Friday 15 December 2017

Dear Mary: Should I put up and shut up over husband's drinking and spending?

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Mary O'Conor

Q: My husband and I have been married for 22 years. We have children - some in secondary school and one in college. My husband is a kind man who had a difficult childhood. As a couple we did OK for the first few years.

He has never been able to be emotionally involved in our lives. Over the latter years I have been finding this more and more difficult. It is a very lonely place when you are rearing kids and working hard trying to run a home. I have said this to him many times but he doesn't get it. On a number of occasions over the years he has got so drunk that he became verbally abusive and I was afraid of him.

It is so out of character. This means that I avoid going out in groups or dread having to go to group social occasions, like weddings. I have spoken to him about this also and he is so sorry.

He has also borrowed money and has built up a huge credit card bill - this without me knowing. I have helped him out before but then he goes back to his old ways. I feel sorry for him but all of the above has upset me so much, and it is not what a marriage should be.

We don't share our worries, thoughts, dreams, etc. I do not trust him because he lies. I try to keep busy to distract myself. I have told my husband that the marriage is a lie and I cannot see any other way out other than separation.

We no longer argue - we just sit with each other and watch TV and eat our meals.

I know if I stay with him I will constantly question him about his spending (I always thought we lived within our means until he told me he built up another credit card bill of €10,000) and continue to avoid drinks with family and friends. He will hate me too. It upsets me that the kids think this is what a happy marriage looks like. We both love them dearly - that is all we have in common. I know the kids would be heartbroken if we separate.

What should I do - put up and shut up? I did suggest counselling two years ago but he didn't want to. Now I am not sure if I want it either.

A: It seems that you have been unhappy with your husband for most of your married life and perhaps now that your children are almost raised you are questioning if your future lies with him. If you were to separate, of course your children would be upset, but they would get over it and get on with their lives. That may sound heartless to you, but I want to emphasise that whatever decision you make should primarily be what is best for yourself and your husband and the children are only secondary.

Very soon they will be having their own relationships which will become the most important thing in their lives, and you and your husband will be on your own once more.

Your husband had a difficult childhood which no doubt accounts for his emotional detachment. He must have always been this way and maybe your expectations were more than he was able to give. Possibly you had a happy childhood and so find it much easier to be in touch with your emotions and also easier to verbalise what is going on for you.

The abuse and drunkenness in company is inexcusable. But you should not have to avoid social occasions as a result.

He has apologised for this but has gone on to do it again, so ask if he would be prepared not to drink at all the next time you get an invitation.

You don't mention alcohol consumption at home or going to the pub which leads me to believe that the problem is only when you are in company. In any event he needs to prove to you that he can do without it.

Money debts are a huge worry, particularly when you had no idea they were being run up. MABS (Money Advice and Budgeting Service) is a service for people with debt and money management problems and is free and confidential. Their helpline is 0761 07 2000, or email You can find their comprehensive website at It would be very beneficial for you to see somebody together.

You really need to get your thoughts clearer than they are at present. A few sessions on your own with a qualified psychotherapist may help you to achieve clarity and you can then decide what is best for you both.

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.

Sunday Independent

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