Style Sex & Relationships

Wednesday 18 July 2018

Dear Mary: How can I move on from this abusive relationship?

Illustration; Tom Halliday
Illustration; Tom Halliday

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

Question: I'm a single female in my mid twenties. I was in a relationship for several years with a guy I thought I really loved. At the beginning of the relationship, everything seemed great and I was extremely happy. After a few years, I moved in with him and later we got engaged.

As the years went by, I started to see some changes in my partner - aggression, lies and secrets, controlling behaviour, and he was mentally abusive.

I eventually saw sense and left him. It's been a few years since I ended things, but I feel now that I can't get close to another guy.

I've spoken to a doctor and it was confirmed that I suffer from depression, and, on top of that, I have extremely low self-confidence.

I'm not usually the type of person to talk about my feelings or anything, but I think if I don't say how I truly feel I will explode.

I'm just wondering if you can give me any advice on how to get over my past, as it's still in the back of my mind and preventing me from getting close to anyone again. I feel I've become a closed off and very shy person. It would be great if you could help.

Mary replies: You've been through a lot in the last number of years. It must have been really difficult for you to come to the realisation that this man wasn't who you thought he was. He was, in fact, always like this but had done a good job in hiding his true self from you at the initial stages of your relationship. It would have taken quite some time before you were fully aware of how he really was, and I'm sure you went through many periods of denial before you were able to take the very courageous step of ending the relationship.

It was absolutely the right thing to do, and you probably know that, but it must have really damaged your ability to trust another man.

One of the features of people who are mentally abusive is that they slowly erode the confidence and feelings of self-worth of their victim. It is done in a very clever and insidious way so that it is not really obvious what they are doing. So while pretending outwardly that everything was fine and that he was a good guy, he was, with a subtle drip-like effect, making you feel that you were the one with the problem.

So what can you do? You already did the right thing in leaving him and you also spoke with your doctor. As you have been diagnosed with depression, you may be on some medication to help you get through this. But you also need a safe place in which to talk and a combination of talking therapy and the medication is what you need. To find a suitably qualified psychotherapist in your area contact the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy at

Please believe me when I say that there are lots of good guys out there and even though what you have experienced was awful, it need not be like that in a future relationship. You will have friends or family who are in happy and stable relationships so you know that it can be achieved.

When you have been through counselling and are feeling better about yourself you will be able to let somebody else into your heart. And it will happen when you least expect it, so don't worry. You deserve some happiness after your years of being badly treated.

Our sex life is never enough for him

Question: I'm writing to you as I suffer with depression.I've  been   married for a few years but I don't feel I want to be with my husband. He is so needy, always wants to be around me and hates when I'm around friends. I spend all my time with him but it's never enough  for him. He  wants sex  all the time,  but when we do have it, it's never enough - which I find is a turn-off. In fact, the more pressure I am under to have sex with him, the more I don't want it.

We have seven children between us. He has two with his ex and I have two with my ex, and we have three together.

I find even when I want to spend time with my two oldest children he doesn't seem happy and he says I'm trying to get away from him. I don't know if I can take much more. Please help me.

Mary replies: I'm not surprised that you are feeling down. You must have your hands full with so many children and a very demanding husband. Even if his two children are shared with his ex, and yours with your ex, you still have a lot to cope with.

Your husband seems to be jealous of any time that you spend away from him, and on top of that, he is never satisfied sexually. No matter how much you give, he wants more. So these are two separate issues. It is, however, essential that you have time with your own friends, or even just time for yourself.

You are at the very centre of the household and if you think of yourself as a cake that is cut into slices, with everybody wanting a slice, then there must be a slice for you also. If not, then you are starved, and no good to anybody. It is seriously important for your mental health that you feel nurtured and not just taken for granted. Girlfriends are a huge source of nurturing, and, as such, are a very important part of our lives.

If, however, your partner is also there when you see your girlfriends then a totally different dynamic comes into play and you are not benefitting to the same extent. It's not that you are trying to hide anything, its just that women have a very close bond that is only truly evident when they are together without any partners. So you need to explain to your husband that it is really benefitting your relationship when you spend time apart.

Regarding your feelings of being turned off by his constant need for sex, it sounds to me as if he may be sexually addicted, although I can't say for sure without having more details. Sexual addiction can be really difficult for the partner, as the addict is never satisfied no matter how much sex they have.

If this is the case, then he needs help. The Centre for Sexual Addictions and Compulsivity in Dublin does very good work in this area - visit

I realise that you may not live in Dublin and indeed that your husband may not feel that he has a problem, but it would be good for you to visit this website before you speak with him.

You will have to have a conversation with him, telling him how unhappy you are at present and seeking his help and understanding in making things better for you. The advantage for him would be that if you feel better, then things will be better between you. If he is convinced that he hasn't got a problem sexually then some form of compromise will have to be reached regarding the frequency of your sex together, such as a couple of times a week at pre-arranged times so that you feel a bit more in control. You cannot continue as things are at present.


For my letter writer of July 19 who was missing the intimacy with her partner, I had an email from a male reader, part of which I will quote: "I was fortunate to find my wife 20 years ago when I was in my early 20s and we had quite the bunny phase until the first child arrived. Never mind sex every couple of months, it was sex every day as many times as we could fit in. That lady needs to move on from that guy she is with and find someone who will love her with a real passion. If I was younger and single I would ask her out myself and show her that she is perfect as she is."

I thank you for your comments and hope that she will take heart from them.


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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