Friday 20 April 2018

Dear Mary: My wife's boss's wife has been coming onto me

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 am in a very difficult situation. My wife has a very high-powered job, is very successful at it and it gives her great satisfaction. She gets on tremendously well with the CEO of the company, who has the greatest respect for her and relies on her for support, information and advice. She gets paid very well and our family has a very nice lifestyle. I am also very successful in my profession and feel very fulfilled.

My problem arose at Christmas. I was sitting beside the wife of the CEO at a dinner party. She is a lovely person and I have always been very fond of her. At this meal, she had too much to drink and suddenly I felt her hand on my knee. I laughed it off and told her not to be so flirtatious and managed to get through the evening without anything much happening. But a few weeks later we met again at a drinks party and she got me in a corner and was even more pushy. Again I brushed her off without (I thought) giving any offence. But at another dinner party last week where we were again sitting beside one another her hand was not only on my knee but even more personal. I pushed it away and asked her to stop - very discreetly. But before we left she got me in a corner and wanted to know why I was being so offensive to her. I tried to explain that I had a very happy marriage and was not interested in ever jeopardising it by having an affair with another woman. She snorted derisively at that and said something to the effect that everybody was doing it. I said that I would not and I left.

But last night my wife came home and was very upset. The CEO had complained to her that I had been rude to his wife and that he would like it if I apologised to her. I had not said anything to my wife about what had happened as I was afraid that it would change her situation at work, and anyway, I didn't think it was all that serious before now. Last night I told my wife that I had not been rude but that the CEO's wife had been a little tiddly and I tried to help. I don't know if that will suffice.

I am in a quandry. My wife can be a very jealous woman and if I have to tell her the truth she is quite capable of going to the CEO and giving him the absolute truth straight between the eyeballs - which might get her fired.

I would be grateful for your advice. I know it's a difficult one but I have always respected your answers and read your column regularly.

Mary replies: It's a difficult problem because people are being economical with the truth and so the situation isn't being properly represented to both your wife and the CEO. It seems to be grossly unfair that you are being made out to be the villain when you are anything but - you have behaved very honourably but you are still in trouble. The CEO's wife seems to be a fairly troubled person and there must be a sub-plot going on between herself and her husband if she feels the need to make things difficult for everybody. Perhaps she is jealous of the relationship between your wife and her husband, or it may be that she is trying to get his attention. Or she may have a problem with alcohol, we just don't know. But you are being asked to apologise for something that you didn't do, and that is unacceptable.

It is best if you come clean with your wife as to what exactly happened. You will have to warn her that she will not like what you have to tell her, and make her promise that she will keep calm when she hears the story. She has to be an intelligent woman to have achieved what she has, and even though she may be jealous she surely will not jeopardise her work situation by going to her boss and telling him what actually happened. In any event, if she does that it is more than likely that he will not believe her and absolutely nothing will have been achieved.

When you have discussed it with your wife, you should together decide on a plan of action. I think she should talk to her boss and tell him that you did not agree that you had been rude, but that if his wife felt that you had then you apologise for whatever it was that upset her.

I realise this is a type of compromise, but nobody will be forced to lose face if you take this approach. However next time you and the CEO's wife cross paths you should just be civil and pointedly not continue the conversation, even if you are sitting next to her. She will hopefully by then have got the message that you are not available, no matter what her motives are.

Throughout all of this it is very important that you take your wife into your confidence and keep reminding yourself that you did nothing wrong.

Daughter-in-law ignored me when I called

Question: I always thought that I got on very well with my daughter-in-law. I'm widowed, and they often have me over to their house for Sunday lunch - which I really enjoy       as I'm quite lonely at the weekends.    I love my grandchildren and welcome any opportunity to see them, and whenever I go to them I make sure to bring some dessert  that they especially like, and that way I don't feel I'm imposing on them. 

But last week I got really upset, and I'm beginning to wonder if I am wrong in my assessment of the relationship that I have with my daughter-in-law. I was driving by their house and I had a present for one of the grandchildren's birthdays that is coming up, and so I knocked on the door but didn't get any reply. I tried a few more times before giving up and driving away - I didn't even leave the present in the porch in case it got stolen. My daughter-in-law's car was in the driveway and so I knew she was home. The children were all at school and my son was at work, so there was nobody else to answer the door only her.

When I mentioned it to her a few days later she was very offhand and said that she hadn't answered the door because she was running late and had to pick up the children and she knew I wouldn't mind. She had actually looked out of the window and seen my car so she knew it was me. I was very taken aback and hurt and am wondering if I'm really welcome when I'm invited or if she is only having me because my son insists.

Mary replies: If your daughter-in-law had any hidden agenda with regard to you she would have pretended not to have heard your knock at the door and feigned surprise when you told her that you had called. Instead, she was perfectly honest and said that she had been running late. This shows that she feels that she knows you well enough to believe that you wouldn't take offence and would take what she said at face value.

We are under no obligation to answer our doors if it doesn't suit, and a phone call beforehand would have been a better idea so that you needn't have been upset.

I realise it is difficult to remember what it was like to be a busy mother doing school runs, sports runs and general after school activities when one is at a different stage in life, but the car sticker 'Mum's Taxi' sums it up pretty well. So instead of judging your daughter-in-law just be grateful for the shared Sundays that you spend together and try not to be too sensitive. Everybody will be happier as a result.

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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