Tell Me About It: I’m worried about my porn addiction

Tell Me About It: I’m worried about my porn addiction
I would love to have a relationship but worry I’m not able for it

Trish Murphy
Irish Times Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 01:00
First published:Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 01:00

Q I am 27 and live at home with my parents. Life is really getting me down and I am angry all the time. I feel I could be heading for depression. The problem is I think I have a porn addiction and I’m now beginning to realise it is affecting all parts of my life. I hardly go out any more and find there is nothing to do but spend my nights in my room on the internet. I would love to have a relationship but worry I’m not able for it or that I won’t be able to hide the things that turn me on now. I feel disgusted with myself but telling my family or friends is not an option. I’ve even been tempted to look at porn on the work computer, even though I know if I get caught I will get fired.

A Porn is one of the hidden problems of our age. Many people look at it only intermittently, but there are others who have serious problems. As we become more and more connected to our devices, many people suffer from separation anxiety if they cannot find their phones or computers. The reward we get from porn is intense and satisfying – at least in the moment – and it can be hard to give this up or to take the risk of finding satisfying sexuality in the world of real people.
Porn addiction is primarily a male phenomenon, although research is beginning to show some women are affected also. To quote Alain de Botton in his book How to Think More about Sex: ‘‘Pornographic content providers [have] exploited a design flaw of the male gender. A mind originally designed to cope with little more sexually tempting than the occasional sight of a tribeswoman across the savannah is rendered helpless when bombarded by continual invitations to participate in erotic scenarios far exceeding any dreamt of by the diseased mind of the Marquis de Sade.”
Human beings have always enjoyed eroticism and the internet has an endless supply of material on hand.
One of the major problems with porn is that it is always available when you feel lonely, sad, bored or flattered, and ever-increasing hits are available at the touch of a button. It is easy to give yourself a break from your troubles, and the pleasure is real and rewarding. However, the purpose of desire is to break you out of your own comfort zone and take the risk of connecting with another human being – something requiring courage and confidence. We need the pull of desire to get us to do this, and if that desire is being met by porn, we stay in our safe, small places.
1Social isolation and withdrawing into oneself is not unusual, and often porn users can find themselves increasingly without real friendships or intimacy. Tackling this issue requires facing it head-on and accepting it will not be easy or quick. Many porn users say it takes up to 18 months to be completely free of the urges, and so the more help you get the better.
Self-awareness is the first step: being able to see how your thinking mind offers you such rationalisations is key. For example, a part of your mind can say “everyone does it”; “it’s just this one time”; “I’ll go cold turkey on Monday”, and so on. It is hard to resist such justifications, and you will need to remind yourself of your aim on a regular basis. Your aims could be to free yourself from porn, to find the courage to get into a relationship, and to like yourself more.
You could open up to someone close. Parents can be surprising in their capacity to be non-intrusive while at the same time providing boundaries. You don’t have to go into detail, but maybe you could have an agreement with them that all devices would be taken out of your room (and into theirs?) at 9pm every night. Initially this will be hard, but this might push you into having a social life or reading a good book.
You will have to leave your room and venture into the world of real people. There is no point in forming a pseudo relationship. Honesty and openness will be required. Choose someone to ask out who will not baulk at your authenticity. Intimacy is the prize here – being with someone who accepts you fully for who you are will be worth all the trouble.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, professional help may be needed. A good therapist or group can be invaluable in supporting you towards your goal.
Trish Murphy is a psychotherapist who specialises in sexual matters. For advice, email

Tell Me About It: My married lover also has a younger, single woman

Tell Me About It: My married lover also has a younger, single woman
Irish Times 11th March 2014 – Kate Holmquist

It was heaven for a while, until recently, when I discovered he was in love with someone else (much younger and single)

Q I am broken-hearted. I fell madly in love with a married man recently. (I too am married but the love is long dead ). He lives with his wife but I know there is not much love there either. We got on brilliantly, and he asked me to trust him and “give myself to him”, which I did.
It was a relationship where we would meet up every other month or so and contact each other by email. It was heaven for a while, until recently, when I discovered he was in love with someone else (much younger and single). He met this girl many years ago.
If he loved her so much why did he bother with me, as they were together before he met me ? She knows he was being unfaithful and knows also he is married. I hope that she has the sense to get rid of him.
I just can’t cope with this. Is there any advice you can give me to help me move on?
I know I don’t deserve help as what I did disgusts me now in hindsight, especially as I realise he just used me for sex . My self-esteem is at rock bottom.

