Lucy Beresford: Infidelity or Ethical Non-Monogamy?

Lucy Beresford: Is Infidelity the End?  

In this, the fifth episode of the Love is Not a List Podcast with Gillian McCallum, she meets Lucy Beresford, the well known journalist, agony aunt, radio talk show host and hugely successful TedTalk, entitled:  Infidelity… To Stay or Go?

Together, Gillian and Lucy explore what it means to cheat, whether or not couples can rebuild from a position of distrust, and perhaps, whether or not Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) could be the answer for couples who still love one another, but would like to explore another option outside of their relationship or marriage. 

Communication is at the heart of their discussion together, with the benefits of sitting down with your partner and sharing your heartfelt desires, needs, wants, hopes and aspirations in order to build a longer lasting, successful and happy relationship. 

Read the full transcript below of this engaging interview with Lucy  – to find out exactly what happens when Britain’s Top Matchmaker meets Britain’s Top Relationship Expert.

The Love is Not a List Podcast

[Gillian McCallum]: Hello and welcome to the Love Is Not A List podcast. I am thrilled to be here with Lucy Beresford. Lucy is actually someone that I joined on her phenomenal LBC radio show a number of years ago. She’s very well known for her weekly Sex and Relationships phone-in, where she was dubbed the naughty Mary Poppins. 

She also hosts On The Couch podcasts for Reaction Magazine. She reviews the papers every couple of weeks with the Jeremy Vine show. And she also has a TedTalk titled: Infidelity to stay or go that has had several million hits over the last five years. 

She is a founder of the Kindness Club and its award-winning Refuge for Books scheme, which creates libraries and shelters run by the UK domestic violence charity, Refuge. She’s also the author of the self-help book Happy Relationships at Home, Work and Play.

She’s also written three novels, so she’s not entirely busy in her spare time by the sounds of things! Lots of time to rest and recuperate and not much time to think about the thorny issues such as infidelity!

Thank you so much for joining me today and we’re going to get straight in. Infidelity to stay or to go. What’s the answer? Should people stay or should people go when there’s infidelity in a relationship?

Is Infidelity The End?

[Lucy Beresford]: Well, of course, you should watch the TED Talk because there are so many brilliant nuggets of information there. But I think the key thing is to recognise that infidelity doesn’t have to mean the end of your relationship or the end of the world, even though that is exactly how it often feels when infidelity comes to light. And it’s in that trauma, it’s in that pocket of time where you’re thinking, well, what do I do next? What is my life going forward? is to know that actually there are lots of options. 

And I think there is a difference as to whether the infidelity is a one-off or whether it’s a pattern. Because I think if you’ve got a pattern of behaviour that you’re dealing with in your relationship, then that’s a completely different issue. But as one of my friends said to her partner many years ago, you know, if it’s a drunken one-night stand, at a party, tell me about it. We can work it through.

Why Do People Cheat?

And I think what’s so beautiful and brave about that is that it goes back to that cornerstone of all relationships, which is communication. Talk to me, let me listen to you. Let me hear what’s going on for you. Because what often happens in situations where people suffer infidelity or betrayal or adultery is that the person who has committed what we call the relationship crime, for want of a better word. 

They are unhappy in some way, they’re not happy with themselves often, mostly, and this new relationship is a way in which they can get back to who they want to be or to become a version of themselves that they imagine is better. 

But the other person who is the betrayed, they will often turn around and say, well do you think I was happy? Do you think I really enjoyed the way that our relationship has been over the last…few months or few years or maybe even few decades. 

So it just gives couples that perfect opportunity to really sit down and talk about what has been going on, what are these grooves, these sort of habits that we have fallen into. Because I think the really tricky thing is that the very thing that people love about a long-term relationship, the consistency of it, the comfort of it, the snuggling on the sofa,

The Couples Comfort Zone

[Lucy Beresford]: Binge watching mindless TV together, the doing nothing together. As one of my teachers once said to me, you can have more fun sharpening a pencil with someone you love than doing anything else. And it’s that comfortable place that couples want to get to, but it is also that comfort zone that can often be the danger zone for infidelity because people get bored, they feel unseen, and they feel unheard.

So that’s a super long answer. Not giving you a full answer. You will have to listen to the TedTalk.

Are Your Needs Being Met

[Gillian McCallum]: I’m pleased you said that and people really will need to listen to it if they aren’t one of the three million who already have so by the sounds of things what you’re saying is infidelity starts really from being too comfortable being slightly bored and people not really paying attention. 

We’re looking at three things that as the cause potentially of infidelity and presumably for the other partner sometimes that’s a big surprise or shock or is that not the case in most cases of infidelity that they weren’t happy in the relationship? Do they have a sense of not being happy, but then also a sense of one-upmanship? Well, I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t cheat.

[Lucy Beresford]: All of that, actually, there can be people who really didn’t know, whose antennae is perhaps not tuned in that way. Perhaps they had thrown themselves into lots of other activities. One might argue because their needs weren’t being met in their primary relationship. Maybe they threw themselves into their careers. Maybe they were the ones that stepped up to look after elderly parents, neighbours, children, pets. 

