Tuesday 16 July 2019

Dear Mary: My husband is obsessed with work, and I'm left at home lonely and sad

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Mary O’Conor

I have been married for 30 years and have adult children. My husband has always been very work driven, and in the early years this caused much disagreement between us as he was never at home from Monday to Friday.

He has a very strong sense of duty and is a perfectionist. I used to ask him to come home for even one day of the week but he could never commit to it. He had to leave himself free for anything that would crop up.

He has no hobbies or friends outside of our family. In every other way he is a kind husband and father. As the years passed I came to realise that this behaviour was anxiety driven.

About five years ago his work situation changed and a new manager took over. My husband was demoted and his new boss is a very aggressive, unpredictable person.

My husband is really struggling to deal with this and on my suggestion is attending counselling. I have tried to help him keep work in perspective and to see all that we have going for us but it takes over anyway.

The problem is that about a year ago I had an interaction with a man in a professional capacity and made an instant connection. Since then I cannot get this person out of my mind.

This was a real shock to me as despite our difficulties I have never considered not working things through with my husband. I would rather cut off my own arm than hurt my husband so there is no question of acting on this or any other such feeling.

But when I think about my marriage, my overwhelming feeling is one of loneliness and loss. I miss the laughter and life that the children brought to the house and my life.

I have a job, friends, family and hobbies but I am lonely as I feel I have always loved someone who is not really available emotionally.

As for the children, they love their dad but they don't know how to communicate with him and have told me this.

We do go out and on holidays but for me it is an effort to keep things light and to inject any life or fun into the time we have together.

How do I stop thinking about this other person? Our paths don't cross often and I thought it would fizzle out but it hasn't.

I feel guilty even thinking this way.

Mary replies:  I am glad that your husband is attending counselling and therefore getting some help for his anxiety, which sometimes can be quite overwhelming for people.

It can also make the person who suffers with anxiety very self-centred, which is the opposite to what you want from him as a husband and father.

The empty nest syndrome which you have experienced can show up difficulties that were going on between the parents but were covered up by a busy family life. When the children are gone these difficulties become all too glaring.

You were very obviously aware of your husband's shortcomings as your children were growing up, but most of this was directed towards his absence due to pressure of work. However, now it is becoming clear to you that you were also going without an emotional closeness.

Then into the picture comes a man who brightens up your life, makes you smile and is very often in your thoughts.

You only had a professional exchange with him, but you now find yourself thinking 'what if' and 'if only' with regard to him. You are very sure that this will go no further, and I admire your steadfastness in staying faithful to your husband. But you keep on dreaming and don't want to be like this.

It is time for you to discuss how you are feeling with your husband, and to try to decide what to do about all of this.

While he may be getting some insight into his lack of emotional intimacy during his own counselling, he may not be at all aware of how sad and lonely you are feeling as he is quite tied up in his own problems. There is no need to mention that you think about this other man - you had a purely business association - but he does need to know how unhappy you are.

Also it could very much benefit you as a couple if you were to attend couples counselling. This would not be with the object of blaming him, or indeed yourself, for the shortcomings in the relationship but rather to work together to see ways of making things better between you.

You are probably in your 50s and with hopefully another 30 years together. That seems an awfully long time for you to be unhappy so it is important for you to get help.

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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