A You do deserve help, and so much more – empathy, intimacy, sex and feeling loved. You’re afraid to seek help from people you know because you think they will judge you as harshly as you’re judging yourself. I’m glad you wrote to me, if only to hear that no one should judge you for being human. Many of us have been fooled by an illusion of love, so please be kind to yourself.
After years in a loveless marriage, you were craving intimacy and closeness. This man offered it, but meeting once every couple of months and exchanging emails isn’t a relationship, no matter how exciting it may have been. You believed your lover was being honest when you gave yourself to him, so no wonder you are devastated.
Psychotherapist Trish Murphy says: “This is an issue that can and does happen – and the idea that the woman was being used for sex may not be entirely true, but devastating nonetheless . . . It feels like total betrayal to discover that the lover was not being honest and indeed was loving someone else at the time they were supposed to be devoted to you.”
Your judgement was compromised by desire and hope, so you may feel you’ve lost your ability to judge what’s real and true and that it’s impossible to trust anyone or anything. You ask why he bothered with you. It’s possible that this man is so practised in self-deception, believing himself to be “in love” with whomever he is with, that he cannot see what he is doing, Murphy suggests.
“When found out, he may be ashamed but unable to face this and takes comfort in repeating a pattern where a lover sees him as a wonderful person, better than he really is,” says Murphy.
Heartbreak can feel like grief. First comes the shock, then anger when you learn that you weren’t the only woman in his repertoire – plus she’s younger. No wonder your self-esteem is at rock bottom. Anger turned inwards becomes depression. Direct your anger where it belongs: that callous womaniser.
It will take time for you to recover your confidence, but when you are ready, “you have to have the courage to tackle the reality of the marriage – either face separation or work on the relationship. It is an opportunity to look at your life and take the time to investigate what direction you want to take. This is hard to do when you are feeling so lonely and betrayed and it may need some short-term professional help,” Murphy advises.
You may be grieving the loss of the sensual, sexual part of yourself that you suppress to stay married. The affair was a fleeting taste of being a full woman once again, making your marriage – the real issue – even more painful.
Your husband, though, deserves the same love and happiness you do. When you’ve built yourself up again, you two need to talk with the help of a relationships counsellor and find a way towards a more satisfying future for both of you, whatever that may be.

Tell Me About It: My mother thinks my older boyfriend is wrong for me

Tell Me About It: My mother thinks my older boyfriend is wrong for me
She doesn’t like him because he says he will never get married and have children, and he made this clear to me from the start
Tue, Apr 1, 2014, Irish Times – Kathryn Holmquist

Q My boyfriend and I are totally in love and share everything in common, from our careers to our hobbies and tastes. He’s my soul mate, and life is good. We moved in together a year ago and have a good lifestyle, but due to his work he has moved to London. I’ve been travelling there at weekends, which can be exhausting. He wants me to move to London and realistically I could find work there.
My problem is that my mother disapproves and after a few arguments, an icy silence has descended where we used to be so close, so I think she’s afraid of me leaving her. She says that, because my boyfriend is 15 years older (I’m in my late 20s), I should leave more time before I make a commitment. The real reason she doesn’t like him is that he says he will never get married and have children and made this clear to me from the start. She says this is selfish and I’ll regret it later. I wish I had never shared this with her.
My parents split when I was small, and my mother blames herself. She says I’m looking for a father figure, which is ridiculous . If my mother weren’t pushing the marriage and babies issue, I wouldn’t be thinking about it. Who knows what will happen? We could change our minds about children one day. How do I reconcile with her while also getting her to butt out of my life?