That there is a whole gamut of responses that people can have to their needs not being met. But of course, for many of us, we don’t necessarily know how to get our needs met. I mean, we do really early on, we just cry and somebody comes along and works out, oh, I think they need their nappy changing. Oh, I think they need feeding. They just need, you know, turning around or burping or whatever it might be. So we start life. Well, we start life physically joined to another person. That’s our template. That’s our preference, really.

And we spend most of our lives working out that that’s never going to happen again. But then the next template that we have is that someone exquisitely meets our needs or certainly in a textbook they do. I think if your child number nine and your parent has no time, then maybe your life experience will be slightly different. But in most cases, your needs are attended to most of the time.

And then as life goes on, you realise that doesn’t happen. It just, it stops. It, you know, other siblings come along or you go to school or your parents go to work or they have situations that they’re dealing with. 

Ensuring Our Needs Are Met

So how do we actually get our needs met? And how do we do so, so that we’re not rejected, so that people don’t think, Oh, they’re a bit needy. They have needs. I don’t have needs. Why should I meet their needs? 

You know, there are so many unspoken conversations that happen in relationships and they’re very much around needs. So if you’re in a couple and your needs are not being met that will give a whole that will give rise to a whole host of other responses around maybe I should hide my needs, maybe I should get my needs met by gambling or drinking or having affairs or as I say throwing myself into work or porn or gambling or whatever it might be.

And then the other person is feeling, well, I’m not being heard either. And that dance, it’s amazing how the dance just continues for so long with many people just not feeling very fulfilled, very loved.

Communicate Your Needs

[Gillian McCallum]: And you know, a dear friend of mine gave me the sentence, communicate your needs. And you’ve been talking all about needs right there. Is it enough to communicate with your needs or is there a point in the relationship where people feel they can’t or feel if they do, they’re just not heard? Is the concept of communicating your needs enough when you’re in a relationship where there’s perhaps things going wrong or you’re not feeling that same connection to your partner that you did at the beginning?

[Lucy Beresford]: Well, that’s really interesting because I think the big question is around what is communication and communication is as much about listening as it is about speaking. So when I work with couples or even if I’m working with an individual clinically, then a lot of times people say, but I’ve told them so many times, I’m always saying, I love it this, I don’t love that. But actually, are they listening? Are you saying it in a way that can be heard? 

Historic Animosity Destroys Relationships

Because many of us speak in a very pejorative way or we are very judgmental. We use phrases like you always do this, you never do that. Always and never are the really big watchwords. 

If you ever hear that coming out of your mouth, do try and change that sentence because the other person really won’t listen. I wouldn’t listen if someone kept saying to me, you’re always doing that. You never do that. 

So sometimes we communicate inadvertently in a way that almost will not get our needs met, people will not listen to us. They don’t want to hear what you have to say. So it’s the quality of that communication and the quality of your capacity to listen to the other person that is so paramount.

Even Beyoncé Experienced Infidelity

[Gillian McCallum]: And so when we’re talking about infidelity, is it always that the person is dissatisfied or is it a sense of what I would just like more? I think you mentioned Beyoncé in your TED talk and it’s very well known among the dating circles of people saying, well, if Beyoncé was cheated on, what hope do the rest of us have? So is it always dissatisfaction?

Or could it also be something a little bit even more selfish? Well, I’ve got this fabulous thing here, but I want more of something else.

[Lucy Beresford]: Well, it could be a bit of both. I mean, I am someone who thinks that sometimes you do have to be quite selfish in relationships. And those are the moments where you sometimes have to walk away to be able to say, this isn’t working for me. I actually do deserve better than this. 

Your behaviour, your abuse, your drinking, your contempt for me, you know, I am worthy of more than that. But in some situations, I think what you notice most of all about people who have an extra relationship on the side, is that it provides an opportunity for them to be a different version of themselves to the one that has to show up in the primary relationship. 

Now that might be someone that used to exist and that therefore can’t exist now because of either marriage, civil partnership, maybe children, maybe parental relationships, societal expectations, whatever that might be. 

Or it could be a fantasy of who you want to be, this carefree person, the person who maybe spends a lot of money or who doesn’t need to spend any money, somebody who can be more loving, less loving, more receiving or more giving. 

The Model of Monogamy

A variation on that, that they get to have different sides of them met and this is the really interesting thing about monogamy in general and I guess we might come on to talk about this,  is the model of monogamy for so many centuries has been that the preference is that you stay together and you last in a relationship for a long time. 

Hopefully you raise children if you’re able to and that just continues down the line but for a lot of people now that model doesn’t really work.

And also it’s about an exploration of whether it could ever work. Could it be the case that all of your needs could be met by just one person? Which is why I’m really keen that people, when they are in a relationship, they don’t sort of collapse codependently in on each other, but they are individuated, that they carry on with their career or with their football mates or with their musical theatre chums or their photography pals. 

That they do still pay attention to their friendship group and their family network, that they don’t just avoid everything else, but for many people even their emotional needs feel too much to be identified and met by one person only. 

Ethical/Disclosed Non-Monogamy 

And this is why I think we’ve begun to see more and more people talking about a disclosed non-monogamy, which is where you, or some people call it polyamory, but that gives the impression that there are lots of other partners, whereas disclosed non-monogamy is what it says.

