Wednesday 21 February 2018

Dear Mary: I forgave my wife's affair but seven years on, we're living separate lives

Photo posed.
Photo posed.

Mary O'Conor

I am a married man, with a wife and two teenagers. I was born and live in a large provincial town. My wife is from the city. From the outside I'm sure many people would say we have it all - two good jobs, nice house and lovely children. But on the inside I'm in turmoil. My wife works in a multi-national company, is attractive, vivacious and a charmer. I've always tried to be loving, considerate, caring and a good husband.

Seven years ago my world was turned upside down when I discovered my wife was having an affair with a colleague. As she was in management she worked long hours and was away often at meetings and conferences. I was mother and father to the two children. I cooked, cleaned, helped with homework and attended camogie matches. I felt very alone in this relationship.

Initially I was shocked, hurt and very angry. I felt a failure as a husband and a man. I adopted the view that she had been taken advantage of by her colleague. I took her back, nobody ever knew, though my mother was suspicious something was wrong. I thought over time we could recover as a couple.

I organised romantic weekends away, bought her flowers, and was attentive.

Intimacy was always an issue as we both come from strict Catholic backgrounds and had very little intimacy before we got married. When we were first married I thought things would improve, but sex was functional.

After the affair, I thought with time that we might reignite intimacy but we only ended up having rows. We went for counselling but that did not help. About four years ago I stopped trying and now make no overtures. We live like flatmates and share a bed but there are no hugs or kisses so we have a celibate marriage. Things are mostly calm but from time to time, the issue of intimacy comes up and we have a big row but nothing is ever resolved.

I accepted this but lately I have days where I am on the verge of tears. Is no intimacy a good enough reason to leave a marriage? I fear for the future. I'm not a sex maniac but I crave to be touched, hugged and made to feel special. We have never recovered as a couple from the affair.

I am very strongly thinking of separating, as I am very unhappy. What do I tell the children? What will become of the house which I built with the help of my brothers and cousins on my parents' land? Am I to end my days in an apartment or just be thankful for all I have? I have suggested going to another counsellor but she refuses.

I am very tempted to seek intimacy outside this marriage. I fantasise about some of the ladies I meet in the town, especially a former girlfriend who is separated and is always chatty when we meet up. I often lie awake at night thinking how lonely it is. My feelings towards my wife have died or are, at best, suppressed. Am I being selfish and should I forget my own needs and put up?

Mary replies: I have some questions concerning your wife's affair. Did it end naturally or because you found out? What caused her to have the affair in the first place? Why did you allocate the blame to the other man rather than to them both? It seems as if you are unable to see any faults at all in your wife, which is not healthy. If the affair finished because they were found out then possibly it still has not finished in your wife's head. Was all of this thoroughly covered in counselling, particularly the reasons why she had it and how she felt when it was over?

I ask about all of this because of the inability of both of you to move on in the marriage, which should be possible but is not happening. As a result you are 'stuck' as a couple and you are feeling miserable.

None of the options you list is ideal but you will have to let your wife know that you are seriously thinking of either leaving the marriage or having an affair yourself. It will then be up to her to either give things another chance, ideally by going to a different counsellor, or end the marriage. You are getting progressively more down about things, and whereas it is possible for people to exist with little or no intimacy, they both have to feel that they can cope with this, and you clearly cannot.

Your children will have other friends whose parents have separated and while they would be very unhappy if you were to break up, in a few short years they will have left the family home and it will just be yourself and your wife who are left. You have to be sure that you would be happy with this. If not, then things will have to change.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie 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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