A You and your mother need to sit down and talk – really communicate. You are an adult with a right to make adult choices. Your mother is concerned about you, which is natural. She’s worried that the man you are with is much older and doesn’t want marriage and children. It’s equally valid that you have a right to your own choices.
“Both mother and daughter have valid points and are not listening to each other,” says psychotherapist Trish Murphy. “What you don’t want in this conversation is each person going into it determined to be right. Both are right, and both are wrong. They need to actually listen to each other as opposed to half-listening and trying to prove their points. The skill is to put time aside so you can listen to one another.”
Listen respectfully to your mother until she has said everything she needs to say and feels both heard and understood. Likewise, you need her to stay quiet and listen to your point of view until you have got everything off your chest. In this way, you will both be showing mutual respect as adults who care about one another.
It may be difficult to hear your mother’s fear that you may regret losing out on marriage and children. Your mother, meanwhile, needs to accept that she cannot plan and run your life.
This is a milestone for you as an adult. How you handle this with your mother will affect how you sort out further conflicts with people you are close to in all your future relationships, says Murphy.
Your boyfriend, to his credit, has been very clear about his future plans. You say that you could change your minds, but that’s irrelevant. Adult decisions are made based on current realities and always have consequences. How will you feel when you are 40, unmarried and without children, yet in a relationship? Will you be happy?
When we are in love, we tend to think all the best things about our beloved and may fool ourselves into thinking we can persuade them into becoming who we secretly want them to be. This can be positive when we support someone into fulfilling their potential. On the dark side, we can live in a delusion that our hero will eventually come around to our own point of view, even when – like you – we’re not sure what that is.
You don’t need marriage and children to have a loving relationship. But while predicting the future is a mistake, acknowledging the potential consequences of our decisions is common sense.

Tell Me About It: I am a happily single woman of 37 – do I need to find a man?

Tell Me About It: I am a happily single woman of 37 – do I need to find a man?

Irish Times 25th March 2014 – Kate Holmquist

Will I look back in a few years and realise my laissez-faire attitude to romance was a mistake?

Q I am a 37-year-old woman, living in rural Ireland. I enjoy my life, am close to my family, have good friend s and lots of interests. I have never felt better about myself, nor looked better. Right now, I am in a happy relationship with myself.
I have been single for two years. The break -up of my last relationship was painful and protracted, but I understand why it did not work. He was a great guy and most of the fault lay at my door. I learned valuable lessons from it.
I have dated guys since, tried online dating and seem to attract men without difficulty. But none have been the right fit, and no, I am not looking for perfection. The right fit for me is a man who I would still love to have conversations with when I am old .
After 20 years of dating and relationships , I am tired of the pursuit of the supposed norm. I have adopted a “what will be, will be” attitude . I do not have a pressing desire to have children and do not feel any biological clock ticking. My friends are concerned at my lack of interest in pursuing romance . But I too am concerned for myself : am I being short-sighted and will I look back in a few years and realise that my laissez-faire attitude to my romantic life was a mistake? Do I need to reboot my attitude to dating and men, and how can I do that?

A You sound confident, you don’t feel the biological clock ticking and you like yourself. You’re happy in your own skin and you have a full life with family and friends.
“You have all the qualities that people are looking for – the very definition of being attractive,” says psychotherapist Trish Murphy. “By continuing doing what you are doing and enjoying your life, if someone were to come along, you are doing all the things to be attractive to them.”
So the question isn’t how do you reboot your attitude, but why do you think you need to reboot? My guess is that well-meaning friends and family may be saying that you must be in a relationship with “the one” to have a happy life. Nothing could be further from the truth. You have had imposed on you a fear that in the future you will regret being single.
“A lot of people have that fear,” says Murphy. “By living in fear you are bringing fear into your life and into your future. By living happily in today you are creating happiness in the future.”
Single women live longer, healthier lives than married women, statistically. Murphy suspects that this is because many women work very hard to keep their marriages functioning. All of what seems like nagging could actually be women’s attempts to keep their marriages alive, and it takes effort. “If I can’t do all in my power to keep this relationship going, I will regret it,” they think.
Regret can be harmful from the opposite perspective too. Many women – and men – fear that they will regret it in future if they commit themselves by moving in with someone or marrying them. I have a friend who was in a relationship for a couple of years, but the very day that she and her boyfriend moved in together, she ended the relationship. Her fear of waking up in five years’ time and regretting settling down was that intense.
“Fear of regret can cause a lot of problems in relationships,” says Murphy. Some people decide to give it a go, then leave, then return, disappear, over and over again, “driving the other person away because they can’t take being picked up and dumped over and over again any more,” she says.
Instead of buying into the fairy tale that we are completed by “the one soulmate”, you have created a rich and fulfilling existence. “There is an abundance of everything in life,” says Murphy. You are doing everything right. You have already found what everyone is looking for, if only they knew it.
“It’s not somebody else’s job to complete you or make you happy. That’s your job and always will be,” says Murphy. So don’t change anything and, if it’s meant to be, the man you want to be old with may just come along.