 It’s where both parties are completely aware that this is going to be a relationship where other people will come in. And everyone is signed up to that and everyone is aware of the arrangement.

Surviving An Affair

[Gillian McCallum]: Right. And before we go on to what I would also call ethical non-monogamy, before we move on to that, if you’re in a monogamous relationship right now, what can you do to try to help maintain if the partnership wants to maintain that monogamy and you want to stay together, what can you do to try and maintain that? 

Is there anything that people can do to keep, I mean, I don’t think very few of us expect to have that same feeling at the beginning, although we do know now that, um, scientists have discovered you can have that in love feeling for the entire relationship. 

I think it’s about 5% or maybe 0.5% but my recollection is 5% can maintain that in love feeling. So for most people they can’t but what can you do to maintain your relationship in a way if monogamy is important to you in a way that means that you do stay together as a couple? Do you have any kind of hints or tips or ideas that you can share with the listeners?

[Lucy Beresford]: Yes, there are lots of things you can do to, if you like, future proof your relationship. And it does partly go back to communication, but it also requires you to be very clear on what you want, because you can only really make good choices for yourself when you know yourself well. 

So what are your needs? Because it’s all very well feeling a bit unheard or unmet. But if you don’t really know what your needs are and how to communicate them. Then you can’t really expect your partner to be a mind reader or not all of the time. And so it’s partly about the work on yourself. What do I want? What do I need? What are my values? 

Values When Dating

And I often encourage people to write a value list, to write down their top 10 values. Is it fidelity, communication, love, sex, sense of humour, political values, attitudes to money, importance of family, that kind of thing. And then get your partner to do that as well, because what’s so fascinating about that, oh, and you have to rank them as well. 

You know, this really is my number one, and this is sort of fairly, this is eight or nine. And then you write your list down, and then you hand it over to your partner who then gives you their list, and it’s just fascinating to see whether you match. You know, oh, that’s great. 

Yeah, we do both have the same attitude for our number one. Or, you know, what does it mean for you if you discover that your number one is their number nine, and then you have a conversation about it?

So there are little things that you can do in the moment, but it’s very much about communication consistently. And it goes back to what I was saying about listening. You can communicate all you like, but if you’re not listening to each other, then you may as well just be pissing in the wind. 

And I think what’s very important therefore, is that you set aside time, maybe every week, maybe every month, to really talk about the things that you love. 

The things that you don’t like. 

Changes in Relationship Communication

Because what often happens in relationships is that the communication starts to be about logistics. Okay, so if you’ve got the car then, because I need to go to the supermarket at, oh, and your mother, and the conversation isn’t about anything in particular, it’s just a daily way of just making sure that you’re in one place and they’re in another. 

You’ve got to have conversations about ideas about films about people about things that are happening in the moment. So try to have those conversations as I say at least once a week which is why some people talk about date night but other people find that term a little bit icky so I just talk about it as you know your weekly check-in and it’s more than a check-in than saying about where the car is it’s about where am I emotionally? Where am I emotionally?

Because as you say, what you want is to avoid those conversations where someone says, three years ago, I was really struggling and you didn’t help me. You didn’t. You weren’t there for me. It’s like far better that you have the conversation that says, this week, I have been dealing with this and this is what I’d like you to do. And that leads on to something that I also advise people to do, which is to have an audit every year.

It sounds quite formal, but you know, in a career, you would have job appraisals, you would have, you know, you’d have discussions about your remuneration, you’d have discussions about your promotional prospects. You’d take that incredibly seriously. 

Relationship Annual Check-Up

Why would you not do that with your relationship? Why would you not sit down maybe, you know, the night before your anniversary or the night before the day you met or something to really check in with? 

So what…what are your favourite things that I wear that really turn you on? What are the favourite things that you like me to do to you? What projects should we think about doing over the next three months together? You know, really quite big ticket stuff that taps into all sorts of elements of that relationship, whether it’s sexual desire, whether it’s future planning of actual activities that you could do together and deepen your experiences or what continues to make you laugh, what is the funniest thing that I do for you. It just allows you to access your loved one on a completely different level and that’s what gets missed.

[Gillian McCallum]: And this is big ticket stuff, but the reason I think most people don’t do it is because it’s scary. It’s really scary to sit down and confront and to hear actually, you know, those things that we’re doing in bed I’m just not particularly interested in or don’t really turn me on or are getting a bit boring or whatever else it is that’s going on in your life.

[Lucy Beresford]: You definitely wouldn’t say it in those three ways. You definitely wouldn’t say it, say, this is, I love this.

[Gillian McCallum]: Well, that’s the thing. Right. And that’s the thing. You know, the thing about it is that if you’re not careful, the whole thing could quickly degenerate into, well, I never liked that either. And suddenly it makes it worse. 

Sex and Emotional Vulnerability

[Lucy Beresford: It’s very true, but listen, here’s the thing. If you’re put, and this is a heteronormative perspective, but it applies whatever your sexual orientation. If you’re happy, if you were happy at one stage for his penis to go in your vagina, that’s a very intimate act. Or for his skin to brush against yours at a party, or for her skin to touch your skin, for you to share your sexual fantasies with each other.

