework, where the conflict is simply about that topic; and “perpetual” problems, which centre on fundamental differences. “If this were a solvable problem it would be ‘You need to wear sun cream, can we find a compromise?’ But this seems to be more about a difference in needs.”
With perpetual problems, Tyler says: “Couples return to the issue again and again but in a different guise, if they don’t address the issues beneath it. Here, the issue might be: can you risk trusting in life again? can your partner take the responsibility of making you feel safe?”
We don’t know what your partner’s needs are; it could be that he “doesn’t want to be told what to do. He may also not fully understand your needs and see this as ‘just’ nagging about sun cream”. So the first thing to do is sit down with him and really explain what it means to you (“I’m really scared of losing you” instead of “wear sun cream”) and then listen to him. This gives him the chance to fix it.
However, we still think it is important to address your past trauma. Therapy/CBT would be ideal for you, or perhaps bereavement counselling (cruse.org.uk).
Important though sun cream use is, it may be acting as a useful foil for some rather more vulnerable emotions underneath.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a personal problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a personal matter, please send your problem to [email protected] Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions.
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