I have been helping Irish Country Living readers with their problems since 2005 – that’s almost 20 years of being entrusted with your most worrisome problems.

Rural Ireland has become a diverse place, as has Irish agriculture. While our problems have perhaps evolved in some ways, common themes have remained constant throughout the years. Issues around relationships, rural isolation, loneliness and parenting are still as prevalent today as when I first started this advice column.

One theme in particular which has resonated with reader’s time and time again is the ‘silent marriage’ – where one partner feels invisible, ignored, or lonely, even if surrounded by family.

Here are two letters I have responded to during my time with Irish Country Living – one from 15 years ago and one received just this past month. The letter from 2009 is a very powerful cry for help and shows the importance of this page. Sometimes this space in Irish Country Living has been the only place a person felt that they could go to, to seek advice. It also demostrates that, regardless of time, our deepest longings remain to be heard and appreciated by those we care about. As always, I am just a letter away if you need me.

12 September, 2009

‘My husband’s obsessed with the farm’

Dear Miriam,

Some 12 years ago, my husband, who is in a managerial job, decided he wanted to take up farming part-time so that he would have something to do when he retired. This was not a way of life we had been familiar with, but, just to keep the peace, he had his own way and now he farms over 100ac, much to the destruction of our marriage or any normal way of life I might have liked for my retirement. We have a huge mortgage and a farm that has been making a loss since the day it started, but he continues to plough every cent we have into it, despite any objections I might have.

We have no life together, go nowhere and he laughs if I mention a weekend break. He has become totally obsessed and when I didn’t agree to co-sign loan applications, etc., my life was hell.

I try to take an interest, but if I make a suggestion, I get “what the hell would you know?” in response. I ran a successful business and always worked up to a few years ago when I developed a medical condition. I run a busy house, look after grandchildren, keep accounts and help with the farm work but, in his eyes, I am useless.

At nearly 55, I have been thinking constantly of leaving. My big fear is that if I break up the marriage, he will lose everything that he lives for on his farm. Our friends and children think that he is losing his mind and that he is mad to have us up to our eyes in debt when we should be slowing down and enjoying life before it’s too late.

Is there a way I can stop him constantly putting me down, making me feel useless and generally finding fault with everything I do? The atmosphere is cruel. I think maybe I would be better off dead. I love my home and family, but I am slowly coming to the end of the line and have contemplated suicide. He manages to put a dampener on every little piece of happiness we might have. It’s as if he’s not happy unless my family and I are miserable.

Farmer’s Wife

2 December, 2023

‘It feels like I am invisible to my wife’

Dear Miriam,

I am writing for some guidance regarding my relationship and home situation. I am a full-time farmer and married for 15 years. We have no children. My wife was made redundant from her job back in 2018 and helped me on the farm until she acquired a part-time job in 2021. I have noticed many changes in her since then.

She has gone from dressing nicely, but casually, to buying and wearing expensive clothes all the time, and visits to the beauty salon are a regular event. She completely changed her hairstyle and I have to say, she does look amazing, but as time goes on it’s like I am invisible to her. Her friends and work colleagues seem to always come first and her social life is busy. At times, I feel lonely and abandoned. I am not the jealous type, it is only right that both people in a relationship enjoy time with their friends as well as together, but at this moment I am lucky if we get to eat dinner together in the evenings.

I miss her and whilst I don’t expect her to totally give up her new life for me, it would be nice to enjoy some time together in a normal and healthy way. It has gotten very lonely in the homestead.

She is always too tired to make love. I miss her, but am afraid to share my feelings as I don’t want a row. I welcome any advice you can send my way.

Thank you, J

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