All of that is all about being emotionally vulnerable. So you can’t tell me that you can’t have those conversations that feel scary because you’ve already done scary things. You’ve already declared your love for someone. 

You’ve already talked about the intimate things that you would like to do to each other. Maybe you wrote it down. Maybe you didn’t have that conversation face to face because it can be quite delicate. But what you’re saying to me is more…

If I say some of this stuff, I might be rejected. This might end. If I, and I think that’s the fear that people have, if I put out there too much of my needs, it will break. I can’t trust that this relationship is strong enough to withstand my preferences and my needs. And that’s what really gets people scared. They build something up. 

There is that… beautiful beginning stage, the butterflies, it can get quite raunchy, sexual messages are flying around and you think it will never end, it will always be this amazing and this intense. And then it kind of settles down and maybe it even plateaus and it kind of has to because as I say it has to tip into that comfortable stage where you feel safe. Safe enough to maybe raise children or buy a dog, house for a six-figure sum, you know, that you need that safety around you, or maybe even a second seven-figure sum. 

But it’s about the way in which the safety that we crave then becomes the thing that might derail it, that might kind of send the death knell, so you need to keep having those conversations and being spontaneous and putting things out there. That’s the only way you’re going to strengthen the relationship. But also that’s the only way you’re gonna get your needs met. That’s the only way you’re really gonna get your needs met.

Can One Person Meet Your Needs?

[Gillian McCallum]: Because of course, you know, there’s so many things there. I think domesticity doesn’t help with the feeling of excitement and adventure in a long-term relationship. None of us were meant to live as long as we’re all living now. 

And is it too much to expect one person to meet all of your needs, to be great in bed, to understand why you’re unhappy or upset, to even predict in advance when something might cause you to be upset or unhappy, to put the bins out and remember without having been asked,

Is it too much to expect one person to fulfil all of the complex needs that we have as human beings today?

[Lucy Beresford]: A couple of things on that. I mean, I think you’re right. If there’s a generation being born now that might live to 120 or 130, do they really want to hook up with someone in their 20s and expect to be with them for 100 years? You will change over that time. 

And you can’t always rely that the other person will grow in the same way as you. But what I’ve also noticed is that there’s a lot of panic. It was something I meant to say just now, which is that, you know, this idea that we get together, again, whatever your sexual orientation, you get together with someone and then everybody lives happily ever after, is this myth that we have been sold for generations.  For centuries maybe, since, you know, since Edward Mallory and Court D’Arthur and the romantic novelists of the sort of pre-Shakespearean era of courtly love, that actually it requires a lot of work. 

The 40 Year Dating Deadline

And what I notice is that a lot of people get to their 30s and they think, gotta be married, gotta have kids or gotta partner up, might adopt. You know, it’s all got to be signed, sealed and delivered by at least 40, if not 45. And so they end up agreeing to be with someone for that period of time. It’s like, okay, this is who I’m with now in my late 30s. I’m gonna get together, we’re gonna have some children, I’ll carry on with my career.

And for a lot of people, that’s the deal they make. But whether they’re truly happy, whether they’re truly fulfilled is in question. And that’s where a number of people start to think, but actually I have other needs and I need to be seen in a 360 degree way and that’s not happening. 

Ashley Madison and Illicit Affairs

So for example, Ashley Madison, the Married Dating website people, they did some research. Well, they’ve done quite a lot of research over the last. two or three years actually, around this concept of non-monogamy and people feeling better able to make decisions around their sex life and around their intimate life in general, which allows for someone else to come into the frame. 

And more and more people are seeing that without judgement, either because it’s happened to them or because it’s something that they’re choosing for themselves.That actually sometimes you can meet the love of your life after you’ve got all of the things that you thought you wanted, the marriage or the civil partnership or the children or the big house or the amazing career. 

It’s after all of those ducks are in a row that you then suddenly realise, yes, but what do I want? What do I need? And that might only arrive when you’re in your mid-forties or… 50s or 60s and who are we to say that isn’t something that people should lean into? 

So actually in terms of the research what’s been very clear from Ashley Madison is that it’s women who are leading this, it’s women who are saying I want more in my life and it’s not from a greedy point of view or a sort of self-absorbed point of view but I only have one life and only parts of me are really being seen now. 

And you do hear this with a lot of women in particular, let’s say, and again, not just in the heteronormative model, but just a sense of I’m someone’s daughter, I’m someone’s partner, I might also be someone’s parent, but where am I? Where am I in that? And I actually observe, given that I’m increasingly seeing men in my clinical practice as well, there are a lot of men. Who have felt very unseen, who have felt very unheard in their primary relationship, and they want to do something about that.

[Gillian McCallum]: And we know that by far and away women are the number one instigators when it comes to divorce, educated women even more so. So we know that women are very much taking control often when it comes to the end of a relationship and saying I’m simply not willing to keep doing this in a way that a man maybe does or appears to do so if it is women that are the number one instigators here.

