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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 February 2007, 13:45 GMT
The Berlusconi guide to marital harmony
By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

Mr Berlusconi and wife Veronica Lario on the campaign trail
Happier times?
Cold looks. Steely silences. Anyone who has been in a relationship will recognise the signs of the post-argument sulk, and know how hard it is to get back on talking terms again. Is it worth following the lead of Mrs Silvio Berlusconi by requesting an apology via the press?

When the flamboyant former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made flirtatious comments to two lovely young things at an awards ceremony last week, his overtures were overheard and splashed across the media.

His long-suffering second wife of 20 years, Veronica Lario, demanded an apology. None was forthcoming, so she wrote an open letter to a national newspaper headlined "My husband owes me a public apology."

She explained that it was with difficulty that she had broken her habitual reserve. "During the course of my relationship with my husband I have not given space to conjugal conflict, even when his behaviour has been such as to merit it."

But now that her children are grown, it's important to set an example as a woman "able to protect her own dignity in relationships with men".

A more bashful husband might have slunk home contrite.

I would love to go to a desert island with you
TV presenter Aida Yespica
I would go with you anywhere
Silvio Berlusconi
But not Mr Berlusconi, who has penned his own letter to the media. "Dear Veronica, here is my apology. I was recalcitrant in private because I am playful and also proud." He adds that when in the company of beautiful women, "the temptation to respond is strong and I did not resist".

So is a grand and very public gesture what is needed to smooth over a martial spat? Paula Hall, a relationship psychotherapist, thinks not. While only the most public of public figures choose to settle disagreements in the media, couples increasingly use blogs or MySpace to issue apologies.

By airing their dirty laundry in public, Mrs Berlusconi has forced her husband (and more) to listen. "To do something like that says that you are very angry. It also says 'I am very, very right'. It's a high-risk strategy," says Ms Hall... and one the more humble among us would never contemplate.

The steely silence that might follow the average "domestic" should prompt the aggrieved party to work out why a partner hasn't apologised, says Ms Hall.

"Perhaps your partner is stubborn, or not hearing what you are saying. Have you been silently sulking in the hopes they will see the error of their ways? The 'guilty party' probably doesn't think they are guilty."

She recommends trying different ways to explain your viewpoint, and if that fails, decide whether you can live without an apology. If not, seek help together or leave.

Latin lover

Mr Berlusconi has long cultivated an image of a virile Latin charmer. He famously vowed to give up sex in the run-up to last year's Italian election (only to lose), and claims his "playboy" charms persuaded Finland's female president to give up attempts to house the EU food agency in Helsinki.

Silvio in a holiday mood
Hello ladies... (he might say)
And he is fond of recounting how he fell for the second Mrs Berlusconi after seeing her perform topless in a play; he showered her with gifts until she became his mistress.

For some time now, the Berlusconis have taken separate holidays and maintain separate residences.

While such an arrangement is by no means the norm, in the UK up to two million couples aged under 60 consider themselves together but live apart, according to the National Office of Statistics.

"This is a growing phenomenon among couples in their 50s," says Ms Hall. "For some, economically they can. Their children are older and it's a way of being independent. For others, their work situation demands it. Or it may be a second relationship and they decide to maintain separate homes."

And what of the sex ban? "You have to wonder how his wife felt about it. Did he mean with her or with everybody?" she says jokingly. "Some people argue that it's the way forward, but I don't see it."

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I really enjoyed the reading of the letter, soft music in background, on BBC Radio 5, it was one of those radio moments that will linger for all of the right reasons. Would like to see the complete translation in print so when I have to make students write letters of apology to staff I could give them a copy.
Barry Kirby, Maidstone

Good for Berlusconi for apologizing. But, shame on the author for using the words, "lovely young things" to describe the women who happened to capture Berlusconi's affection. "Things?" Is this protecting women's dignity?
Sara, Michigan

I found it wonderfully romantic that he admitted he was wrong and apologised in public. Of course, he's an idiot for behaving that way in the first place, but at least he had the guts to openly sorry 'I'm sorry, I'm a idiot, and I love you'. What British man, let alone politician could do the same? (and with such flair!)
Michelle, London

When a woman loves a man, that man can do ANYTHING... it will always be forgiven. Now, when a woman does not care for you, you can try ANYTHING as nice as you can, you are wasting your time.
Oliver, Paris

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Berlusconi and his wife's letters read aloud

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