Sunday 17 November 2019

Dear Mary: My husband's close links to girl is harming our marriage

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

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

Question: My husband and I have been married for 10 years. He has always had female friends and I've never been threatened by them, and have always been friendly with them. One of his female friends is actually a very close friend of mine now. Less than a year ago, my husband started hanging out with a new group of friends, and really hit it off with one girl in particular.

They have a lot of the same interests and the same sense of humour. I didn't think anything of the friendship until he began hanging out with her regularly, sometimes up to three times per week. At one point they were texting daily and seeing movies (in a group setting) together. She is single, he, obviously not.

The most worrying thing to me was when the two of them spent the day at an amusement park, alone. It was supposed to be a group outing and everyone else bailed out. He lied to me about it later, which broke my trust in him.

He has since scaled back on the friendship with this girl, but by no means has he broken it off. I do not think a physical affair is a possibility, but I continue to be reminded of his lie every time he talks about her or sees her. Now she has invited him to her birthday dinner and not invited me. He says I am welcome to come along, but that isn't the point. How can I make him see that his continuing friendship with her is hurting our relationship? I have talked to him until I'm blue in the face, and he is dead set against any type of marital counselling. He has also made it clear that he will not end the friendship. We have three children together.

Mary replies: I read your letter with a mounting sense of indignation that two adults would allow their marriage to get to the stage where it is so threatened. Your husband is remiss in continuing to ignore your pleadings, and you are compounding the problem by not being forceful enough with him. You not being invited to this girl's birthday dinner is the final straw for me, and your husband saying that you are welcome to come along is somehow dismissing this slight to you. You are married to him and she seems to be deliberately ignoring this by not inviting you. Unless, of course, he has said that you would not be interested in joining the party for whatever reason. Could this be the case?

Why do you think that a physical affair is not possible? It is always possible for people to find the time to have sex, and it doesn't have to be at night. The only exception would be if this girl were to be gay, but I feel sure you would have mentioned it if that were the case. I have often observed that there is no such thing as a purely platonic relationship between the sexes, again with the proviso unless one of them is gay. One person may feel that it is purely friendship but it is almost inevitable that the other person harbours some feelings other than strictly friendship about the relationship. They may realise that it can never work because of the circumstances they find themselves in, but that doesn't stop them from having the feelings.

Why was your husband in an amusement park for a day instead of taking one or all of your three children with him? Is he in some sort of denial that he is, in fact, married?

I am all for couples having separate interests, and indeed not always mutual friends, because it is very healthy to spend time apart and have lots to talk about when together. But generally the guys have their guy friends and the girls have their women friends and so the situation your husband has going on is a little unusual. However, there wouldn't be any problem with it - as there wasn't with the girl who is now your friend - were it not for the fact that he seems to have singled out one particular female in the group for special attention.

So what can you do? You have tried to be understanding and pointed out your objections, but that had no effect, so it is time for you to take action and show him that you are very hurt. Firstly, you must go to the birthday party and let her see that you are a couple and that he is most definitely not available. Even if you are not normally demonstrative, I think now is the time to let them both see that you really care about him and stay close to him all night. We don't know what he has told her about your relationship, or whether he has lied by omission and pretended that things aren't great between you. Secondly, you should insist that he cannot have one-to-one time with her. He simply is not available, and you are being very generous in allowing him to have any sort of relationship with her. What's the big attraction for him, I wonder - is it perhaps that he likes the idea of being a part-time singleton? But you really will have to be very emphatic that while you can't stop him being her friend, that is as far as it can go, and even then I feel that you are being a bit too lenient. If he won't agree to this then you should tell him that you are going to speak directly with the girl to let her know how you feel about all this.

I would really like to hear from you again with answers to the questions that I've asked, as I am quite concerned for the state of your marriage and the effect that all this will have on your three children.

I don't want to babysit my grandchildren so much

Question: I was listening to a programme on the radio talking about grandparents look-ing after their grandchildren, and  I realised that I feel very put upon by my son and his wife as they more or less took it for granted that I would be happy to look after their new baby when she went back to work. Not every day, but they assumed that I would be available three days a week. 

I'm a widow and they probably think that I'm glad of the diversion, but actually I'm not. I have a great group of friends and a few of them are also widowed. There are lots of trips organised (because of the free travel) even if it's only to go down the country for lunch, and I feel I'm missing out on all of this. I've started looking after the baby and while I enjoy it to a certain extent, I did all of that with my own four kids years ago and I would be quite happy to just see them at the weekend or to do occasional babysitting. Now that I've started is there any way that I can get out of it without appearing to be totally uncaring? I'm worrying so much about it all now that I'm not sleeping properly and I dread when my son arrives with the baby for another long day of babysitting.

Mary replies: I fully understand your feelings and realise that you don't want to cause any sort of friction between yourself, your son and his wife. You have started to do the babysitting and I'm sure they are deeply appreciative. It is, however, a little more difficult to get out of it now you have begun, and it just shows that it is really not fair for children to assume anything regarding grandparents' availability for childcare.

If you continue to do what you don't want to do you will find the resentment growing and this will not be good for anybody. I suggest that you give them a little warning by saying that you are finding it a bit overwhelming to look after the baby three days a week but that you will continue for, say, another month to give them time to look around for an alternative.

Explain that you are more than willing to babysit in order to give them a occasional night out, but that you are finding it much more of a strain than you thought it was going to be. Then, at the end of the month, reiterate that you are unwilling to continue with the current arrangement.

They will no doubt be very disappointed, but you will have to put yourself first, which is sometimes very difficult to do. You have to do this because if you are not happy within yourself then those around you won't be happy either. It will probably be difficult for you, but once you have told them how you feel there will be a great sense of relief on your part and you can get on with living your life to the full.

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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