Choosing Ethical Non-Monogamy

But what about relationships that are slightly different where they’re either married or unmarried, but they choose ethical non-monogamy. And I think you had some other terms for as well. I know we talked about polyamory or you know polygamy, 

Where does that fit in to a new society to, as you say, being more open and more free to pick the roots that you want to pick. Do we know yet? Is there enough information on whether or not it works? Whether or not it ends up in a big jealous pile, presumably have to be extremely mindful and have a lot of support in order to prevent all going south. But what’s your knowledge of ethical non-monogamy? Does it work? Is it going to be the model for the future?

[Lucy Beresford]: Well, the short answer to that is, it’s probably a bit too early to say because it hasn’t really been talked about with such frankness until I say, in the last three to four years, and I do wonder whether the pandemic accelerated that with a lot of people who were forced to be at home with their loved ones, who then very quickly became not their loved ones, that it just became too intense.

All of the external mechanisms that we had to dilute the intensity of our relationships, going to the office, hanging out with our friends, maybe even travelling overseas. All of that was denied to everybody and we were focused much more on our relationships. And I think what I have seen is that yes, it’s women who are driving that, but at the same time, it’s about openness of communication. 

So what some people are saying is, right, okay, well, I, it could be, for example, that someone listens to your podcast and they hear this topic. They might have heard of the term polyamory, but they haven’t necessarily heard of disclosed non-monogamy. 

Discussing ENM in a Relationship

Which is the way in which, yeah, you start a conversation saying, how would that be? Could that work for us? I’m curious. Are you curious? And of course, as you say, that could be a scary conversation because the other person says, oh my God, that’s the worst thing. ever. I can’t believe you’re thinking that doesn’t mean you don’t love me, I’m out. Or a variation on that theme. Or you might be very pleasantly surprised and the person says, well, I’d also been thinking about that. But the one thing I would say is that

When I’m asked about this particular topic, it is often put to me, surely this is gonna give rise to a lot of jealousy, a lot of heartbreak. And all I would say is, that’s already happening with monogamous relationships. 

There are a lot of people who are in unhappy marriages, or they are in unhappy life situations that are not working for them. So it may be that for some of those people, a disclosed non-monogamy situation might be better. Not always, but it might be. So let’s look at what that means. And for me, it’s about how do you communicate the ground rules? 

The Couples ENM Contract

Again, you could talk about a couple’s contract. I think, again, Ashley Madison talked about this, where you literally sit down with your partner and you draw up what the ground rules will be, how many nights a week do we tell our children, do we tell our parents, is this going to be just about sex or is it going to be about going to the cinema as well? 

If I talk to you about intimate things, are you going to give that information to that third party or fourth party or fifth party depending on how many people you’ve got in your construct? But what are the ground rules? 

And I would argue that you need to perhaps look at those ground rules in the very beginning fairly regularly, maybe even every month for the first six months. Again, just to check that everyone is on the same page, that everyone is still comfortable about it, that the feelings, as you highlight, maybe of jealousy, maybe of insecurity haven’t been mobilised, or if they have, they’ve been addressed. And then obviously over time, if it really works for everybody, then you don’t have to check in with that couple’s contract quite so often.

But the beauty of the couple’s contract, I’m not suggesting you can go to a lawyer. This isn’t a formal legal contract. It’s just something that you write down in a Word document that all parties sign up to, but it keeps it written down. So that in seven years time or in 27 years time, if something were to happen, you can point back to that couple’s contract and say, well, that’s not what we really agreed would happen when we embarked on our disclosed non-monogamous relationship. But as I say,

Not enough people have really been doing this, apart from maybe over the last, I’d say, three to five years, for there to be enough research to be able to say categorically, it’s the model that works and will supplant monogamy from here on in. Because fundamentally, I just don’t think we’ve had enough people who are practising it. But for sure, there are more people who are curious about it.

Ethical Non-Monogamy in Wider Society

[Gillian McCallum]: I think there’s also a huge subsection who are potentially practising it but not letting on because if they decide to do it as a couple and they’re keeping it quite quiet and they’re in, they’re dating and meeting other people who have a similar opinion to them, chances are it’s maybe not a public thing. People aren’t aware of the wider, that’s going on far more widely in society. Is that a possibility or does it look like people are neighbour has ethical non-monogamy or not.

[Lucy Beresford]: We know very little about other people’s relationships. It’s why we’re just so desperately curious to know, am I doing it right? Am I the only one having an issue? And particularly in our sex lives, that’s the thing that people worry about the most. They assume that everyone else is banging away every single night, you know, six times a night, and you’re the only person that isn’t having a fulfilling sex life. 

So we’re curious, and we can’t really feel we can ask people. Now, women famously are just simply better. at those kinds of conversations, partly because that kind of conversation actually releases feel-good hormones in women. 

So we actively pursue those kinds of nitty-gritty conversations, not just from our own self-satisfaction, but just because it’s actually, as I say, a self-soothing mechanism. It’s like the grooming that takes place in the ape community and chimp communities, but actually it’s a soothing exercise for women. To discuss relationships in a way that it really isn’t for men, it actually feels quite jarring. 

So again, I think you have so many people who just don’t open up about that conversation. And yeah, you could have people living next to you in the apartment next door, the house next door, and you really, unless you noticed a string of people going in there every single month and took a note of it, you probably wouldn’t know. whether your neighbours were actually indulging themselves in this or not, because people are notoriously private. It’s called a private life for a reason. 

