Wednesday 25 April 2018

Dear Mary: I've found out about my wife's holiday affair before we wed

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

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

Question: I would be grateful for your opinion and advice on the following issue. Before we were married, my wife and I went out together for a number of years. She was the only girl in the family, and her parents depended on her a lot.  They were also quite strict and old-fashioned in their ways, so nights away or weekends away were out of the question.  We both accepted the situation - I did because I understood the awkward position my girlfriend was in, and I really loved her.

We got married and time passed. Our wedding anniversary was coming up so while discussing how we would celebrate it I suggested we take a trip to the small village in Europe where my wife and her friend had gone on holidays before we were married - a place that she said she had loved. I was totally taken aback by her negative response as she was adamant that no way was she going there. So we celebrated our anniversary elsewhere. I subsequently discovered the reason for her negative reaction to the suggestion that we return to that village. While she was on holiday with her friend she had an affair with a local individual. When I found this out I couldn't believe it, and when I confirmed it, I was gutted. My wife is not aware that I know this yet, so could you please offer some advice, as this is really having an adverse effect on me.

Mary replies: You write that your wife doesn't know that you know about her supposed affair 'yet' - which sounds like you are going to confront her. If so, you have to think about this very carefully. I don't know how you got the information, but strongly suspect that it was her friend who spilled the beans as she was the only one with her on the holiday. If this is the case, then I wonder what the friend hoped to achieve by telling you. Certainly nothing good could come from it, and there was the possibility that your marriage would be seriously affected, which indeed it has been.

Your now wife, then girlfriend, had a holiday romance. She lived with fairly demanding parents and must have been very happy to get away. Some people's ideas of an affair are different to others. She may have gone on a few dates and exchanged kisses, or she may have actually had sex with whoever the person was. But can you be sure that it ever happened?

The only one who really knows what went on is your wife, and no doubt she gave some thought as to whether to tell you or not. You don't say if you were engaged to be married at the time, but in any event she decided not to tell you.

This may have been quite difficult for her, even though you might find this hard to believe, because with confession comes a certain amount of relief of guilt. I have seen cases where the person who had an affair confessed to the partner and immediately felt much better, whereas the partner was then devastated by the knowledge that he or she had been unfaithful. In a way, it is similar to a Catholic confessing their sins and feeling a great sense of relief afterwards.

On the other hand, she may have felt the need to go a little wild - particularly as she had to behave perfectly at home - before settling down and didn't feel at all guilty about it.

Your wife chose not to tell you, but she also chose you to be the one she would marry and perhaps one day have a family with. That should be the most important fact in your relationship. As you know, our lives are filled with choices - sometimes we make bad choices, sometimes very good ones. You are now faced with a difficult choice - whether to confront her with the knowledge that somebody told you that she had an affair, or whether to keep it to yourself, forget all about it and live every day with her to the full.

You have the final decision on which pathway you go down, but be mindful that once you have accused her, there will be no going back, so think things through very carefully if you do decide to confront her. You may get some information that you don't like, and then what will you do? Or she may deny everything and you will be left with even more questions, plus a feeling of mistrust between you.

The decision is yours, so tread carefully.

I finally broke free of his reign of terror

In our first year of our marriage, he started his reign of terror through violence, and he bullied and controlled me until he knew he had complete control of me. He drank every night, but I was unaware of the extent as this was done mostly in the shed or hidden in some way from me.

He was extremely violent in his drink and I had a great fear of him. He was extremely possessive of me and would follow me when I used to walk to the shops. Occasionally, I visited my friend and he would come to the friend's house and order me home in the most vulgar language.

I knew my marriage was over after two years, but I couldn't leave as I had no place to go. As the years went on, it got worse. By then, we had children. He still was abusive and never paid any attention to the children. I was so unhappy and trying to survive was hard. I once said to him that I would leave, but he threatened me and told me in choice language that I would never leave him.

I told his sisters about his behaviour and abuse but they said he wasn't like that and it had to be my fault. Emotionally I couldn't take any more, and in my sixties I upped and left. I put a few items in a black bag and got my own place and walked free from that domestic violence. I had to show him that I was not dependant on him, and he wasn't in control any more. His pride was wounded that his wife walked out on him and people would be aware of this.

He hasn't changed at all, he is still drinking every day and is as vulgar and arrogant as always. He has spent a fortune on drink and cigarettes. I just wanted to tell the lady that wrote to you to have self-esteem and confidence in herself and to get away from that inhuman individual she is caught up with.

Mary replies: This was just one of a number of letters that I got in response to the original letter, and I thought it worthwhile printing it, as it shows that for you at least, there was a way out. Presumably by the time you left, your children had been reared and you had the funds to go. Others are not so lucky and feel that they have no option but to remain in a deeply unhappy marriage. But nobody should have to endure domestic violence - it is, after all, a crime - and anybody suffering such abuse should seek help of some sort.

Women's Aid offers free confidential support and information to women who are experiencing any sort of abuse, whether it is mental, emotional, sexual or physical. Its helpline workers are on 1800 341 900 from 10am to 10pm every day of the week and it is a free and confidential service. I think it is a wonderful place for women to start to seek help, in order to explore what options are available and to share the burden with somebody else while at the same time feeling safe

Thank you for sharing your story with us all and I applaud your courage in doing what you did.

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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