Farm Ireland

Sunday 16 December 2018

'My brother is objecting to my farm plans and my husband treats me like dirt'

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

I would love if you could advise me how to deal with difficult people in my life. In my situation, I should be comfortable, I should have options, but I feel trapped. I am a very hard-working woman in my early 40s, with lovely young children and a husband.

I was a good daughter, I cared for both my parents (now deceased), farmed the farm and did my school work. When my mother died, I was lucky enough to inherit a farm from a relative. My brother got the home farm. My brother sold quota, stock, machines, etc which was none of my business.

He travelled and lived a full life while he worked and rented the farm. I wish, and wished him, every luck and success. I built up my farm, bought cows, quota, did a lot of building, got married and started my family. I worked every hour that I could.

Out of the blue, on my last building project, I was discussing the plans with my brother to get his opinion. He had very little to say. Months later, I had planning permission displayed and he objected.

There was no talking to him. Of course I got the planning and he appealed it. I still got it. I talked to him about my ideas and then he was not man enough to tell me his issues, but instead wrote to An Bord Pleanala. My hurt was unbelievable; I still cry two years later.

I cannot believe that my own brother was so nasty. I feel my parents would have been ashamed and yet I was powerless to prevent the hurt.

My husband – where do I start? I believe he was spoiled. While he is nice, he always does his own thing and for all his own benefit. He was a good son to his mother, but she never asked anything of him, she was totally giving. I get very little money from him.

I pay for all the children's stuff and the mortgage while he puts everything into his business – all his time, emotions, energy and thoughts.

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He never once changed a nappy or milked the cows. He would not dirty his hands. Now cows are not for everyone, and you could question my logic, but he could meet me somewhere in the middle.

I have an au pair for help and, if it wasn't for that, I would have no life at all. What attracted us I suppose was our love of agricultural work and devotion to our businesses. But what a division: there is no overlap, he is independent, driven and a hard businessman; I deal with animals and all their associated problems. This is working with nature; it's not all about the money.

My husband is best friends with my brother. While my husband was shocked when I told him about the objection, and very disappointed in his behaviour, my brother wormed his way back into my husband's affections while avoiding me.

Please write and advise me how to deal with these people. If I cannot believe in my husband or brother, where do I go? I work seven days a week. I have housework and my children's homework to help with and do not have as much time for friends as I should.

All my friends cannot believe what was done to me. I feel hurt and betrayed. My brother blocks me and keeps me totally at a distance, while my husband goes wherever he wants to and is worshipped. I am quiet and always busy but I always have an open door. I am a very straight person who loves and sees good in most people and I hate being distanced. I do not deserve it. Also, my husband does exactly what he likes and has done so all his life. I feel it would take a war to change him.

I suppose I should cut my losses but how do I leave when I am paying for a house on his farm? I always pay half of everything. I do not have a lot of disposable money and the farm had to be developed. Also, we bought land, everything is tied. My accounts, bank, everything. They all take me for granted and treat me like dirt.

Writing this letter has helped me.

Mary replies: I'm glad that putting everything down on paper has helped relieve some of your frustrations – writing is a wonderfully therapeutic thing to do. You should continue to do this – keep a journal and when you feel overwhelmed writing down your thoughts will help enormously. You feel let down by two important people in your life. Let's first look at the relationship between yourself and your husband. I have read your letter many times and am left with the feeling that what you have is more or less a business arrangement with him.

I don't get any sense of you being a couple and certainly no loving comments about him. The closest you come is to describe him as "nice". So how do you really feel about him and do you have any idea what he feels about you? In your extremely busy lives do you set aside time for the two of you alone together? I find it hard to believe that either of you agreed to marry simply because you shared an interest in agriculture and business. You have children together so there must have been a physical attraction there at some point, and you have to ask yourself what happened to that.

If your husband grew up getting his own way and being spoiled, and then married somebody who didn't stand up for herself, then he would see no reason to change.

I agree that it would be difficult to bring about change, but he needs to hear from you that you are desperately unhappy and have even thought about leaving. Think what would make a difference to your happiness – for instance, sharing helping the children with their homework, or occasionally doing a few chores for you – and explain to him that this would help greatly in your sense of self worth. You should also tell him that you felt terribly let down when he seemed to side with your brother against you.

Your brother was certainly very underhand in his objections to your planning appeal. Could there be an element of jealousy in his behaviour? He is now playing games with your vulnerability by avoiding you and being distant, while all the time being good friends with your husband. Two years later and you are still feeling hurt, so it is time to do something about it and, once again, you will have to stand up for yourself – nobody else will.

If you want to be friends with your brother then you will have to arrange to meet him and talk the whole episode through. Explain that you were very hurt by his objections and going behind your back, and ask why he did it. Tell him you don't understand why he couldn't have spoken to you directly. You will have to be the one who controls the conversation as otherwise he will bully you once again.

This may prove difficult for you, as you are not used to being the forceful one, so rehearse in your mind what you are going to say and what your responses will be to different scenarios. If he says he doesn't want to discuss it then you must insist that you do. Tell him that you are very hurt by his distancing himself from you and that you would like to go back to the way things were.

He can either accept or refuse. And then close that chapter in your life, and get on with living. After all you have achieved with the farm and your children, you deserve more respect from your husband and your brother – and you have certainly earned it.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at 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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