Wednesday 22 November 2017

Dear Mary: 'My girlfriend regularly brings home other men and I'm pretty sure our youngest isn't mine'

Illustration by Tom Halliday
Illustration by Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

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

Question: I write to you bright and early on a Sunday morning, looking at an absolutely lovable, sweet, charming and forever smiling face of a  toddler whom I adore, despite the fact that my partner and I agree is most likely not mine. We have an older child who is most definitely mine. The younger child was as a result of a one-night fling with a man in his 40s, but I treat him as my own. She used to meet  this man as a drinking buddy, every fortnight or so, which I knew all about, as I always accommodated her by leaving the house and usually getting a DVD with the child as we stayed overnight at my parent's house.

My fingers are etched with tension and my mind discombobulated by what transpired last night. My girlfriend goes out now and again and last night she was out and I minded the kids. She came back with her friend and another bloke, and the friend departed not long after. I woke up and heard it all. They kissed three times on the couch, with intervening moans of guilt and such like from my partner. He asked several times about dates, no one had to know etc. but having insisted he get a taxi and a guilt-induced assertion that her boyfriend was upstairs, he left.

My girlfriend has pathological twin traits of being brutally honest, yet also having a tendency to be selfish. At one stage, she went on a rant about how our relationship has gone stale, saying that she is the only one who admits it. When I tried to say this was not the case, she claimed that I was lying and unhappy. She asked if she could sleep with someone else just once, as she was getting tired of being with the same person.

We have been going out with each other for over a decade, we should be married and practically are, but we can't afford it. Neither of us works. I spent five years at college and did a post-grad, but to no avail. Despite the fact that I still apply regularly for jobs, I never even got one interview. My father only once made a genuine effort to get me a job, as he has contacts, but it didn't work out. I don't talk to my siblings at all, so I sometimes feel like the spare part in the family. But I have my own family anyway, so it doesn't bother me. I am not a complete pushover, but with some people you cannot win an argument, and my girlfriend is one of those types. She kept the one night thing secret for a bit, and then she claimed throughout the pregnancy that she had been taken advantage of.

I can't claim complete innocence, as three years ago, she caught me looking at porn when she was out on her night out. I can't simply put it down to boredom as an excuse, because to her it felt like cheating, which it is really. I felt awful and apologised. Now I only watch porn with her, while having intercourse, if she wants to, something we do every now and then and we both enjoy.

There was a third time when I actually caught her in the act, downstairs after a night out again, snogging another bloke, drunkenly telling me to ' .... off'. She didn't act the smallest bit guilty the next day, claiming that she was only getting her own back on the man who fathered the little one. She said she would love to marry me, and everything was going fine again until last night. She eventually came to bed and accused me of being with another woman and as always I had an overwhelming sense of indignation with this, as I have only been staying in and minding the kids, watching a movie with my eldest, like I have always done and I have never even once chatted up another woman.

We go on holidays soon but I'm not going to bring it up with her as I don't want to wreck the mood for the kids, and anyway nothing constructive will come out of it, as the conversation always follows the same path. I actually think I even forgive her again as my subconscious admonishes me in utter disbelief.

To sum up, it seems to me that she wants something else, or someone else. I have tried several times to talk about it, but the conversation always leads down the same path. I agree to a break and I leave but half an hour later I get a call asking me to get her some cigarettes on the way home. This is followed by passionate sex and all is well again. She recently asked me if I'd like to have a threesome with another man. I said I am open to whatever ... the mind boggles. I love her to bits and she is my lifelong best friend. But I am discombobulated.

Mary replies: I'm beginning to share your feelings of being discombobulated as I tried to make sense of your email which you wrote from your heart but in great confusion. I have shortened it quite considerably but I hope that I have kept all the salient points.

Your girlfriend has brought home men with the intention of 'snogging' them while you are upstairs in bed, having babysat for her two children only one of whom is yours. You don't seem ever to stand up for yourself and so she keeps pushing the limits to see just how much she can get away with. I admire the fact that you have taken on the second child and are raising him as your own, but what next? I appreciate that she feels the relationship may have gone stale, and she is interested in trying new experiences, but this should not be resulting in you feeling distressed. You have been incredibly upset by witnessing her kissing another man. Just think for a moment how you would feel if you were to witness, albeit 'willingly', her having sex with somebody else. This is not something that you should enter into without giving it a great amount of thought, and given the delicate state of your relationship, I would not advise it.

I don't think that watching porn on your own while she is on a night out can equate with her having a fling with her drinking partner, so you shouldn't be feeling so guilty. Somehow, the guilt that she should be feeling has all been transferred to you, which is not right.

You will have to be a great deal stronger with your partner. It is incredibly disrespectful of her to bring complete strangers back to the home that you share with the children and have some form of physical contact. She certainly would not tolerate it from you, so why do you accept this sort of behaviour from her? Naturally, she needs nights out - as should you - but it should be to nurture her friendship with her girlfriend rather than to meet a new man. You are actually colluding with her behaviour by not tackling the subject, no matter how much you feel that she wins every argument.

There is some form of dramatic game going on between the two of you, one that is fairly removed from reality and it has to change. So now that you are back from holidays you should start by agreeing on some basic codes of behaviour between the two of you, and insist that they are kept. This will be a good example to the two small children that you are raising together.

Do I have to report sexual abuse?

Question: A neighbour's son recently confided that he had been sexually abused by his father as a ten-year-old. This young man is now in his twenties and is very troubled.           He is aware that he needs to deal with this problem as it is causing him to have suicidal thoughts and to self-harm. I understand that as an adult he needs to deal with this situation himself; however,  I know it is going to be extremely difficult for him because of the implications for his family and may well be brushed under the carpet.

The problem is that having knowledge of this abuse places me in an impossible position. The abuser is a person who has in the past forged close connections with young people. Currently he serves on the parents' council of the second- ary school and his work brings him in close contact with vulnerable young people.

Do I have an obligation to report this abuse or should I stay out of it?

Mary replies: I  usually answer letters strictly in the order that I receive them, but this is such a serious issue that I moved it up to the top of the list. Here we have a deeply troubled young man who has had to live with the ultimate betrayal by his father up until now. Thankfully, he has confided in you; and while this is a big responsibility for you, I urge you to act quickly before it is too late. It is my belief that many of the all too frequent young male suicides have at their core some sort of sexual problem - real or imagined - and we certainly don't want this young adult to become another statistic.

There are many unknowns in this scenario. Is the young man still living at home? Has he siblings who are younger? How big a danger is there of his father being on his own with young children, given that parents' councils often have rules whereby no adult can be on their own with young children? Your young neighbour needs to feel safe before he discloses further, and if he is still at home then this will not be the case. However, he has felt safe enough to disclose this to you, and you have established a dialogue. In your next conversation with him you should urge him to seek professional help from his GP, who can refer him on to whatever service he decides best suits his needs, such as the Mental Health Services. The Rape Crisis Centre also provides counselling for victims of sexual abuse and their helpline number is 1800 778888.

As a member of the public you do not have a legal obligation to report the abuse, but morally it would be difficult for you to do nothing, as we all have a duty of care to one another. You should visit the Child and Family Agency TUSLA's website and under the Duty Social Work Team contact whatever area is closest to where you live. There you can speak with somebody who can advise you on what to do next. The young man may also wish to contact them and be guided along the way by people who are very used to dealing with such complex situations.

Please act now. If nobody does anything then this young man will continue to suffer, and if what you suspect is true then other young children will also be at risk. You will ultimately be very glad that 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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