But I think the more that people discuss it in forums like this and in articles or in research that actually people think, oh, okay, this is something I could talk about. Because the bottom line is, if you don’t know it’s out there, you might be the one that ends up feeling very unfulfilled and very trapped. 

Unless you knew that there were other ways through it, that there were other options. And that’s why I’m so glad that you’re talking about it, because at least if there’s someone listening tonight thinking, or today just hearing it and thinking, okay, so there are other ways through this. I think the key thing is, if you are unhappy, then there are different things that you could be doing. And the first is to talk to your partner about your unhappiness, because the chances are, they’re not very happy either.

Sexual Mores in Society Today

[Gillian McCallum]: We are a long way now from worrying, I would hope, about what the doctor might say or what your vicar might say and living your life on the basis of how someone entirely unrelated to you may or may not choose to live their life. And that’s not to give due respect to religious leaders and their position, but I think that more and more people are realising I am the one, as you said has one life and has to choose in that life what will hopefully make me happy and if that happiness is to be found by not remaining in the relationship or at least as you said trying at first to remain in it try and communicate with your partner before abandoning it. 

But from what you’re saying are there things that people should be doing if they’re deeply unhappily married without worrying too much about what the neighbours might think. And I think that’s really important that people know that we’re not here advocating divorce or splitting up with your partner just because you’ve had a bad week or a bad night. 

I think it’s really tough to find the right person for you out there. I think there are millions of potential right people, but I think it can be really hard to find someone that you could live with long term.

You’ve said communication is really key, but I think also not being too caught up with worrying about judgement, how other people will see you or perceive you, because ultimately that doesn’t really matter. And we talked a little bit about that before we started recording, the sense of authenticity, which I think you think is pretty important too.

Knowing Yourself Before Dating

[Lucy Beresford]: Oh, it’s absolutely vital. I go back to this concept that you can’t make good choices for yourself unless you know yourself well enough. And that includes, how am I influenced by the people in my life? Do I worry too much still about what my parents think? Do I worry about…my friends and it affects us in all sorts of ways. 

It can affect us as to whether we stay in a career or not, whether we take that risk to do that slightly mad trapeze artist thing that we’d always promised ourselves we would do and end up making a career out of it. That actually we can really cut ourselves off from incredible opportunities that would actually support us simply because we are nervous about…the judgement of other people. And that might be because we’re very judgy of other people too. 

So it is about trying to let go of some of that. But also if you can really tap into some beautiful self belief, it is around saying, but this is my life and I want to live it on my terms. I don’t want to be downtrodden or treated with contempt. I want to have respect in my life. Well sometimes that’s going to mean treating yourself with respect first, treating yourself and your desires and I’m not just talking about sexual desires but that is very important. 

The Power of Sexual Satisfaction

I’m always here for highlighting how powerful sexual satisfaction is even if actually that is around celibacy. Can I just be clear about that because for some people that is actually also important or they feel asexual and that’s very, very important for them. And the rest of us, we shouldn’t judge other people for that. But this isn’t just about sexual desires and sexual fulfilment. It’s about all areas of life. Do I feel that I’m respected? Do I feel that the person I’m with has my back? That they’re on a team with me, that I can trust them and rely on their support?

The Toll of Domestic Abuse

And if there are any moments where you find yourself just feeling unsafe or feeling unheard, then it’s time to really examine why you’re staying and what’s stopping you living, living your best life. And that’s why it can sometimes look like selfishness. And it’s very tricky when you’ve got children, for example, because everybody knows that they can’t really survive on their own until they get to about, you know, early teenage years. Maybe even later. 

So you are going to have to start taking other people into account, but not to the exclusion of your mental health and that sense of identity that is so important, that authenticity that you and I’ve talked about before, that’s so important. 

Being A Person First, Parent Second

How can you show up as a good parent if you’re hiding yourself all the time, if your needs are not being met, if you’re crying in the shower every night, if you’re terrified of what’s going to happen when the other person gets home, or if you’re constantly jumping through hoops in order to meet everybody’s needs apart from your own. 

And this is something that does become quite important. I think you can show up as a better parent when you’re a selfish parent than if you are flabby and people pleasing too much, that you are ground down by everyone else.

[Gillian McCallum]: And of course a lot of your work with Supporting Refuge will have a big influence on the kind of advice that you’re giving now that if you are desperately, desperately unhappy and in fear of your partner for whatever reason, that it is something that you have to address. And I don’t know whether we’ve got enough time right now to go into this much further, but we do of course know that it’s very risky to leave a dangerous partner.

[Lucy Beresford]: Yeah.

[Gillian McCallum]: Females leaving men can end up in potentially significant trouble. So it’s not an easy decision to decide to leave someone who is abusive and it can have huge ramifications for you and your family.

Should You Stay in An Abusive Relationship?

[Lucy Beresford]: Yes, I mean, I want to quickly leap in there with two things. One is to go back to your very first question to me, which is, should people stay or go? And I am very clear that if you are in an abusive relationship in whatever shape or form that is, if it’s mental abuse, if it’s financial abuse, certainly if it’s physical abuse, you have to leave. You have to leave and you have to do so, hopefully with a support network around you. 