Recent publication of book by Trish Murphy “The Challenge of Retirement”

The Challenge of Retirement

Trish Murphy

‘For years I have used many of the practices Trish has in this book and I can attest to their value. I can also attest to the value of this book. It has opened insights and much needed conversation.’
Lee Dunne, author

Orpen Press is delighted to announce the publication of psychotherapist Trish Murphy’s indispensable guide to the challenges of retirement in twenty-first century Ireland. At the end of a working life, we all hope to enjoy our retirement. For some, this new phase of life throws up many new challenges and difficulties. The need to develop new skills and approaches to meet these new challenges is vital if people want to enjoy their retirement fully and actively. The Challenge of Retirement is a useful guide for anyone facing retirement or has found themselves negotiating the issues that retirement brings with it.

About the book: The book is aimed at people who are leaving the world of paid work. It focuses on the psychological aspects of retirement, addressing issues such as how to manage relationships, sexuality and sex after 60, mental health, self-care, intergenerational living, managing relationships and expectations of adult children, and developing later-life spirituality. Each section is supported by stories and advice from people in the early, middle and later stages of retirement.

The Challenge of Retirement offers readers a wonderful insight into the psychological, emotional and social issues of retirement. It is available from bookshops nationwide and at, priced at €14.99.

About the Author: Trish Murphy is a fully qualified and accredited psychotherapist, trainer, mediator and consultant working in private practice and business fields. Trish appears regularly on radio as a commentator on Newstalk FM and RTE Radio 1 and is a regular contributor to the Irish Times, Irish Independent, as well as contributing to The Examiner, Irish Tatler and Stellar magazine.

For press and publicity enquiries contact: Gerard O’Connor on 01 2785090 or email:
Press ReleaseThe Challenge of Retirement Trish Murphy

Katie McGing honoured at FTAI AGM 2014

Katie McGing

Dr. Imelda McCarthy, Fifth Province Centre, Dublin, made a presentation, on behalf of the FTAI, to Katie McGing at the recent FTAI AGM on the 1st March 2014, and spoke about Katie’s enormous contribution to Family Therapy in Ireland as follows:

It is such a delicious privilege to honour Katie McGing, one of the five founders of our Association. Next year, FTAI will be 40 years old and our honoured guest will be all of 90 years old.

In 1974, the Irish Association of Social Workers had a team of five people organise events around the Year of the Family. This team of Social Workers included, Katie McGing, Philip Kearney, Barbara Kohnstamm, Susan Lindsay and Josephine Glynn. At the end of the year, the IASW suggested that this team continue their work outside of the association and so the Family Therapy Network of Ireland, as it was known then, was born in 1975.

Since the outset, Katie was a generous, dynamic and creative force. She opened her home to meetings along with Angela Walsh and she also organised peer group sessions at her agency, St. Michael’s House where she was a senior Social Worker. Here, groups of us had opportunities to see some families using a one way screen. She also invited Virginia Satir to Ireland on a few occasions in the early days. Also, it was Katie who honoured Virginia at the First International Family Therapy Association in Dublin in 1988. Virginia had been invited but unfortunately had died of pancreatic cancer a short time before the meeting. Katie was also on the ‘core group’ of the Network for many years. This was a group of seven who met regularly plotting and planning a future that might unfold.
We dreamed of training programmes and I remember getting Feedback, our Newsletter, up and running on an old Gestetner machine in the Mater Child Guidance Clinic at the time. How far we have come, Katie, from those heady days of conversations in circles on the floor drinking wine. We can remember Margaret Mead’s words – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”.

Well that small group of seven in the early days made possible what we have today – a complex National Association, Master’s degree programmes in Family Therapy, major national training institutions, several PhD’s which have addressed family and systemic therapy together with internationally recognised therapists.
We have come a long way, thanks to Katie, her dreams and her team of 1974 and 1975. Katie, FTAI honours you and celebrates your wonderful 90 years.


Trainin in Supervision Programme – Clanwilliam Institute

Training in Supervision Programme

Clanwilliam Institute invites application for their 18month part-time Training in Supervision Programme (TISP).

This programme is accredited by FTAI.

Entry requirements for this programme are 2 year post FTAI registration.

