Wednesday 21 August 2019

Dear Mary: My loveless marriage forced me to stray, but where is it going to end?

One reader is concerned about the consequences of the lack of intimacy. Photo posed
One reader is concerned about the consequences of the lack of intimacy. Photo posed
Illustration: Tom Halliday

Mary O'Connor

You have had letters, where one partner in a relationship has called time on sex or any form of intimacy, which I can relate to.

I'm in my early 50s as is my wife and I've suggested all the usual remedies, ie, more time together, counselling, massage, kiss and cuddle, all to no avail.

To the world outside we look great but we are not. In recent times I've met a woman who is unattached and we ended up in bed. I feel guilty but she gives me affection and love as well as sex.

What is your advice, if any, Mary? We have teenage children and my mind is torn as to where this will go.

Mary replies:  This is one of the great dangers when a couple are not having a sex life - one of them will go elsewhere for sex and possibly end up having an affair.

This is happening with you as you are becoming emotionally involved with this woman as well as having sex with her.

As you are probably aware there are a few different scenarios which may eventually happen.

Your wife may find out what is going on and then things will never be the same between you again, no matter what ultimately happens.

As your children are in their teens they will also very likely be told what has happened.

Or the affair may run its course and you will end it as you will be feeling too guilty to allow it to continue.

Alternatively, you may decide to leave your wife as soon as your children have finished school or college and have moved on.

All of these options have pros and cons, and people will probably express sympathy for your wife who is at the moment unaware of what is going on.

But she made the choice, for whatever reason, not to work towards regaining a sex life, despite all that you offered.

As one writer put it to me 'it is very difficult to be cut out of a partner's life with no explanation and to start playing some game of dodge. Games are not fun when one player hasn't been told they are being played.'

People in a similar position to yours have found it helpful to play out different outcomes in their heads.

So, for instance, imagine what would happen if you decided to tell your wife that you have fallen for somebody else, and then telling your children, even to the extent of choosing what words you would use.

This focuses the mind and helps decide on the best course of action.

I have seen cases where the husband decided that there was no way he could go through with it because of what he would have to tell his children, and yet other cases where it made him determined to force a conclusion to what was a deeply unhappy situation .

There is a certain level of excitement generated when somebody is in the middle of an affair and this can also influence decision making.

So be very aware of what you stand to lose either by leaving the marriage or being found out.

At the very least you should have one more conversation with your wife, telling her you are finding it increasingly difficult to survive without love and affection and ask how she suggests you cope.

There's a huge void in my life but I decided to stay

I have been a loyal reader of the Sunday Independent for more than 50 years and admire the work you do. I would like to make some observations on the topic of lack of physical intimacy. Our two children are now relatively young adults and have seen and heard plenty of difficulties in their parents' marriage.

Notwithstanding, I believe that their high educational attainment has given them both the sophistication to understand the loving support of their father, despite the absence of physical displays of affection between their parents.

My wife suffers from severe depression which was diagnosed as bipolar, though personally I believe her condition is closer to personality disorder. She has suffered from the condition for many years and has not desired sex or affection for the past 13 years. During that time I worked as a full-time professional and also grafted extensively doing private work.

As I have the same sex drive I had when I got married (in my early thirties), you can imagine the difficulties I experienced during the interim.

I could have walked away from my responsibilities but I didn't. There are times when I crave love, affection and physical intimacy. There is a profound void in my life. I haven't had an affair, though I have weakened occasionally in that direction. Although the emotional abuse has been significant over the years, I feel content in the knowledge that my children were saved from the care system because I elected to stay.

My religious faith has also sustained me. I don't require counselling because I know how we arrived at our current 'emotional location'. Although it's not an easy road to travel, I know there are many suffering significantly greater hardships throughout the world.

Mary replies:  I admire your tenacity and dedication to your marriage and how seriously you have taken your role as parent.

You say you don't need counselling because you know what has caused your difficulties, but I do hope that you have somebody with whom you can discuss all of this - a trusted friend or pastor perhaps, because it must be very difficult to keep it all to yourself. Be careful that in putting the needs of your children above everything else that you don't compromise your own mental wellbeing.

Aware do wonderful work and they also have support groups for the families of those affected by depression. Visit for more details.

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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