Sunday 19 November 2017

Dear Mary: The dreams in my second marriage are turning into a nightmare

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: I would appreciate your advice on the situation I now find myself in. I should be living the dream, but find myself  living in a nightmare. Last year, I got married for  the second time. My first husband died over 10 years ago and I had met a loving, caring man who was also a widower who was eager that we get married. He  told me that he wanted the same as me - travel and to enjoy our families. We had planned to sell both our houses and buy a house that would be ours, and not our children's. 

Our children are all in their late 20s and early 30s. We both work full time and I have a student loan against my house. We look great on paper, but in reality, financially we are a disaster. My children are quite independent but his are the complete opposite. I reckon he felt guilty that his wife died and he lived, as he is constantly paying for everything for them. At the moment, his three children and one grandchild are living in his house and don't pay rent. Meanwhile we have taken on two of his children's car loans as they got in to trouble with repayments.

All this happened so fast, just a few months after we wed, that I said it was OK to help them out. I didn't realise just how much was owed at the time. These loans will go on for another four years, meanwhile we only barely make it through the month and struggle to pay our own bills. His kids do work but are in low-paid jobs.

I just can't believe this has happened to me; I feel so down, depressed, cheated and lied to. Where are all the promises of the good life we should be having?

Three weeks ago, I had a complete meltdown and he couldn't understand what was wrong with me. He promises me that things will get better.

I suppose I knew in my gut he wouldn't let go of his family, but he promised me our lives would be about us. I now find myself feeling differently about him, and am not sure how I feel about us. We have no plans now to do anything and we just seem to exist. Have you any suggestions?

Mary replies: You met a loving, caring man and this is what he is proving to be - a loving, caring father trying to do the best for his children although they are, in fact, adults. The problem is that there isn't enough money to go around and the life that you thought you were going to have with him isn't turning out that way. So you don't feel loved and cared for, as he had promised.

How would it be if it were the other way around and if it were your children who needed financial assistance? The chances are that you would be trying to do everything in your power to help them - because that is what we do with our children, we help them as best we can and in today's world that often means helping out adult children as well as the teenagers.

It's not possible to sell his house, as his children and grandchild live in it, and presumably you are living in your house and this is where things stand for the foreseeable future, and you are also paying off the motor loans. You probably didn't have a pre-nuptial agreement or you would have mentioned it, but when there are blended families such as yours, with all the ramifications, it seems to me that no matter how pre-meditated they seem to be, pre-nuptial agreements are a good thing. Ask yourself, if you had one, what would you have stipulated? This will give you some idea of what you would be happy with in terms of your involvement in his children's lives, and his in your children's.

You should also remember that things can change in an instant regarding your own children - they may lose a job, have ill-health etc. and you may be called on to help them. It would be good for you to sit down together and get everything on paper so that you have a very full sense of how things will be financially over the next four years. Part of your frustration lies in the fact that you don't know what the future holds. I presume that you have a separate bank account; if not, for your own peace of mind you should have one.

There is a very real danger that you will lose sight of what attracted you to your new husband in the first place, and that would be a shame. He is probably torn between his love for his children, and wanting to do right by them, and his love for you and wanting to keep you happy. He is still the same person that you met and married, but things have taken a different route than the one you both previously envisaged. It would be great if you could decide together what to do with the problems you are encountering right now, almost all of which seem to be money-based. Try to envision the problem as being on the table with both of you sitting on the same side, rather than both on either side of the table, squaring up to do battle.

A very good place to start is the Money Advice and Budgeting Service and its helpline is 0761 07 2000.

I live abroad but Mum is smothering me

Question: My mother is smothering me.  It probably sounds really ungrateful, especially as I'm an only child, but I feel as if I'm still living at home. I'm happily married and living abroad and am successful in my career.  But my mother is on the phone a few times every day checking that everything is OK and making suggestions about how I should run my life.

She also wants to be Facebook friends but I keep putting her off because I can't bear her knowing any more about me than she knows already. My non-Irish husband cannot understand why she is so clingy. He hears from his mother only every few weeks but he knows that both his parents are there for him if he needs them.

My mother has got a lot worse - although I didn't think it was possible - since I became pregnant and she keeps telling me what I should and should not be doing.

She is planning to come over and spend three months with us after the baby is born, and I really don't think I can stand it.How do I get her to see things my way without causing a row? I know that she is very well-meaning but she is driving me nuts. My dad is really quiet and says nothing to stir things up, so I can't get him on my side. Help!

Mary replies: It can be hard being an only child. Almost all the only children that I know wish that they had siblings with whom to share their lives and find it particularly difficult to be the one solely responsible for parents as they age.

I can see just how special you must be to your parents and I'm sure it was very difficult for them when you left Ireland. They must also be particularly excited at the prospect of a first grandchild and are probably wishing that you were closer to them physically. But that is not what you want to hear - you want help in letting her know that you are feeling stifled by your mother, even though she is far away.

The 'Irish Mammy' is often the subject of many jokes, in the same way as the Jewish mother is in the US. But no matter how well intentioned your mother is, I realise that it is all too much for you, especially now that you are pregnant, and hormonal changes will cause you to have heightened emotions.

Your mother isn't going to change at this stage, so what will have to change is how you are dealing with what you perceive as her interference in your life. She won't see it like this - she probably feels that she is just keeping in touch. So if her phone calls are too frequent then put your phone on answering mode and call her back the next day rather than immediately, or if your husband is around get him to tell her you are resting and will call her back. There is not much else that you can do about the phone calls.

I agree that three months is a very long time to have anybody visiting, no matter who they are. You will, however, be extremely glad of an extra pair of hands when your baby arrives, so try not to worry too much in advance. Everything changes when a baby comes into your life, when even a trip to the shops has to be planned, so you and your husband may well be very glad of the opportunity to get out for a meal or even just a coffee on your own while your mother babysits.

I know that I would give anything to have even one more day with my late mother. So treasure your mum no matter what her shortcomings are - you'll be glad that you did. Good luck with the baby, and enjoy becoming a mother yourself.

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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