Friday 26 May 2017

Dear Mary: I felt terribly lost and abandoned by a husband married to his job

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

A reader's husband put work first. Photo posed
A reader's husband put work first. Photo posed
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

Q: I'm writing this not so much for answers but to put some shape as to where I find myself at 65 and in the hope of getting some perspective from a much-valued columnist.

I've been married for more than 40 years and have grown-up children and many grandchildren. A lot to be thankful for, yes, and yet I feel so alone and lost within my family. I still live with my husband but the marriage has been over for a very long time.

A central issue for me has been my husband's relationship with a colleague over the last 20 years. This relationship wasn't sexual, yet their 'unique bond' has eroded the heart and soul of my marriage.

Work was the vehicle, the facilitator, for them to be together and work late on so, so many nights when all other staff members had gone home. They were a 'dream team' for any employer. They were a confident and capable duo buoyed up by the heady cocktail of success, admiration and much recognition in their field.

I feel sad and ashamed to admit work was at the centre of my husband's life and I wasn't the one sharing the limelight with him. Yes, I realise that work and value are very interconnected especially for men - a good working relationship is very important.

Work and this relationship became like an addiction for my husband. The hours became longer, work extended into every weekend.

If we went on holiday, they had to be in contact daily; the impulse to connect was powerful.

I did, of course, try to talk to my husband and, yes, I was jealous. I still had a sexual relationship with him but that was not enough to keep a marriage when all sense of love, emotional closeness and respect was ebbing away. I cried, I talked, asking him to try to give our marriage the time and value, the nurturing and the space to live and grow. I felt for so long I was going with a begging bowl to be seen and be visible as a valued wife. Yes, we did go for marriage counselling but we couldn't bridge the chasm. I spoke to my adult children about how I felt.

Before my husband retired he was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and he is now seriously debilitated with a second illness. We recently celebrated his 70th birthday at home, just family.

I was glad to honour the father of my children but was painfully aware my marriage as such was over. I have made the choice to stay with my husband - maybe I hadn't the courage to leave my home. Now I am more of a carer for him.

Physically and emotionally he's not a shadow of the man I fell in love with.

I feel very sad as I write this. Yet I'm trying to be realistic and know life has many and varied chapters. It is a huge challenge to live through this one. In lots of ways I feel a failure, unlovable, rejected.

I have a garden that I love and good friends. I have my own health issues and I know my body displays symptoms of pain I can hardly name.

I have learned to try to live for today, cook good food and be patient with myself and my husband. I have lost the sense of the God of love or any God.

Mary replies: You were sad writing this and I was sad reading it. People have often spoken about how difficult it is to become a carer for a loved one and how different it is to a previous happy functioning relationship.

In your case, however, when you look back you don't see a relationship where you felt fulfilled but instead see one where, like Princess Diana, there were three of you in the marriage. So even though you have children and grandchildren whom you love and good friends there is a huge chunk of your life with your husband when you were unhappy.

Please try to re-frame how you feel because you didn't do anything wrong - it was your husband who chose to put work, and her, above you.

But that doesn't make you a failure - he was the one who failed at being a good enough husband.

So congratulate yourself on all your successes - you are going to have a difficult enough time in the coming months and possibly years without heaping undeserved criticism on yourself.

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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