Enquiries to Michelle Mc Cafferty – 01 6761363 or
Closing date for receipt of application is February 28th 2014
Interviews will be held on Friday afternoon, 7th March here in CWI.

Married to the Job

Married to the Job
Going into business with your spouse can be a dream or a nightmare – good communication is the key to making it work
Sheila Wayman – The Irish Times Nov 11 2013

When Jamie and Lisa Cobbe gave up jobs in Dublin to start a business together in the west, they had to learn to speak to each other as colleagues – not as a couple – during working hours.
It took a good six months to sort out their working relationship, after starting Water Babies, a baby swimming programme, in the west.
“If there was an issue in the office we would argue it out as a couple instead of discussing it like colleagues,” says Lisa. “It made me realise that if we were going to stay together, we had to learn how to speak to each other properly.”
Even after that realisation, it was a conversation they had “to revisit a couple of times”, says Jamie.

Family’s future
As with any new venture, there were initial financial difficulties and self-doubt. But for the Cobbes, who had two young children, there was the additional pressure of staking the whole family’s future on the business.
“We had for a long time wanted to move to the west coast but we had never been able to figure out how to do it,” says Jamie. For him, surfing was the big draw; for Lisa, it was having her mother, sister and brother living in Galway.
It was only after taking their first child, Leon, now aged four, to Water Babies in Dublin, that they spotted a franchise opportunity that might make it all possible.
But two significant life events – the death of Jamie’s father and the birth of their second child, Marley, now aged three – delayed their pursuit of a better work-life balance.
It was March 2011 before they moved and then faced the reality of trying to make a go of their own business.
“We had both given up really good jobs and the recession had just hit,” says Lisa, who was an archivist in the National Library, while Jamie was the manager of a centre for young adults with intellectual disabilities.
“There was a lot going on and we did question for those months had we made the right decision.”
The word “copreneurs” has been coined for couples like the Cobbes and, whether the intimate partnership or the working relationship was established first, keeping both on an even track can be tricky. Home can no longer be a total escape from work, and vice versa.

“I think it is definitely challenging,” agrees family therapist Ann Campbell. “While you realise it is a professional relationship, you are much more likely to get short with somebody you are in an intimate relationship with.”
Good communication is important in all relationships but here it is doubly needed – clarifying in advance the roles and ground rules. And listening is the one part of communication that gets lost very easily, she advises.
It would be a good idea if couples moving into this two-dimensional relationship acknowledge that it requires a huge readjustment and talk about how things between them might be different.
Another aspect of being copreneurs is that employees will judge you as a couple, as well as employers.
“The other part that is huge for couples working together is family life,” says Campbell, who is vice chairwoman of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland.
“Gender issues come in here; when it comes to the crunch, whose responsibility are the children? Are they both business partners’ responsibility or is there an idea that one is the stronger partner, therefore they do less family stuff?”

Their own childhoods will colour expectations and, as they have had different upbringings, they really need to discuss how they are going to handle this. Likewise housework, which has been shown to be the thing all couples argue about most.
Yet couples working together, who may have spent the day talking business, can’t go home and argue with somebody else about who hasn’t done what, she points out. “You’re faced with that conversation with the same person as well.”
She advises co-workers going home together after a bad day to “name it and park it”. Acknowledge there is a problem at work but agree you are going to leave it aside and talk about it in the morning.
Self-care is really important, particularly when there are multiple demands on the one relationship. There is a fair expectation of a certain amount of care and minding in the intimate relationship, says Campbell, “but can you be black and white and just get on with work and have a different connection in the workplace”?

Not having children leads to exclusion for couples, even more so if they have decided not to reproduce

Choosing a different direction
Not having children leads to exclusion for couples, even more so if they have decided not to reproduce

Ask anyone who does not have children and they will be able to easily recount moments when they have been excluded from conversations.
Charlie Taylor –Irish Times
First published: Tue, Sep 17, 2013, 01:00

Ireland is experiencing a baby boom. According to official figures, there were 72,225 births registered here in 2012, a slight decrease on the preceding year, but still a higher per capita birth rate than any other EU state.
Given the large number of youngsters in the country, it isn’t too surprising that their upbringing is a regular topic of conversation. Discussions concerning the right age to wean, the right school to attend and the right life lessons to pass on reign large. Except, that is, if you are childless.
Ask anyone who does not have children and they will be able to easily recount moments when they have been excluded from conversations and even events because they are not parents.
Not having children leads to awkwardness and exclusion for couples, even more so if they have decided not to reproduce.

