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Dear Mary: Should I leave my marriage and go with my love whatever the consequences?

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

Question: I'm in my mid fifties, married for over 30 years and have adult children. My husband was my only real boyfriend before we married and our first child was born a few years later.

I have always worked, had a great career which I loved, and I am recently retired with the health and energy to get on with the rest of my life - the 'last third' as I call it.

When I was in my late twenties, I realised that I had very strong feelings for a lovely guy who was also married with children. For a long time we were friends. I kept my feelings to myself and I was totally shocked when he announced one day that he had feelings for me.

We tried for a long time to remain just friends, but eventually we became lovers. We both spoke about our responsibilities to our families as we were both sole breadwinners and we both loved our children dearly and could not contemplate leaving them. We agreed that we would not leave our families if we were found out.

We had a very loving and supportive relationship for over 18 years. We spoke on the phone every day, had lunch together or met after work in the evenings. If business permitted we regularly travelled together and while we both worked very hard we were able to go missing in action regularly to be together. No one in our work situations ever guessed or found out about our relationship. We encouraged each other to advance in our careers and we were very successful at juggling everything. On reflection, I don't think either of our marriages would have lasted if we had not had each other.

Eventually, his wife became suspicious and confronted him and the cat was out of the bag. We had agreed that if this happened our relationship would end officially but we had agreed ways to keep in contact, and over the years since we have communicated with each other at anniversaries of important memories for us and at times of extreme stress. We had always spoken about getting together when our children were grown up.

He has now contacted me about the future. We are both approaching 60 and our children are adults making their own way in the world. Our partners have both got careers and interests of their own that they didn't have when our affair became public.

He has two grandchildren - I don't have any yet. He wants us to be together as we always talked about and has asked me to think about it over the next few months. Our feelings for each other are still as strong as ever, he loves me and I love him, so making the decision should be easy - right?

Well, my first instinct is to fly into his arms. I know there will be huge upheaval in his family and they will more than likely ostracise him and he will be cut off from his children and grandchildren. His children won't be able to see the sacrifice he has made of his own emotional happiness by staying in his marriage for their sakes. My children are abroad, so I don't think it will have the same impact for me.

I have some very good friends and interests. I have made a life for myself and financially we would be able to manage if we did get together and would have somewhere to live. We are very lucky in that sense.

I have been going around in circles in my head since he proposed this future for us. I do want more than anything to be with him, and I think we deserve to be together for whatever length of time we have left in our lives. But I have been weighing that up with what he may lose not seeing his children and grandchildren and worry that I won't be enough for him. If we get together and it breaks down I don't think I would be able for the heartbreak of him not being fully in my life.

I hope another perspective on the situation will help me make my decision.

Mary replies: Although I've abbreviated it, I have tried to keep all the relevant points in your letter. What a very long time you have been in this relationship. Every time I read your letter - and I have read it many times - I am struck by how little reference you have made to your husband and your children and the effect that all of this must have had on them.

While I applaud both you and your lover for putting your children first, the same consideration wasn't really given to your spouses. They have had the public humiliation of the discovered affair but you have remained married to them, thereby not giving them the chance to make a fresh start and meet somebody else.

I realise that yours is a love story and you are looking for the happy ending after all these years. He is prepared to make it happen and is apparently willing to take the consequences. You also want to be with him but you are afraid that you won't be enough for him.

Why don't you believe him when he tells you that you will? Are you perhaps afraid that in the day-to-day life together, which as we all know can be very unglamorous and far removed from the excitement that having an affair generates, you and he may not have the magic that you have had up until now?

You aren't asking me to make the decision for you, and no matter how much advice you get from various people you will be the one to finally decide the way forward. You have asked for another perspective and I keep being drawn to the perspective of your husband in all this. Is your husband at all aware that you are still in contact with this man and are actively thinking of leaving? Probably not, but he deserves to get adequate warning if you decide to go.

Women are usually much more aware of the consequences of actions than men - men are inclined to jump straight in without thinking - so I can understand why you are being more guarded. You seem perfectly happy to leave home to be with your lover but you are worried that his family ties may be severed. Don't you think he has also thought about that and is willing to take the risk? He may not have looked very far ahead, but presumably he is an intelligent human being and aware of what might happen. So instead of putting him first, put yourself first, and if you are sure that for you the best thing to do is to leave your marriage and go with him, then let him worry about his own family and you worry about yours.

We can't see into the future, which is probably a very good thing in a lot of cases. When you married, I'm sure you assumed that it was for life and were prepared to give it your very best shot. Things didn't work out that way, which is a pity.

The question now is whether you are prepared to take a leap of faith in the hope that the next chapter of your life has a happier ending. Good luck with whatever decision you make.

I don't want to live without him

Question: I am in pieces.  My ex fiance came back into my life only to shatter me again. Now his parents want him to  marry a much younger girl. He is in his mid twenties. He said that he's  a coward and that he cannot fight his parents. His parents don't even want to talk to me, they hate me.

I am tired of living this way . I do not feel like living anymore. I am constantly thinking about committing suicide.

I hail from a country where there are not many professional therapists available.

What should I do?

Mary replies: I am sorry you are in such a difficult situation. It sounds like your ex wanted to have you back in his life until his parents intervened and that is heartbreaking for you. However, he won't go against his parents' wishes, so please try to get on with your life without him in it, although I realise it will be very difficult for you, at least to begin with.

Time does eventually heal, even though you will find this hard to believe right now. You also have to ask yourself if you would have been happy with a man who by his own admission is a coward and unable to stand up for himself.

I don't know in which country you currently reside, but I would urge you to contact whatever organisation is the equivalent to the Samaritans, which is an agency that talks to people who are feeling suicidal. No man is worth literally losing your life for, so please get in touch with somebody as soon as you can in order 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.

Sunday Independent