Wednesday 18 July 2018

Dear Mary: I love him but we keep breaking up

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

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

Question: I've been friends with a guy for about two years. We were just friends and I never had any inclination that we would ever get together but some months back he kissed me, and that led us into having a more intimate relationship. We saw each other every day as we live close to each other. It was brilliant, and exactly how I wanted a relationship to be. There seemed to be no bull attached to it and we were best friends who were going out together. He lost a lot of weight and got off the tablets he was supposed to be on for the rest of his life. All this happened when we got together, so I knew I meant a lot to him. He had got a second chance at loving again. He had been married for many years and had not been with anyone for years 'til I came along.

But he has major walls built up around him. We reached a certain point and then it looked like he was closing up. This made me think he had lost interest and I made a comment that it felt like I was just a convenience, and that created an argument where he just walked away and wouldn't talk to me.

We met up the following week to go walking. He told me he was going to counselling as his marriage was really painful and the break-up even worse. His ex-wife cheated on him for years and then cleaned out his bank accounts before she left. While we were dating he related a lot of stuff about her that I found difficult to listen to. I knew he was living in the past. He couldn't let it go.

We tried to take a break while he was going to counselling but it was difficult and I missed him so much so we continued on together. We subsequently had an argument about him being hours late for a date but he couldn't handle that conflict, so now we have been on a break again. I have been texting, but he has made no effort with me. Back in May, he said he couldn't give me the attention I needed until he sorted out the stuff in his head about the pain he suffered from his marriage. He asked me to wait for him. A month ago, I asked him if he wanted to call it a day because it was so much pressure on us both. He said he was really busy and didn't have time to think about anything.

Now he has gone away for a few days. Originally I was supposed to go with him but with everything going on he never said anything. He rang me before he left and I said to him when he comes back we really have to talk. I don't know if he will get in touch because I don't think he knows what to do. I met him two weeks ago and he hugged me and gave me a kiss, when he was leaving he gave me another kiss.

I love this guy and we had such a brilliant time together I don't want to let it go. Please advise me. Should I take control and tell him I want to spend the rest of my life with him or should I keep my pride and break up? We are both in our 50s.

Mary replies: I don't think you should do either of these things. You don't mention your own history but this man has a lot of unfinished business. He had been deeply wounded by his ex-wife, then you two got together and he seems to have really benefited both physically and mentally from his relationship with you. But he would be really afraid of getting hurt again, and I can understand how at the first sign of trouble between you his inclination was to pull back into his shell. It's really good that he went for counselling, but counselling can be incredibly painful as one goes back over the past and re-lives old hurts. It is however a very necessary part of counselling in order to be able to move on, and people find themselves to be very fragile while going through it. I'm not at all surprised that he requested a break as he probably knew he wouldn't be very good company.

Those four little words 'we have to talk' can strike terror into people, because it rarely means that things are going well but rather that some sort of ultimatum is about to be given. So I would not be surprised if he doesn't contact you on his return. What I would advise is that you keep in contact by text once or twice a week with chatty texts about what is going on in your life. This will let him know that you are thinking of him and also that you would be happy to hear from him.

I see no reason why you should not be together - it's been great for you in the past - when he feels he has dealt sufficiently with the betrayal by his ex-wife. I'm presuming that he hasn't actually finished counselling. You will be keeping the door open but not exerting any pressure on him to make up his mind. It's not a question of pride but rather a question of having patience while he faces his demons.

I'm afraid my new wife will leave me

Question: I was very happily married to my childhood sweetheart for almost 30 years and then she died of cancer. The last few years were very difficult and I was happy for her to be out of pain when she died.

But I was incredibly lonely without her. We had two children who both live abroad and despite the great friends who cared for me, I wanted something more. After about two years I was introduced to a very attractive woman and we immediately struck up a great friendship. It seemed that we had so much in common with our love of the theatre, music, books and travel. She was very honest with me, told me that she had been married for 10 years to an abusive husband and eventually left him and they are now divorced. She had also had a few affairs with other men. Despite all of this, I proposed and she accepted, and we are now married for a few years. We are in our 60s and reasonably well off so life should be very comfortable - and mostly, it is.

Except that I always feel she is comparing me to the other men who had been in her life and somehow I feel inadequate. It's very belittling and I am also scared that she will leave me too. I need to calm down. I am worrying so much. Please give me some advice. You seem to have such a wealth of experience through your years of counselling that I trust that you can help me.

Mary replies: How nice that you met and both got another chance at happiness. You were luckier than she was in your first marriage, and I imagine she had a lot of trust issues, having been in an abusive relationship.

Some people talk a lot about past relationships and others don't. You do not say if your wife has actually said anything that leads you to believe she is comparing you with the other men who were in her life. The chances are that she hasn't, and your feelings are probably more to do with your own insecurities. If, however, she has said something then you will need to talk about this with her and explain how unhappy it has made you before things get any worse in your head. You should also remind yourself that even though she has had other relationships since her divorce, you are the one that she chose to be with and to marry.

It may be that after all the sadness, pain and ultimate loss that you suffered with your first wife you are almost afraid to be happy and enjoy yourself in case you lose your present wife also. There is always the possibility that it will not work out - we cannot see into the future - but you share a lot of interests, presumably you both put a great deal of thought before committing to each other and so the outlook should be very bright. So instead of worrying needlessly why not enjoy each new day you have 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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