Bernadette Ryan, a counsellor with Relationships Ireland, believes people generally are suspicious of those who don’t conform and are especially so in the case of childless couples.
“Our society is highly suspicious, resentful even of those who go against the norm. But when it comes to babies and children, there is an added thing as they also wonder what kind of a person wouldn’t want them?
“It is considered fine if a couple can’t have children, then we can feel sorry for them and will offer our sympathy. But if they actually do not want them, then we feel there must be something wrong,” she says.
“I think that especially here in Ireland where children are so cherished we genuinely have a difficulty understanding those who choose not to have children,” she adds.

This view is shared by Trish Murphy, chairwoman of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland (FTAI). She says couples who actively choose not to have children are unlikely to experience the same kind of bereavement issues that couples who cannot have them tend to endure. However, she says they may suffer from unwanted curiosity or comment.
“People can apply their own assumptions to those who choose not to have children and respond accordingly. This is unfair. Couples have told me that they have had people comment on their childlessness in a very insensitive manner such as ‘Any news?’ or ‘When will we hear the patter of little feet?’ Relatives or friends can be particularly forward in their commenting and be unaware of the upset or offence they are causing,” Murphy adds.

Unwritten assumptions
Perhaps harder to handle are the unwritten assumptions that to not want to have children means one is anti-family.
There is such concern over this that when The Irish Times tried to find childless couples to speak on this issue, most were unwilling to do so without using pseudonyms.
One couple who were prepared to discuss their experience were Donna Smith and Stephen Gormley (both aged 37).
The couple, who have been together for 18 years (and married for 12), made the decision long ago that they did not wish to have children and are more than happy with their choice.
“We are often asked why we don’t have children, but there is no answer we can give that would satisfy people. We knew early on that we did not want to have them for a whole range of reasons and knew this without even needing to discuss it in great detail,” says Smith.

The Weekday emigrants

The weekday emigrants
Significant numbers of people now work abroad, away from their families, often for lifestyle reasons

Sat, Feb 22, 2014, 00:00 Irish Times
Ciara Kenny

Cheaper airfares have allowed for an increase in cross-border commuting from one European country to another in recent years, but it was the advent of the recession in 2008 which led to the most significant rise of this kind of migration out of Ireland, as families in particular have opted for one member to commute long-distance to work abroad rather than uprooting the whole family and emigrating together.
A surprising result of University College Cork’s extensive study last year on the impact of emigration on Irish society revealed that households in commuter-belt areas, where homeowners are more likely to be in negative equity and have young children, had low levels of emigration. Just 11 per cent had seen a family member emigrate since 2006, compared with a national average of 17 per cent.
The report’s authors concluded that it was in these areas that “commuter migrants” were most likely to be found, that is, where one member of the household is working outside the country and travelling back and forth regularly.

If they could, these people might have upped sticks and emigrated as a family unit to London or Paris or Australia, but because they are saddled with burdensome mortgages, family emigration might not be an option,” explains David Ralph of UCC’s Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century. He is currently carrying out a separate research study to explore the phenomenon of “Euro-commuting” in further detail.
In 27 of the 30 couples Ralph has interviewed so far, the woman remains here in Ireland, usually with children, while the man travels to work in another EU country, usually in one of the major cities such as London, Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam. All are relatively well-paid professionals, working in sectors such as finance, academia, media, engineering, law and medicine.
“Few, if any commuters work in the social and construction sectors,” Ralph explains. “Many of these positions simply do not pay enough to cover the costs of a commuter arrangement, with two domestic residences, weekly or bi-weekly air travel, and so on.”

Commuters can be roughly divided into three groups depending on their motivations, Ralph believes. The smallest cohort are those who see it as a lifestyle choice. “They enjoy toing and froing between Ireland and another culture, meeting new people, learning new job skills. Their decision is not economically driven,” he says. “They enjoy the independence from their partner.”
Another small group choose to commute in an effort to advance their careers. “They may have hit a glass ceiling in the workplace in Ireland, perhaps related to the recession where promotional opportunities have been reduced. They see it as a temporary arrangement, a way of climbing up the ladder, gaining experience and a certain level of seniority which will allow them to return to Ireland and secure a better post here in the future.”

