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Episode 10: The women’s group
The Wednesday group: episode 10
Despite the bitter weather, we are all early, apart from Will and Martin. Kate tells us Will is away at a conference, but that there is no message from Martin. That’s strange, I think. Julia looks stunning in a low-cut dress with an emerald necklace and earrings, and announces that she will have to leave 10 minutes early because she has an appointment.
Suzy giggles. ‘Dressed like that, Julia, it must be a date! Who’s the lucky man?’
Julia sighs and looks around the group. ‘I will tell you. He is of course handsome, rich, intelligent and very powerful.’ She glances at Kate here. ‘And naturally he is also married with three sons. We met nine years ago when I was having a relationship with one of his staff and we fell in love at first glance. It was very passionate, very exciting and also dangerous because we had to make sure no one discovered our secret – not just his wife of course but the press and his colleagues and competitors. At first I believed he would eventually leave his wife and we would be together always because we were so amazingly in love that it had to be our destiny. Then little by little I realised that this was not so, that he would never leave his family and I would always be the mistress. So four years ago I finished it, for the first time, because now I think I must have ended this relationship five times. I cannot remember exactly and this is why I finally decided that I needed help. It is like an addiction, a drug that makes me want him even though he is ruining my life!’
She pauses at last, and I can breathe. We all look hypnotised by her intensity and she seems more beautiful than ever. ‘So now you see my problems. I have seen three different types of therapist over the last four years. One of them fell in love with me and made everything worse and the others could not help me, so now Kate says I should try group therapy. I have nothing to lose, so, OK, but now that I am here I cannot see how you can help either.’
‘You look so different,’ I blurt out. ‘You’ve changed from ice cool to a blazing fire.’
‘I know this about myself,’ she says dismissively. ‘I can freeze people and burn them – first one way and then the other.’
Suzy takes me by surprise by saying she expects that is what other people do to Julia. It has an impact immediately and Julia looks intently at her. Then Suzy asks if her lover is kind and at this point Julia bursts into noisy sobs. Roz passes her the tissues and says to Suzy that it was a good question.
When I first came to the group we spent a lot of time talking about Suzy’s relationship with a man in her past who treated her very cruelly, and her struggles to get away from him. We haven’t discussed it for ages and I’d assumed it was all sorted out now. Maybe it isn’t.
Suzy tells Julia that once she had a partner too who she thought was her soul mate. ‘But then I found out that he had a wife and family in London. Like you, I tried to leave but I’d always go back – and each time I did that I lost a bit more self respect, and he lost any respect for me too. He would beg and plead with me to stay, saying that he couldn’t live without me and that he loved me so much. Then when I went back, within 24 hours he would be offensive, saying the most awful things about me. It got to physical as well as verbal abuse, but still I went back, trying to believe that it could work. It’s probably completely different for you Julia, but I just wondered?’
Julia, tear stained and tragic, nods. ‘You are right. Perhaps I was not going to tell you anything about that part yet, because I am ashamed, but you have exposed me.’ Suzy rushes to apologise but Julia waves her hand. ‘No, it is best that you know the truth.’
We sit quietly and I am thinking that it is hard to understand why such a strong woman would let herself be treated so badly. Suzy, I can see, is too nice and too compliant, but Julia? Then Jasmin, of all people, says that the people who seem big and strong are often weak and vulnerable inside. I ask if she is thinking about her brother but she just shrugs and smiles at me.
Kate comments that we have found ourselves talking about male violence on the night when there are no men present. I hadn’t really registered that until she said it, but it has felt much cosier somehow, despite the subject matter.
Then Roz jumps in. ‘On the same theme, there is something I need to talk about as well. I just have to say that out loud, so that I can’t hide away from it any more.’
Chris Rose is a group psychotherapist and writer. Email email@example.com