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Dear Mary: How can I help my sister whose cheating husband has no regret?

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My sister found out one month ago that her husband of 20 years has been cheating on her for over a year. They have three beautiful kids together, a big mortgage and all the other bills that go with that. He does not want to reconcile and is still with this woman. He has no remorse and is still living in the house but he now sleeps in the spare room

What would be the best advice I could give her? She told me he is spending a considerable chunk of their money on wining and dining the other woman. They are by no means wealthy, they struggle to pay the bills as it is.

Both are working full-time; he is the much higher earner. She returned to work two years ago after being at home for seven years raising their kids.

I feel things are only going to get worse and I would like to offer good sound advice to my sister to protect her as much as possible.

Any advice would be really appreciated.

Mary replies: You are obviously a very caring sister having taken the trouble to write to me for advice. Your sister must have been devastated when she heard about her husband's infidelity. What will be making it even harder for her is the knowledge that he has no intention of leaving the other woman and continues to see her while still married.

The most important thing for you to do is to continue to give her the support that you have been giving her. She needs someone to lean on right now and you are that person.

She is more than likely still in shock as she tries to come to terms with this huge change in her life. But she must also keep it together for her three children while worrying about their future.

You will have found already that she keeps on going back over what happened, in the same way that somebody who is bereaved very suddenly keeps repeating the story as to how their loved one died. But this is absolutely essential for your sister and you are doing more good than you will ever know simply by being there and listening.

Your sister deserves to know what exactly her husband's plans are. Does he intend leaving her for the other woman, or perhaps the other woman is also married, thus making it even more difficult. In any case, she needs to know what he intends to do in the long-term.

She cannot allow things to continue as they are because she is simply enabling his behaviour by putting up with it. She needs him to tell her what his plans are so that she can best prepare for what lies ahead.  

If he says that he is going to continue with his affair while living at home, then she should make it clear to him that she will no longer do anything that would help him. It depends on what she does in the home regarding cleaning, laundry,  cooking, grocery shopping and all the myriad things that go into running a household. Chances are that she does the majority of this but she will have to decide to only do things for herself and the children, including cooking, so that he can suffer at least a little.   She should also make it clear to him that he will have to explain to the children what is going on, and why.   If he is not prepared to do this, then she should tell him that she herself will tell them. Children, no matter what age, are very intuitive and they will already have sensed that all is not well.

A lot of how this all plays out depends on your sister's personality.   It may be that she will feel unable to take him on by herself, in which case you or one of your siblings should offer to speak with him and point out how very destructive he is being - not just to your sister but to the children as well.   

If he says that he intends leaving the family home, then she needs to consult a solicitor to find out what her exact rights are. For instance, when a family home is bought and registered in both spouses' names, they are the joint owners. But if it is registered in the name of only one spouse, then it may be solely the spouse's property.

There are also Free Legal Advice Centres throughout the country where she could have a consultation. These clinics are confidential, free of charge and open to all. The number to ring is (1890) 350 250 and its very informative website is www.flac.ie. 

It seems very wrong that while your sister is blameless, she has to make all the running as to what happens next.

But she must make things so uncomfortable for her husband that he has to make a move one way or another.

In the meantime, you should continue to support her by being in very regular touch with her. 

You can contact Mary O'Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie Alternatively, you can write to Mary O'Conor, c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence.

Mary O'Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately

Sunday Independent