But by far the largest group are the financially-motivated “livelihood commuters”, who have become either unemployed or underemployed since the recession hit. They don’t consider their decision to be voluntary, but are compelled to seek a better remunerated position abroad so they can keep up their mortgage repayments and other financial commitments such as health insurance and education for their children.
One striking feature Ralph found was shared by this group was the fear of falling out of the Irish middle class, a status they had become accustomed to before the recession.
“They were all white-collar professionals, living in relatively affluent suburbs mainly around the cities,” Ralph explains. “Maintaining a middle-class lifestyle was important to them. They weren’t prepared to downgrade to a less-prestigious neighbourhood or cancel their overseas holiday. Taking work overseas allowed them to maintain the lifestyle they had become accustomed to pre-crisis.”
Whatever their motivations for leaving, most commuters Ralph interviewed cited similar benefits to the arrangement, such as career advancement, an expanded network of professional contacts, new friends and greaterindependence.
The same drawbacks were also shared by many in the group – loneliness by both partners, miscommunication, fatigue from travel, and a sense of missing out on family life.
“The person living abroad tried to keep routines on weeknights, going to the gym or doing laundry, but some spoke about loneliness and the dangers of drinking too much when alone in a foreign city without family or friends,” Ralph says. Fear of infidelity was also a concern.
Some children had developed behavioural difficulties while the parent was absent, while others became clingy when they were home. It often took young children a few hours, or sometimes days, to adjust to having them around.
“Generally, the separation caused huge family strife. The partner left behind often felt burdened by the responsibility of looking after the household and children alone. The partner away spoke about how upsetting it was to be separated from their children during the week, where they had to watch them grow up over Skype. Some tried to hep out with homework over Skype or read bedtime stories, but they said it wasn’t the same as being there.”
But despite the challenges, many of the men Ralph interviewed said they would prefer to be living away from their families and be able to support them financially rather than remaining unemployed or underemployed in Ireland. They are proud of the initiative they have taken to support their partner and children, safeguarding their class identity and their position as the primary breadwinner for the family.
The majority are actively seeking opportunities to return to Ireland, but this is conditional on securing a similarly paid job here that would make it financially feasible.
“Most hope that the Irish economy will recover its former buoyancy, and they will be able to find suitable job positions back home as soon as possible,” Ralph says. “Yet hope is one thing, reality another. Most have no faith in this actually happening anytime soon; they are preparing to put up with commuting overseas for the long-haul.”

Working abroad: How to live a commuting life
When a couple decides one partner is to be absent for significant periods of time for work, the most important thing is that both are accepting of the situation, psychotherapist and chair of the Family Therapy Association of Ireland Trish Murphy advises. “They must both believe that the arrangement is for the greater good of their relationship, or their family. If one person is unsure, it won’t work.”

They should make a plan for how they are are going to maintain their relationship and their family life while one of them is away. “Relationships require attention and time, especially at a distance. Can you schedule a nightly phone or Skype chat? Can you put a circle around you both as a couple as opposed to the whole family, where you have time to talk just the two of you? This is very important for when the person is home from abroad that you have time alone.”

“Intimacy is very important – don’t feel like you have to protect the other person from your sadness. It is something we all do when someone is living away, because we don’t want to worry them. But couples need to agree to be open. This will keep them connected even when things aren’t going smoothly.”
Fear of infidelity is very common, she says. “The possibility of affairs is often the unmentionable issue, but it needs to be discussed, even if you are afraid. Staying quiet leads to suspicion, anxiety and ultimately distrust, which is so destructive, and often totally unfounded.”

Sometimes the person left at home can feel like a martyr, that they are doing all the hard work with the children while the other persion is away living the high life, Murphy says. “It is easy to be resentful, and that resentment can boil over. Martyrdom will will bring them a lot of attention and sympathy but it is very destructive for a relationship. For children too, having a parent who is a martyr is very difficult.”
Murphy advises couples to set aside time every few months to review. “We get used to every situation, as human beings, but that does not mean you should necessarily keep doing it. Review the situation properly after six months. Are you both happy? Do you both still think it is the right thing to do? Are there other options? Plenty of couples live apart like this for many years and it works well for them, but it is definitely difficult and won’t be the right thing for every relationship.”