Ask a relationship counsellor


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QUESTION: I recently got in contact with my old boyfriend. We're now in our late 60s. We met when I was 19, he was 21 and we went out until he joined the army. We lost touch; I got married, had two children, and got divorced. We live in different parts of the country but we've swapped emails and texts for the past four years and finally met for dinner and he spent $100 on wine for my birthday. We had a lovely evening but it didn't get physical. Then I received a message from his wife. I rang him, gutted, he yelled at me and I have not heard from him since. I ran into a military colleague of his who let it slip that he may have issues left over from Vietnam. I have tried to move on with my life but I miss his friendship. I know I will never really get over him. Have I had the ill-fortune to become involved with a narcissist? Was it just sex he was after?

ANSWER: Was it just sex? I don't think so. I think it was more emotional intimacy he was seeking. I can only guess the reasons: he is trying to distract himself from problems, avoiding intimacy with his wife, or craving the nostalgia of a simpler time.

Is he a narcissist? I'll let you be the judge. The formal definition of a person with narcissistic personality disorder is someone who has five or more of the following characteristics: a grandiose sense of self-importance; is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success or power; believes they are special or unique and should associate only with other special people; requires excessive admiration; has a sense of entitlement; is exploitative of others; lacks empathy; is envious or jealous of others, or believes others are of them; and acts arrogantly or haughtily. But definitions aside, and more importantly, he hurt you.

An emotional affair can be just as devastating as a physical one, for you and for his wife. If he wants to save his marriage, he will have some hard work to do. Most relationship counsellors would suggest a starting point to rebuild trust would be to sever connections outside the marriage - but at the least he owed you an apology and an explanation and not abuse. That he didn't take responsibility for his actions and try to make amends is telling.


You say you miss the friendship and yet you know he acted like a cad. Your feelings of grief are valid. You have been deceived, confused and hurt, and will naturally feel shocked, angry and sad. You are also mourning the hole the lost friendship has opened up in your life. My guess is that as soon as your feelings come up, you dismiss them with thoughts such as ''I'm better off without him'' or ''I'm not going to think about him''.

But this is not about him; it's about you. It's honouring your feelings and allowing them expression. Cry, write it out, share it with friends who won't judge but will offer comfort. You will find healing and resilience, and will strengthen the most important relationship you will ever have in life - the one with yourself.

Elly Taylor is a relationship counsellor and author of Becoming Us, Loving, Learning and Growing Together.