Wednesday 17 July 2019

Dear Mary: How do I tell my brother that his alcoholic wife is having an affair?

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Mary O’Conor

I am the eldest daughter in a large family for whom I have always felt responsible, having played a large part in bringing them all up.

Over the last 20 years there have been a number of rumours surrounding the wife of one of my brothers. They are both in their fifties and I will call him Eoin.

Last weekend a relative of my husband was on a flight to London on Saturday morning and saw her on the plane with a man from our town with whom she has been linked before.

The two of them were on the return flight on Sunday evening.

I would completely believe that this relative was telling me the truth even if I would question their motives.

Another brother, whom I will call Danny, told me tonight that he had called to see Eoin last Friday and that Eoin's wife had told him she was going to visit her uncle's family who live in another town in Ireland for the weekend and had asked him for money. I did not tell Danny the story I had heard.

It seems clear to me that Eoin's wife is having an affair. My question is - what should I do? Should I tell him what I have heard? We live in a small community, and it is very likely that Eoin will hear this story from someone in the locality before too long.

We have another brother - I will call him Brian - with whom Eoin has a close relationship. Should I tell Brian what I have heard first, and then the two of us talk to Eoin together? Or do you think I should do nothing and let events take their course?

It would trouble me to do this, as I would not like Eoin to hear this story from another source, or for him to know I had heard this, and discover I refrained from passing it on to him?

I also have a fairly close relationship with Eoin. What worries me especially is that he is likely to become violently angry, and I could easily see him seeking out this man and attacking him.

Eoin's wife has been a very heavy drinker for a number of years, and is effectively a functioning alcoholic. Eoin is also a heavy drinker.

He stopped taking alcohol for five years but for a little more than a year he has been drinking heavily again.

He has worked very hard all his life to support his family and I am also worried that this news could put him at risk as he works in a dangerous job where any lack of attention can have serious consequences.

Eoin's marriage has always been a difficult and stormy one, in which his wife has generally been the stronger character. She can usually manipulate Eoin into getting what she wants.

Please can you give me your thoughts as I am very troubled.

Mary replies: I understand why you are feeling troubled. This story has all the ingredients for making major difficulties in a lot of people's lives.

Your natural instinct is to protect Eoin because you feel almost maternally responsible for him and don't want to see him hurt. In fact he has already been hurt because people have seen his wife leaving the country with another man.

You shouldn't have to bear all of this by yourself and your idea of talking to Brian is a very good one. But instead of the two of you speaking to Eoin why not speak to Eoin's wife and tell her what you know.

Even if she denies it you have proof that she went to London when she had specifically told Brian she was going to visit her uncle. You can say that depending on what she says you will not for the moment speak to Eoin about this. Naturally, she will have to cut all ties with this other man.

The only problem with all of this is that she is a functioning alcoholic and as such she will not be the most trustworthy in any promises she may make. But at least it will buy you time before you decide on any further action.

People generally talk about people having affairs, but are very slow to actually tell the person who is being deceived about what is going on. So it is unlikely that anybody will tell Eoin to his face what they suspect or indeed actually know.

Have you any idea why Eoin started drinking again after being dry for so long? I realise that it is extremely difficult for one person not to drink when their spouse continues to drink, but is there any way that he can be persuaded to seek help in the form of AA or whatever helped him to stop drinking previously?

You cannot directly bring up her drinking with his wife but you can point out all the inherent dangers to him, particularly as his work requires him to be aware of safety issues, while he continues to drink.

So your starting point should be that you discuss all of this with Brian, telling him what you know, and then tackle the problem together.

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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