Monday 26 September 2016

Dear Mary: I love my husband but the affair he won't end is breaking my heart

Mary O'Conor

Published 27/07/2015 | 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: My husband  of 30 plus years has been having an affair for a number of years. I found out a couple of years ago, and he said he'd stop seeing her. Then I found out he was still seeing her.

Mary, it breaks my heart because I still love him and he says he cares for me but doesn't love me. I don't want to be without him but it kills me when he goes off to meet her or spend the night with her. He knows how much it upsets me, but he's not prepared to stop.

Our family is grown up and they don't know any of this. I'm finding it harder each time he goes to her, and if our children knew they would stop talking to him, and I don't want that as they are his life. What do I do Mary? I just don't know anymore.

Mary replies: What an awful position for you to be in at a time when you are supposed to be enjoying life, having reared your children. Let's look at the reality of the situation. Your husband is aware that you know about his affair, so he doesn't have to hide anything, and you are protecting him by not telling his adult children what is going on. So your husband is happy, his mistress is presumably happy, your children are happy because they are blissfully ignorant and the only one who is desperately unhappy is you.

As always, you have a number of choices as to what you can do. You can do nothing, which is what you have been doing, and nothing changes. Telling your husband that you are unhappy has produced no change, so what if you were to tell him that you are going to take your children into your confidence and let them know about his mistress? Do you think that would make any difference to his behaviour? You know him and how he is likely to react to that threat. You also know yourself and whether or not you would be prepared to carry it out.

You probably know who his mistress is. Would you be prepared to meet her and give her your side of the story? It is very likely that he has painted you in a bad light and told her quite a different story about your marriage to the one that you know. A woman once told me that she was quite happy having an affair - she herself was separated - with her then lover, but when through a set of unusual circumstances she met her lover's wife, and discovered what a really nice person she was, she simply couldn't continue with the affair. This approach is worth thinking about, but again only you know if you would be willing to confront her.

You say you don't want to be without him, but in truth you are almost without him now. He has the best of both worlds - a wife at home who takes care of his day-to-day living and another woman who looks after him sexually and never has to do any of the household stuff for him.

Be aware as well that it is your joint money that he is using when he is with her - whether it is meals, wine, hotels or gifts. An American friend of mine discovered that her husband was having a long-term affair with his secretary, and as part of the divorce proceedings my friend got a really good lawyer who went through their accounts for the years while he had been having the affair and claimed half of everything her husband had spent on the secretary. She was devastated by it all, but at least had the satisfaction of getting paid back for everything he had spent on his mistress. Thinking about the money situation may spur you into action.

Some people would say that you should take a lover yourself, but that really wouldn't solve anything and would only serve to widen the gulf that already exists between you. How would he feel if you were to leave him and as a result tell your children the real reason?

It seems to me that you are once again going to have a conversation with him about how things are between you as you are suffering more, the longer this all goes on - to say nothing of the damage he has done to your relationship. It's a bit too facile to say that he cares for you but he doesn't love you. It is only natural that after more than 30 years you are not madly in love with each other like it was at the beginning. But that exciting love should be replaced by a more steadfast and caring love as the years go by and there should be no place for knowingly hurting a partner the way he has been hurting you.

As you want to stay in the marriage, you have to be prepared to fight for it, not just give in to what he is doing. Counselling would seem to be a good way forward, with the proviso that both of you would need to be agreeable to counselling for it to work. But the first step has to be his ending the relationship with his lover, and if he is not prepared to do that then you will seriously have to consider involving your children or ultimately leaving the marriage. This is too much for you to bear all on your own.

We're miles apart but my mum lights up my life

Question: It was with great interest I read the only child's letter about her mum clinging and being in touch too often for the author's liking. I'm not an only child, but an eldest  one,  and I live many thousands of miles from home.

For me, my morning call to my mum on the commute in is a good way to start my day, regardless of the news of the day. It keeps me feeling connected to her in a way we both appreciate. I guess the difference is she's not clinging, but rather wants to ensure she's not making too many demands on my time - which she's not, and even if she were, she's my mum - she did so much for us growing up, a little bit of time on the road to work is nothing, but it means a lot.

This year, my husband and I are expecting our third child, and for the first time my mum is able to come for an extended (two -month) visit which both my husband and I are delighted about, as it will start at the end of my maternity leave, giving us both an easier transition to managing with three children.

I'm at a point where I know I only have so many more visits with her, and want to soak in as much of her as possible and give my children the time to get to know the great woman their nana is. Your advice to the letter-writer was lovely. I really enjoy reading your sound advice all the way over, here regardless of the topic, but this one touched my heart. Thanks for the work you do.

Mary replies: Once in a while I get a letter such as yours, and it warms my heart. You make so many lovely points regarding your mother and what she means to you which is why I decided to print it. I hope my original letter-writer reads it so that she can see things from another perspective. They say children can be a pain in the neck when they are not being a lump in the throat. You will have certainly given your mother a lump in her throat if she reads this!

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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