Saturday 18 November 2017

Dear Mary: Husband's job away from home is putting strain on our marriage

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday
It is normal to feel resentment in this never-ending cycle of work.

Mary O'Conor

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

Question: I'm married with two children and in a fairly happy marriage. However, my husband works away from home from Monday to  Friday.  I also work full-time. I am, however, struggling with the effect that this distance is having on our relationship. I am managing everything within the family home. I run the household, do all  the food shopping, all the  cleaning and about 90% of the cooking. 

Occasionally, he will offer to cook but largely leaves it up to me. Occasionally, he will offer to help with household chores but more often than not I do it. As he is away, I manage all  the kids activities for school and after school.  He is a very hard-working individual and very committed  to our family. As I work Saturdays, he will manage what is needed with the children then.  When he comes home on a Friday night I always have a hot freshly-made dinner waiting for him.  However, when I come home on Saturdays he does not see it as a priority to return this favour. On Saturday, I usually come home,  start the dinner and empty the washing machine and dryer.

The only day we have together as a family is Sunday. Sometimes we end up doing separate activities on this day or one of us will do activities with the kids while the other (usually me) gets stuck into housework and preparing clothes and meals for the week ahead.

I feel so petty giving out about these things as he is hard-working and work always comes first, and I know there are worse marriages out there. I am, however, feeling more and more resentful and burnt out as the burden of running the family home essentially falls on my shoulders. We had a row recently where he explained that it is no picnic for him either as he has early morning starts and often works 12 hour days, which I know is not easy. My problem is that he does not appear to recognise or understand the multitude that I do (as well as hold down a full-time job).

This is driving a wedge between us and now in recent weekends I feel I am just going through the motions for the sake of it. This is nothing new as he has worked away from home for periods of time before when the kids were small. Is it normal to feel resentment in a situation like this?

Because of him working away from home, I don't have any time during the week for exercise or hobbies as this would mean organising babysitters or asking family, and both families already help out with childcare during the week. My fear is if this continues our marriage will suffer further. I don't see what I can do to change or improve the situation. The long-term outlook is that he will be away working for the foreseeable future.

Right now, I feel my life is all about looking after everyone else with no time for me. Despite me trying to outline to him how overwhelmed I feel at times, he does not give me any recognition or appreciation. On Sunday evenings he goes for a few pints with his mates. He never asks me if I would like a few hours for myself - he just does his own thing. So that's another night for me sitting in on my own. A lot of the time he will have had a good few drinks so a conversation or quality time for us does not happen either.

Mary replies: Yes, of course, it is totally normal to feel resentment in this never-ending cycle of work both outside and inside the home, especially as all the work you do in the home takes many hours, but there is very little to show for it other than the fact that the household runs efficiently.

A lot of mothers who have husbands working away from home - at sea or with the army abroad for instance - speak of the loneliness while they are gone, but then the joy of having them home for an extended period where they can catch up. Your situation, however, doesn't even have that - you only have your husband home for two days at a time. Apart from feeling burnt out, you also feel that your husband doesn't really appreciate all the work you do and your contribution to raising the children. I'm sure he would argue that he is doing all he can- working long hours to ensure that he earns as much as possible to care for the family. In fact, you are both doing all you can but you in particular are feeling unhappy.

We all need something to look forward to, whether it is a holiday, a special family celebration, a weekend with friends, a sporting occasion or whatever it is that makes us feel good. Right now, you don't seem to have anything to look forward to and this is something that you can perhaps change. Can you arrange to have a weekend away with your husband some time in the next few months? I realise childcare is a problem, but would it be possible for a friend to have your children and you can return the favour at a later date? Also, instead of feeling annoyed that he hasn't cooked dinner, why not make Saturday night your night off, and either have a takeaway or a pizza delivered which means there is nothing for you to do. All meals don't have to be home-cooked to be enjoyable.

Have you given any thought to having somebody living with you Monday through Friday? I don't know where you live, but there are many college students who would be very willing to babysit in return for a free bedroom where they can study with no money changing hands. Most of the colleges have Housing Departments where you can explore this further. If you live in a rural area then this is not possible, but an advertisement in your local newspaper would be a good place to start, or maybe a friend knows somebody who would fit the bill. It is hugely important that you have something else in your life besides work and try to be proactive in finding a way for you to be free at least one evening a week.

You are absolutely right to be concerned about your marriage, and I share your concerns. However, once you are feeling more fulfilled in your own right you will feel more human. Nothing stays the same and in a few short years the children will have grown up you will have all the time in the world and the satisfaction of a job well done.

He was taking Viagra unknown to me

Question: I am 64 and my husband is 65.   For some time he had been having difficulty maintaining an erection, and sometimes things would not go to plan. I was not bothered at all as I am not that keen on sex, but then things improved and he had no problem.   I did not question this as he had been suffering from depression and had got treatment. One day I found a prescription in his bedside locker while looking for something, and it turned out to be for Viagra. I was horrified and since then I am feeling abused, it's as if he is using me. We had a big row, but he says he needs sex now and again and it does his head in not to be able to do it.   I just feel abused for some reason, I cannot explain it.  What can I do? I don't want the relationship to suffer as we get on well otherwise.

Mary replies: When Viagra first became available there were reports of women who were feeling very threatened as they had become used to a life without sexual intercourse and were now worried that their husbands would be looking for sex all the time. This didn't actually happen and people settled into a new way of making love with the help of medication. You probably had such a strong reaction to your discovery because the sexual act is a very intimate thing between two people and suddenly this intimacy had an interloper in the form of a blue tablet that you knew nothing about.

Because you are not overly fond of sex - and I would love to hear more from you about this problem - I can understand why your husband kept this secret. He may have been afraid that if he confided in you then you would have disagreed with him using the medication and so felt it best to say nothing.

You wouldn't object if your husband used glasses to improve his vision, nor would he if you used a lubricant to help with vaginal dryness. Try to see his using Viagra as an aid to a successful sexual experience with you. There is no need to feel abused and I'm sure lots of reasons to feel cherished.

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.

Sunday Independent

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