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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - July 2011 

It could be you ....

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers.

For reasons of confidentiality Maggi never writes about a particular person's problems unless you have sent one in to be answered, but all her examples are based on problems raised by clients, family and friends over the years.

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column. 


 

IT COULD BE YOU...

A later-life affair needn’t be the end

Dear Maggi,

What can I do? We have been married for thirty years and I have just retired. Two of the children are settled and one, our youngest son, is still far from it, but no longer living at home. I was so looking forward to spending my time with my wife enjoying doing all the things we have always mentioned in our retirement plans, like spending weekends driving to the coast, or exploring parts of the country we still don’t know, or re-designing the garden together.
Since I’ve been at home I’ve seen very little of her. She seems to be so busy with her friends, charity work and her women’s groups. Also she often visits the widower of her best friend and ‘often’ is every other day. I’m getting quite uncomfortable about it as I’m afraid there might be more to it than just being friendly to him now he’s alone. I feel really silly about this and don’t feel I can mention it to her, but I feel really cut off and as though she’s keeping me at a distance. It has cast a bit of a shadow over the pleasure I felt at starting my retirement in good health and with my wife at my side.
It seems she isn’t.

 

Maggi's reply

You sound very disappointed. You had a clear idea of how you were going to spend your time but now realise it isn’t going to be quite like that after all. Life seldom gives us everything we imagine is waiting for us around the corner, sometimes we get more than we hoped for and sometimes less. You are feeling you’re getting less.

I’m pretty sure there would be room for negotiation in varying your wife’s schedule to encompass the retirement plans you both made as you approached the actual day, and your wife will need as much adjustment time with her usual daytime pattern as you letting go of your work. But her frequent visits to the widower worry you and that is important to bring into the open.

I wonder if it is the regular visits, or something else that is leading you to suspect an affair? The visits in themselves might not constitute anything more than the kindness of someone who was very close to his wife. She is a woman who loves to be involved socially and practically, she has the Women’s Institute, working at the charity shop and meeting friends for lunch, as well as visiting the widower. One way you might address the imbalance is to offer to come along on these visits, or suggest he comes to your house more often for lunch or supper.

Should this meet with refusal then it is a natural lead into voicing your wish to have more of her company. Offering her a positive reason for asking carries less threat than a straight accusation. I agree that it is an extremely difficult subject to approach but it is important that you try to give your wife the benefit of the doubt until you are more sure of what her relationship is with him.

Ask her how she now feels about how the plans you both made over the years and if she feels less enthusiastic about them now. Listen to her carefully and ask her how she feels she might change them now she has had a while with you at home, and how you can help make your joint life changes.

Husbands, perhaps more than wives, have clear views of what retirement will be like. It is a shock to them when they find their wife is fully occupied with a community of people she has bonded to for years. Sometimes she will have spent years in their company, waiting at the school gates for the children, sharing childcare, having kiddie sleepovers and birthday parties and being taxi for groups of teenagers. Very close bonds develop over these years and she too has to think carefully about what she might change or rearrange in order to accommodate doing things with you. Few women will have been staying at home preparing exclusively for their husband’s retirement – they will have either had jobs themselves or will have been getting on with the rhythm of their home lives.

The important thing for both of you is that you talk regularly about what you want and how you will achieve as much as is realistic. If each of you has a sense of companionship and shared satisfaction from your new phase of life you will have much to feel good about. This cannot happen in the present circumstances and your current worries need to be laid to rest if possible.

Once again, try to draw your wife into planning your future. Involve her as much as you can in decision-making. Ask her for opinions – it is for her life too.

But let’s look at the ‘what if’s. What if she doesn’t want to be involved? What if she isn’t keen on you joining her on visits to the widower friend? Worse still, what if she is having an affair?

It is possible she doesn’t want to distrupt her personal balance of activities and therefore will leave decision making to you, thinking it won’t concern her so much as you. It is at this point you are able to tell her how you have been looking forward to the time when you could do things which can give shared pleasure, as well as having a few solo interests too. Say that you see this as a chance to make retirement a reward for all the long years of employment and child-rearing – something to share.

Reassure her that you don’t wish to take over all the things she has been managing and running all the years you have been working, but would like to know what, on her task list, you can do; so that she can have more leisure time too. Tell her how much you admire her skills – whether it is in making ends meet financially, juggling grandchild care with charity work, producing good meals year after year, or finding the energy to keep the garden looking good. You want her to ease up a little too and have more treats now you are free of work commitments.

If she isn’t keen on you going on the visits with her perhaps you can gently ask why. Your wife sounds like she has quite a strong social conscience and, perhaps, what started as an act of compassion has become an automatic ‘good deed’ which she needs to be told she can ease off – in fact it might be helpful to the widower to see less of him, to allow him to come to terms with his own ‘new stage of life’ – that of being alone. The sooner he does, the sooner he can begin to live more freely. If she still thinks he needs company – then suggest he comes to join you for lunch once a week at your house instead of her going to his home.

If all this is blocked then it would be time to ask if she might have become fond of him. If that is admitted to be the case then try not to panic – but talk. There are all kinds of reasons for why this might have happened. Pity, joint loneliness, a reluctance to let go of the connection with her best friend even. Maybe your marriage needs to have an overhaul to make it more interesting and for you both to re-juvenate the ways in which you show your love for each other – we all need different things at different times and these can often be quite a way from how we expressed love in our early married days. Be prepared to listen and to explore new ways of showing you care. Talking to a well trained couple counsellor together is always a more effective way of doing this.

Being prepared to stay calm, listen and make personal change where necessary is often the key to rebuilding a marriage that has fallen on difficult times. That situation is not necessarily the end – indeed it can often be the opportunity to throw off outdated habits and establish a balance much better suited to your time of life.

www.relate.org..uk
The Relate website will tell you where your nearest office is and also has lots of tips and very helpful book recommendations covering all kinds of relationship difficulties

 

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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