Monday 26 September 2016

Dear Mary: He said he didn't love me but now he needs my constant care

Mary O'Connor

Published 14/09/2015 | 02:30

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Relationship counsellor and psychosexual therapist Mary O'Conor offers relationship advice in her weekly column.

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Question: Maybe you can advise me on how to keep going in the situation I find myself in.  Forty years ago, I married my husband, who loved me deeply.  I couldn't believe my luck, as I had a loveless childhood in foster care. I did everything I could to show him my great love for him also.  We had the same financial problems as all newly-weds but we rarely argued and we enjoyed our children and our achievements. I was so happy.

About 10 years into our marriage, he had a bout of depression and every two years or so it came back for a period of five or six weeks. He would go on medication, take some time off work and recover.

I began to notice a change in our relationship. I seemed to get on his nerves. He became very critical of everything I did, and was very moody in the house. The house revolved around keeping him happy, and we all walked on eggshells. I felt constant anger in him, and at times he looked at me with hate in his eyes. He became very demanding in the bedroom and used me to masturbate on. I felt degraded but didn't complain.

Eventually, he blew up one day and, totally unprovoked, told me he was leaving as I was responsible for all his problems and he hadn't loved me for years. The following day, he had a brain haemorrhage and was critically ill. He made a good recovery and came home after two weeks, requiring a lot of care.

He is frail now, and will always need care which I am prepared to give him. He apologised for the things he said but they are seared into my brain and all I can think about is all I put up with over the years because I thought he loved me. Our 40th anniversary is coming up soon and our children want us to have a celebration. I can't bear the idea of it, as I know there is nothing to celebrate. My husband is all for it. He is very nice to me and is easy to care for, but I feel so sad when I look at him and I don't feel any love for him either. Please advise me because I can't see how I can keep going. I have good friends and a lovely family but my head won't rest.

Mary replies: I realise that among the marriage vows are the words 'in sickness and in health' but you have been very unfortunate in the amount of sickness that you have had to deal with, ending up with being your husband's carer. Those who live with people suffering from depression very often suffer as much as the patient. They never know when the depression is going to hit, particularly if no medication is being taken, and the changes in mood leading to irritability and more aggressive behaviour than usual can be very difficult to bear.

I can understand why being loved meant so much to you, given your lack of love as a child. Your background also explains why you reacted so strongly to being told that the person you most loved in the world didn't love you back. You must have felt devastated and abandoned and transported right back to your childhood. The feeling would have been one that you were very familiar with, and would have led to a renewal of old hurts. I can't help but feel that his outburst in telling you he hadn't loved you for years may have been in some part influenced by what was going on in your husband's brain, culminating in the haemorrhage.

It's very sad that you suffered in the bedroom, instead of having the good experiences that you probably had earlier in your life together. Nobody should do anything that makes them uncomfortable during the sexual act, and a partner has to accept this. You would benefit from talking this through with a qualified counsellor, as it would help you to leave it behind and move on.

You have been left with a lot of negativity, and are perhaps not able to see beyond the illness and subsequent brain haemorrhage. It would help if you could focus on the positives in your marriage - the wonderful feeling of being loved so much that he wanted to marry you, the children you have together and take such pride in their achievements, the good times you no doubt had over the years but particularly when he wasn't suffering with depression.

You may well still have a deep love for your husband but are afraid to trust yourself, and him, in case you get hurt for a third time. There is much to celebrate, despite your assertion that there is nothing. He has survived the sudden illness, you are still together and he has been trying to make it up to you as best he can. It can't be easy being cared for when one is used to being the carer. I'm not in any way excusing his behaviour but I am trying to find reasons for it. Your children no doubt love you very much, and would get great satisfaction in repaying your years of looking after them by giving you a party. So for everybody's sake, but especially your own, say yes to the party and enjoy every minute of it. After all, somebody else will be doing all the work for a change and you can sit back and feel the love.

I'm bullied at work. Should I give up my job?

Question: I'm a very happily married woman in my 50s with a wonderful husband and a family of three who are all working in good jobs. I'm so proud of them all. I was working for my last employer for many years in administration, until it went into receivership.   I am now working in a factory. God, I hate it.  I am bullied on a daily basis but when I spoke to my supervisor he did not want to know about it.   I'm a quiet person - I like to do my work and keep to myself. A second person has now started to bully me as well,  and all the other workers love it.

You will probably tell me to go to Human Resources, but I've already done that. It's so sad that nobody seems to care and I'm made out to be a total bitch. Girls I thought were my friends have all turned out to be mean to me. I just feel so sad and totally wrecked.

My husband says that I should give up work, but why should I? I spent every penny we earned on educating our children and this is my money now that I'm working for. I don't have a lot of education but I always have good manners and am honest and hard-working.

Do you think it's my fault? Maybe I'm so boring that they pick on me. Should I give up and go sick until I get something else?

Mary replies: The subject of bullying in the workplace comes up in my mailbag often enough to be worrying. It is so wrong that you should be subjected to this sort of treatment. So much of the day is spent at work that it is imperative that people enjoy their work, not come to dread going to work every day - which is what you describe.

You have done all the right things - you went to your supervisor and then Human Resources. I feel it would be wrong to take sick leave until you get a new job - because this means that the bullies have won and then somebody else may be subjected to the same treatment as you have been getting.

Employers have a duty to ensure the health and safety of their employees under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005. Under Section 8 of that Act, your employer is required to 'prevent any improper conduct or behaviour likely to put the safety, health and welfare of employees at risk'. Your employer therefore must take reasonable steps to prevent bullying in the workplace. There should be an anti-bullying policy and established procedures for dealing with complaints of bullying in the workplace. Indeed, the Labour Relations Commission has published a Code of Practice detailing Procedures for Addressing Bullying in the Workplace.

As you sent me a letter rather than an email, perhaps you do not use the internet, but you can get a lot of information as to what is your best plan of action at your local Citizens Information Centre, and you can get further details by telephoning 0761-07-4000. For instance, if you leave your employment because of persistent bullying you may be entitled to some compensation.

I think it is so important that bullies don't get away with their cowardly acts, so I urge you to take the matter up again with your employers. Try going further up the ladder in management, as you don't seem to have had any success with your supervisor or HR. When you have everything sorted out to your satisfaction then that is the time to consider leaving your current workplace, as opposed to leaving because of the bullying. That way, you are the winner.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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