Refuge and Ask for Angela

Refuge is a brilliant charity to offer support in crisis but it would help if you had a couple of people that you could talk to and trust. There’s been a very nasty incident in the last week where a young teenage girl was stabbed to death by, we understand, someone she was in a either in a relationship with or who adored her and I think that highlights just one other thing that needs to be mentioned which is that and again, heteronormatively, men worry that women are going to laugh at them, but women worry that men are going to kill them. 

And this is where your friendship group can become really important. But again, in abusive relationships, sometimes your friendship group is you are cut off from them. And that’s all part of the abuse, which is why there are schemes in hospitals, in pharmacies. and in pubs, for example, where you can go in and ask for Angela, that if you’re in danger. If you’re under threat and you have no one else to talk to and nowhere else to go, there are ways you can somehow get some kind of help or support by not even revealing that the person you’re standing next to is the person who’s abusing you. 

[For further information on Ask for Angela, which is a UK wide initiative, please click the link]

So yeah, slightly different territory that you and I are going down. But it goes without saying that if, if there is an element of abuse in any way. That’s the moment at which you have to get out. 

And what I would say is that for a number of people, because of all of the other things that happen in relationships, the civil partnership or the getting married or the honeymoon or the having kids or whatever it might be, sometimes it takes 10 years or 20 years for somebody to have the confidence to be able to say I am in a very, very dysfunctional relationship. I am in a relationship where I am being ground down, my confidence is being chopped to pieces, I’m being treated with contempt on a daily or certainly regular basis. 

And if I’m to treat myself with respect, I have to leave. And so I wouldn’t judge anybody. Sometimes you can leave within the first week of a red flag. And for some people, it can take 20 or 30 years, whenever you do it.

They deserve all of our support. Because as you say, it is a really hard thing to do.

Consensual Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM)

[Gillian McCallum]: And of course, when we talked just earlier about non-monogamy, where partners are both, it needs to be clear on that, it is a situation where partners both agree. 

And that’s the really vital thing. It is both partners are agreeing to take this step forward. It’s not something being imposed on the other party. And I think that’s really important that people also listening realise that. 

And I think from what you’re saying, we need to be clear on that too, that when it comes to non-monogamy, if you’re going to be open about it, going along with this other person’s idea, you both have to be committed to that idea. How important is that?

[Lucy Beresford]: It’s the only thing that matters. It’s the most important thing. That actually somebody may say to you, I’m curious about this. And you yourself may think, gosh, well, if I say no, then they might walk away. 

So you have to be quite clear in your own mind about what your preferences are it goes back to this idea, as I said before, if you make good choices for yourself, that will come from knowing yourself well enough. 

If you suspect that you would never, in a million years, be comfortable with the idea of disclosed non-monogamy. That is your right to be able to say that. And that’s where it starts, as you said in reference to another point, that’s where it starts to become a bit risky. 

It’s like, if I actually say what I really feel, I might, this relationship might end. And so there may be some people who think, well, I better give it a go. I’ll see what it’s like. I don’t want to be a party pooper. I don’t want to, you know, give the impression that I’m not up for. for everything, but actually, if that’s not your bag, that’s the moment to say so. 

And to know that you’re doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your self-respect, and if it doesn’t work, and if for some reason that ends up being the tipping point for a relationship being over, then in the long term, that wasn’t the right relationship to stay in. But for sure, never, ever do what… is imposed on you that you don’t want to do. That’s pretty much rule one.

Listening to Your Partners Needs

[Gillian McCallum]: It could also be the perfect jumping off point to learn more about what your partner needs and wants. And if your partner does bring the topic up and you’re absolutely horrified, it could be the beginning of a conversation. 

Rather than the beginning of the end, it could be a beginning of a conversation to discuss ‘what is it that you need?’ And of course, your instinct is to say, well, what am I not giving you? That’s the instinct is to say that, to say, well, does it reflect on me? Am I somehow lesser than they want this? And it’s gonna be really hard, this message to realise it’s not necessarily because they can’t give all the things but simply because the person wants to lead the most free most open life that they can. 

Which of course makes you wonder why they would have perhaps got married in the first place, f they’re married, but also you’re hoping that this is something that someone would bring up before they got married if this was going to be an intrinsic part of what made them feel fulfilled in a relationship. 

And I’m imagining lots of people are having these conversations around the kind of relationship they want to be in. I certainly hope they’re having these conversations before they make a really long-term commitment, as you say, buying a dog, buying a house, having children.

Do you think people are having these conversations routinely? Are we hoping that they are before they take the dive in?

[Lucy Beresford]: I think nowadays they are. I mean, I think if you’ve been married for 20 years, for sure, this would never have been the conversations that you had on your first date. 

But now I think people are having those conversations and they’re being a lot more scrupulous about making sure that the answers chime in with what they want. And if they don’t, then they move on. 

Dating With Intention

And of course, that’s arguably where we’ve got to with our Swipe Right culture, that actually you are able to say. not just, oh, you don’t like Chinese food, okay, well, then, which case I don’t want to date you, but it’s like, okay, so what is your attitude towards polyamory or kink or whatever other sexual fantasies you might have. 

