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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - December 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 for her to respond in the column.





Divorce in the over 60s

A recent report states there is a significant rise in the number of over 60s leaving their partners.

According to the most recent figures, in one year more than 11,500 over-60s were granted a divorce. There has been a rise of 4 per cent in two years, while the number of divorces dropped in younger age groups over the same period.

It appears part of the Laterlife generation is carving a new path into lifestyle past the age of 60.

It is well known that people of 60+ are part of the post war ‘Baby Boom’. I am one of them. Our mass arrival created the need to adjust social provision. More schools were needed to educate us in the early 1950s. The National Health Service was our saviour in terms of free health care here in the UK, but more doctors and nurses were trained and hospitals built. Colleges and universities grew, with new ones springing up everywhere in the 1960s. Then extra houses were built to accommodate all the new families when we married and had children.

Now drawing our pensions and likely to need increased medical care, the need to provide for the population bulge in ‘The Forties’ follows us right through life. But it seems we are forging new ways of living in retirement. Many choose not to retire, or continue working in a part-time capacity. Most have worked hard in some way or other to save and paid National Insurance which provides the State Pension. We have planned for this time. This is a lesson learned from previous generations. Our parents didn’t have the advantages we take for granted – health care, social benefits and pensions.

Many too, have inherited their parent’s stoicism in making the best of things. In marriages which have long lost their sparkle, partners can plod on in quiet tedium. But, reaching 60, there is no longer an acceptance that this is where everything stops and we just slowly slide into old age. We seem to have created a new approach to this milestone. More people are still strong, fit, and sexually active, and have as much enthusiasm as younger age groups. Along with this new approach to later years comes the tendency to take stock of their lives so far - and some find it wanting. Their continuing energy gives them the courage to act. If there was family, they will be mature and leading independent lives. It is at this time when a moribund marriage can break. Partnerships which have been unsatisfactory for one or both members, fall victim to the scrutiny of this stock-taking. Reaching such a conclusion, a person might feel there is a lot more life to be lived and they want it to be better than what they have now.

This is not to say breaking a relationship of many years once you are 60+ will be less traumatic than at any other time in your life. For a few in a dire situation there might well be a sense of relief and freedom in separation, but for the majority the feelings of loss and displacement will be just as hard to live through and those feelings need to be given space and time to pass.

Hurt and abandonment is part and parcel of most relationship splits and at this late stage in a life it can have greater significance. The ‘left’ partner can feel deep shock. The fear of not knowing what to do or how to live a single life and cope alone can be huge and, being older, can affect health. Even the person who has long wished to be free of their relationship can experience strong feelings of loss and fear of the unknown. We have a much greater reserve of experiences of how our own or other relationships work – or don’t work – so are likely to have thought hard about such a massive change to our lifestyle.

For those affected by relationship break-up there is a great need for support and reassurance. Friends and family might feel confused as they are likely to care about both of the splitting partners. But, as at other stages of life, there will be friends – probable just a few, but that is all you need – who are willing to be right there when you need them. Even sons and daughters will often want to be supportive and helpful. It is no easier for them to see their parents parting than it would be earlier in life. The family group is being disrupted so will always upset everyone concerned in some way.

As at any other stage of life, the best one can do in such situations is talk. Talk to your partner if it is possible. Listen to them too. Talk to a close friend or two. And talk to a relationship counsellor. It is fine to go alone if your partner refuses to go. Talking will help you to understand what might be happening and how to cope. Voicing the thoughts which otherwise crowd your mind helps them to develop to slowly and find acceptance of your own strength, giving you confidence to get through this very worrying time.

Try to avoid the feeling of failure. Remember, if you have been in a long relationship, if you have raised children together satisfactorily, you have not failed. You stayed together for a long time. You created a family. You created a secure environment for them until they are ready to leave home as adults. That is what we are driven to do by becoming attached to our partner in the first place. That we want it to last longer than the fertile years is a trait peculiar to just a few creatures on this earth and you managed it.

Losing our companion due to marriage breakdown is different to loss through illness or death. We have a sense of unfinished aims, of being rejected and of being abandoned. The feelings are common to all breaking relationships. But to experience them at a later stage of life cuts deeper than ever, as, even though the ‘baby boom’ generation is breaking the pattern of approaching later life, we are still older, and we really do find it harder to adjust and rebuild a different life.

Fight the thought that you can’t ‘start again’ with some aspects of our life. We may or may not find another partner to share our later years and probably won’t be starting another family but we can, and will, find a different lifestyle – perhaps of living singly and focussing of the power of friendship. There is fulfillment in that too if we allow it to happen.

There are blessings in among the problems the 1940s population bulge created. Breakthroughs in medical care and improved nutrition have extend expectation of life and most will have the chance of living long enough to find new ways to live. We have experienced a revolution in communication affording us the luxury of keeping in touch – even speaking face to face - with friends and loved ones worldwide. I regularly chat in this way via my computer, with a very warm and wise pal from the 1960s who lives in New Zealand. There’s no need to feel cut off when we could pick up the phone or go online at very low cost, and speak to someone who cares and will listen.

Whether you are worried over the state of your relationship, feel you want to end a marriage, are troubled about an affair, or if your partner has left, it is easy for you to feel alone. If you cannot talk to family or friends, talk to Relate, or a counsellor specifically trained in relationship counselling. And any time of day or night you will always find a willing friend at the other end of the phone and via email if you call the Samaritans.
Relate offers advice, relationship counselling, sex therapy, workshops, mediation, consultations and support face-to-face, by phone and through their website.
Whatever you’re going through, we’re here to help. We won’t judge you and we won’t share what you tell us with anyone else.

Get in touch by telephone, letter or email and face to face in the UK and Ireland. Visit if you live elsewhere.


You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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