Sunday 18 March 2018

Dear Mary: My husband left our bedroom three years ago

Illustration Tom Halliday
Illustration Tom Halliday

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

Question: I am 33 and feel utterly alone, I have no family or friend support. My marriage of eight years has broken down and we have one small child together. I met  my         husband 15 years ago and none of my then friends approved of the relationship, and I was quickly dropped; but I didn't mind too much as I was in  love and he was all I wanted. My family  has never been there for me during sickness or miscarriages so I have always been alone.

After my child was born in 2012, my husband got into the habit of sleeping in the spare room and he never returned to our bed. He is not having an affair - I am sure of this - but I have become angry and severely depressed because of it. I feel disgusting and dirty, not wanted, ugly, fat and revolting. I have spoken to him about the way his actions are having an effect on me.

I told him that three years of celibacy in a marriage is not normal, and I now hate him as I have asked too often for him to come back into our bed. I have had thoughts of suicide over this. I have also had thoughts of leaving and not coming back but what about our child in all of this? I get my hair done once a week to make myself feel better but I just find myself crying at the wash basin. I told him I was going to have an affair, but I can't bring myself to do it. I am really starting to hate myself now as well. I used to be pretty once but I don't see it anymore. I don't know what to do. Thanks, Mary, for taking the time to read this.

Mary replies: While it is not ideal, many people sleep in different bedrooms without damage being done to the relationship. Shift workers, snorers and insomniacs are some of the groups that find that it is easier for all concerned if they sleep on their own. I presume that your sex life was good until you had the baby and your husband took to the spare room. What reason has he given for not returning, now that your child is no longer a baby and needing to be fed at night? His explanation would tell a lot about his state of mind as to how things are between you. (May I ask letter writers to please give me as many relevant details as possible - I can always shorten letters but I cannot invent facts.) I wonder how you have phrased things when discussing it with him. It is much better, for instance, to say that you are lonely and feel very rejected rather than to make him feel attacked by saying that he is selfish or unthinking in staying away. In other words, did you make it an enticing prospect for him to come back to the marital bed?

I realise that at present you don't want him back as you feel that you hate him for what he has done to you, and so the relationship itself is under threat. So what started off as him moving bedrooms has become much bigger for both of you.

It sounds very much like you are suffering with depression - it is certainly not right that you should be crying every time you have your hair washed - and I suggest that you visit your doctor to talk things over with him. It may be that you need short-term medication in order to get you back to your old self. I also worry about your lack of friends. Our friends are so important during both good and bad times and it is not good for you to be friendless. It also means that you are not getting out of the house much which would also contribute to your feeling so down. Would it be possible to reach out to your old friends, or make some new ones given that your child must be around school-going age right now? This would make a huge difference in your life.

I agree that three years of celibacy is far from normal at your young age and you are very wise to try to get this very important element of your life back on track.

However, as the relationship itself is not good you should think about couples counselling if you are both agreeable to attend.

I don't know where you live but go to the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy website to find a counsellor in your area:

Should I forgive my fiance's violent outburst?

Question: Due to past childhood experiences, I have promised myself that I would never live with this if it even remotely began. This is the first time it has happened. Recently I felt that my opinion wasn't being listened to by my boyfriend. I told him  how I was feeling, then I broke down,  saying that I was beginning to feel like  all I'm there for is company, comfort and sex. He was very insensitive in his response so I walked out of the room. He followed  me and we began arguing but our sons were in the room. I wanted to leave and he wanted to talk. I walked out of the room but he followed me into the kitchen where we continued to argue in front of our older sons.  

My son was not sure of what was happening but saw a very upset person coming after me so he blocked my boyfriend from going any further, knowing that we both needed to calm down and be away from one another. My boyfriend then grabbed my son and threw him against the wall, still holding on to him and I had to get in between both of them. So then his son had to restrain him from my son. My boyfriend then started to threaten my son. My son was protecting me from this happening to me but instead it was happening to him. My boyfriend feels he was defending himself and that my son was wrong to interfere. My son doesn't know my boyfriend very well as we have only been together for a year and a half.

My boyfriend has honestly never touched me up until this and has apologised for the threatening behaviour. He has said over and over that he was wrong in doing what he did but he says that my son was also wrong. I'm not sure if he truly means he was wrong and I can't stop thinking about our future together.

How does one just act like nothing happened and just move on? We have argued over things before and we are both very strong minded and he likes to talk things out. But when there is no reasoning, I walk away but he hasn't learned from me that I need space. We are engaged to be married. I'm not feeling good about it.

He is a very nice guy and more together than any man I've met. He and my son got along great until that day. Now I don't know what to do and whether or not to give him a second chance.

Mary replies: You cannot act like nothing happened, because it very definitely did happen. You witnessed physical violence in your own childhood so you are fully aware of the effects that it can have on children. And even though your son (and probably your partner's son also) is on his way to adulthood, this behaviour on the part of your fiance is totally unacceptable. He lost his temper to such an extent that he risked harming your son who was doing his best to protect you. So instead of you being the parent and protecting your child, your child had to switch roles and become the parent and look out for you.

What you have to bear in mind is that hitting or hurting another person is against the law and domestic violence is a crime. In 2014 alone, there were 16,464 incidents of domestic violence against women disclosed during contacts with Women's Aid Direct Services. This is a horrendous number to contemplate and thinking about the stories and circumstances behind each call is quite chilling. It is also acknowledged that domestic violence has a higher rate of repeat victimisations than any other type of crime, so you have to seriously ask yourself if you are willing to put your children's and your own safety on the line in continuing this relationship.

To make yourself more aware of all the issues involved, please visit Safe Ireland's website at

It is also important that you take time out with your son to discuss all of this. He has already been affected by what happened and will need help in order to process his feelings regarding this man and your relationship with him.

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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