That actually people are now putting those on the table much more readily because they recognise, again, if I’m going to be in a relationship with you for 60 years, 60 plus years, I kind of want to think that there is as much compatibility as possible.

Having said which sometimes people think well actually opposites attract that actually it might be more nourishing to be in a relationship where you’re the one that’s really into swimming and the other person is really into musical theatre that that’s fine. But ideally you would be having these conversations now and of course the people who are maybe going through dating a bit later in life whether it’s because through bereavement or because their previous relationship ended

Now, even though you’re later in life, you have got the perfect opportunity to say, yeah, but what do I want? What do I want? I now get the chance to say, and again, it’s not just about, well, I prefer holidaying in India. Oh, you prefer Sorento, right? Well, that might not work, but it’s much deeper than that. 

Communication While Dating

And again, you do yourself a disservice if you don’t have that rigour in your… in your due diligence when you’re doing your dating. That actually, yes, it would be great if it was just about the romance and if it was just about, you know, does he walk on the outside of the pavement? Does he, you know, open the car door for you? Although some people have actually described that as a bit of a red flag sometimes. You know, what are their parents like? What’s their relationship with their best friend like? But…

Sexual Fulfilment 

What are our attitudes to fidelity? What’s your attitude to, or your favourite sexual positions, your favourite sexual fantasies? Why would you not open up all elements of that conversation? Because then you’ll have the 360 degree relationship that you really long for and deserve.

[Gillian McCallum]: Fantastic. So that brings us to the very final stage of us having a conversation together, which is Brenda. Now, because I know that you’ve listened before, you know exactly who Brenda is. 

She’s a very lovely, very naive person. And Brenda has got some questions. Brenda knew that I was going to be meeting you today and came up with some brilliant questions. 

Brenda’s True or False Quick Fire Round

Here is the true or false? Quick fire round with Brenda. Number one, studies suggest that the secret to long and joyful marriage is sending each other love notes via carrier pigeon.

Is that one you’ve heard of? True or false?

[Lucy Beresford]: I heard about it in the 1830s, yes. So quick thing about that. So yeah, I’ve been working a long time. Love letters are really interesting if that is your love language. As we know, there are five love languages. Some people think there are six, but one of them is about words. So if your love language is words and you get a love letter.

[Gillian McCallum]: Did it work then?

[Lucy Beresford]: Oh my goodness that makes your day. You hear that someone says they love you. But if that isn’t your love language, this is like, well this is a bit weird. And then you put it to one side. And your need is not being met because that doesn’t really mean anything to you. And the person who sends it, their need isn’t presumably being met because they think it’s a really lovely thing they’ve done and you’ve just rejected it. So in and of itself, it’s quite sweet, but do make sure that your partner is remotely interested in that kind of.

[Gillian McCallum]: Next one, research shows that couples who argue about which way to hang the toilet paper are more likely to engage in a passionate makeup session afterwards.

[Lucy Beresford]: Yes, but that always presupposes that there is, you know, an ambivalence around the way to hang the toilet paper, whereas there is a right way. There is a right way. I think what you’re talking about is the fact that some people have passionate makeup sex, and I think, yeah, a lot of people do, but I’m always a bit worried about people who have such strong feelings about things like toilet paper.

Don’t get me started there on loading the dishwasher. There are definitely the right ways to load the dishwasher.

[Gillian McCallum]: You’d be worried about. Well, there we are then. So we all have our thing then, and mine is definitely toilet paper, yours is definitely dishwashers. Finally then, very last one, I would love to have your best piece of advice.

[Lucy Beresford]: My best piece of advice is to enter every room with a smile. It doesn’t really matter what the context is. And sometimes you might have to fake that smile. And some people might argue that that’s a sign of inauthenticity. 

But there is something very transformative about entering a space in a way that says, I’m gonna be open to whatever happens in this space. I want to have a lovely experience with my partner or a lovely experience at this party where I don’t know anybody or at this first day at my workplace, whatever it does, what you put out there will come back at you and to some extent putting your best self out there is always going to be better than arriving in a situation where you feel tortured by self-doubt. So maybe it’s a fake it till you make it thing, but just enter every room with a smile and see what happens.

[Gillian McCallum]: Lucy Beresford, author of Happy Relationships at Home, Work and Play. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much and from now on I am never entering a room without a smile on my face.


In today’s podcast we included a discussion relating to domestic violence and other forms of domestic abuse. 

The UK Government’s definition of domestic violence and abuse is: any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse can encompass, but is not limited to psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional.

Please know that you are not alone, and there are organisations who are ready and waiting to speak to you and support you. 

These organisations include:

The UK

Refuge – who run the 24 hour a day National Domestic Abuse Helpline domestic on 0800 2000 247

Victim Support – who aim to find the support for you to escape from an abusive environment. They also have a 24 hour line – 0808 168 9111


The European Commission backed EU wide domestic abuse helpline –  116 016 for domestic abuse advice and support throughout Europe. 


National Domestic Violence Hotline – USA  based organisation, provides information and advice to both adults and youth who are facing domestic violence. Their numbers are: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224 or (206) 518-9361 (Video Phone Only for Deaf Callers)

If you would like to listen to this Love is Not a List Podcast interview, or to find the full, thrilling series, you can do so in the following brilliant places: