Sunday 18 February 2018

Dear Mary: We split up five years ago - but I still want my first love

Illustration: Tom Halliday
Illustration: Tom Halliday

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

Question: I am writing to you as I feel I have nowhere else to turn. Many years ago I was in a long-term relationship with my first love. Everything seemed perfect, our personalities  seemed so compatible, and overall it was a very passionate chapter of my life. With that came the highs and lows of extremely passionate relationships.

However, I loved this man with every inch of my body, and I have reason to believe I still do. It has been five years since I have seen him, and I am now in a long-term relationship again with a really decent fellow. I don't know how I should feel about this and I feel like I'm being unfair to my current partner. Shortly after my ex and I parted ways, I suffered an early miscarriage, so I am unsure if it is him I'm holding on to or is it the situation that I can't get past. To makes things worse, my family doesn't know about the miscarriage, as they never approved of him and I was very young at the time. I feel so torn with no-one to turn to. Usually I can confide in my partner, but I am unsure of what I'm feeling and don't want to hurt him.

Mary replies: Volumes have been written and will continue to be written about first loves. In the counselling room, I was often struck by how many people were aware of what had become of their first loves - either through family or a card at Christmas time or more recently through social media. It is indeed a very special time in anybody's life when one is truly in love for the first time and the world seems a wonderful place in which to live.

You don't say why the relationship ended, but it did and you have both moved on. Because it was over he didn't know about the miscarriage, although he would have had to know if you had gone full term with the pregnancy. We can only speculate as to what might have happened because we will never know, and you are both now at different stages in your life.

It may be that you still love him, and always will but that is all right because we have room in our hearts to love all sorts of people, but in different ways. So you can love him for what you had together at that time, and you can still love your current partner for what he brings into your life now. But you will have to be sure that you are not comparing the two and finding your current boyfriend lacking as this would not be fair to him. If this is the case, then you will have to think about ending the relationship and being on your own. Indeed, you will be able to judge how you really feel about him when you consider the prospect of being without him in your life. Also, you should be wary of romanticising the earlier relationship. If he wanted to have you back in his life he would have found a way to contact you to talk things through and this did not happen.

If you were to contact him you may face an embarrassing rejection and why put yourself through all of that? And it really is too long ago to contact him in order to tell him that you had a miscarriage five years ago. The only benefit to him would be that he would know that he can father children, but perhaps fatherhood has already happened for him and in any case, a simple test can give him that information if he needs it.

I'm sorry that you had to suffer the miscarriage on your own - it is a very traumatic thing to go through, and not being able to share this with your family must have been difficult for you. Hopefully, one day you will experience the joy of having a baby when the time and the partner are right and you will be able to share this joy with family and friends.

We don't know how to end arguments

Question: I am currently in a relationship with a man whom I love greatly. I believe he also loves me. We have been together now for almost nine months. Our relationship is great in every way, and  we have much in common.  However, when we  argue or fight we seem to take things to extremes as we are both stubborn and neither seems to want to give in. I feel we play a right/wrong game of sorts with one having to be right and one wrong. Sometimes our fights last a few days and then we make up.  Afterwards we are able to discuss the issue and even maybe laugh about it.

I want us to learn how to get the issue resolved sooner or be able to let the anger subside sooner. He agrees with me on this. We saw a counsellor for a short time but she did not feel we needed counselling. I wish and want our disagreements to end sooner than a few days.

Thank you, if you respond

Mary replies: Even though it may take time, I try to respond to all my readers if at all possible.

It seems to me that the kernel of your problem is one of you having to be right and the other one wrong. People can have differing points of view on a whole range of issues without either being right or wrong. This is where compromise is so very important in any relationship.

In the Noel Coward play 'Private Lives' two of the main characters, a husband and wife, were always fighting and started using the phrase 'Solomon Isaacs' when things got heated. Whenever those two words were spoken by either party, the other person had to stop arguing immediately and neither person speak for an agreed length of time. You could develop your very own catchphrase to replace 'Solomon Isaacs' and use it whenever the argument is in full flow.

Alternatively you could download a voice recorder app on your mobile phone and have it ready. My experience when counselling couples who were having problems such as you describe, was that nobody wanted to start recording their own arguments because they would be too embarrassed listening back to them, so abandoning the row rather than press 'Record' was always a much better alternative.

It is very good that both of you want to find a way to make things better between you and realise that something has to change. Arguments can be very healthy and can clear the air, but only if they are handled correctly. However, the main thing to remember is that nobody has to be right, you can agree to differ having listened carefully to each other's viewpoint, and then move naturally on to another topic.

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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