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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 83     

                           April 2009

Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet in later life.

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.



My son is having relationship problems

Dear Maggi


I need some advice, my 23 yr old son is having relationship problems with his girlfriend of 5 yrs. He came home two days ago and won't talk to any of us and I'm worried and not sure what to do or say. Can you please help me?

Maggi Replies

There is very little information to go on here, for instance has he come home from where he lives with his girlfriend or does he live in the family home?  If he lives with you are you sure the problems are to do with his relationship rather than work or something else? It reflects that you also have very little information to go on.

Perhaps you are a family who don’t talk about feelings or he might have told you a little about his worries by now. I shall assume he is making it apparent that he has relationship problems by staying in when he is usually with his girlfriend and by going around looking unhappy.

These are pretty strong communications and yet there is distressingly little you can do other than let him know you have noticed how unhappy he looks and that you want to be of help.  Ask him to tell you if and when there is anything you can do. This always feels risky, as the answer could well be “ yes there is, leave me alone”.  Try not to react to this too much as it is not so much a rejection of you as his attempt of trying to sort things out in his own way. 

The sad thing is – and as an older generation, we have learned this – trying to sort things in our own worried and perhaps confused and tired head, without talking it through with another person, doesn’t always work.  It is the very act of trying to organise your thoughts into spoken sentences that someone else can hear and understand that provides a most effective way of finding a better understanding of one’s situation in the process, irrespective of the response of the listener.

Your job is therefore to let your son know that you see he is worrying over something and that it appears to be about his relationship, but that whatever his worry you are ready and able to listen and support him in any way he needs. Tell him you don’t want to pry or be judgmental in any way but as his mum you worry and want him to feel he can talk to you about anything in confidence.  When we say “in confidence” we really must mean that.  If he were to talk with you, then find that another member of the family knows what he said he will never trust you again.  If he does confide in you and you feel his father needs to know a little of what he has said, you need to ask him first, but explain why Dad should know.

If he really can’t talk about what has happened then you have to deal with your own worries in your own adult way and merely be watchful of his well-being.  Sometimes an adult son or daughter just cannot bring themselves to talk about their private lives with parents.  It is their choice. It won’t stop us worrying or wanting to know how things are for them, but they have a right to their privacy.

We all know that relationships can hit stormy water at any point, even after many years of seemingly smooth sailing.  But if his relationship - probably his first major relationship, as he is only 23 - with his girlfriend has come to an end through his own neglect of it and her, then he needs time to reflect on the choices he made.  If it was through her actions, or lack of them, then he will need to deal with his hurt and grief. Either way, the ending, or threatened ending, of a relationship lasting 5 years is a time of loss of much that is familiar in a life - oddly, even when that relationship was not a good one. We all have to face something similar at some time in our lives and naturally want to protect our offspring from the pain, yet cannot.  Whichever way, he is at a point in his life that provides an opportunity to take stock of what has happened and become a stronger and wiser person.  It never feels like that at the time, yet it is how life works – we do learn from the knocks we take. At his age he still has a lot to discover about himself and about life.

What he might learn from this difficulty is that we can all get too comfy in our long-term relationship and forget to pay it any attention.  It needs checking now and then and maintaining, like an engine.  Sometimes it might need a part replacing. Here’s an example:-  Sam and Nicky had stopped enjoying each other’s company and were grumpy and resentful with each other. Nicky explained, “When we met we lived for the weekends to go clubbing, but now, four years on, we stay in because we can’t afford it as we want to buy a flat of our own and life is so boring.” She had noticed the change, (that the engine wasn’t running as smoothly as before).  Nicky needs to talk things through (maintenance check) with Sam and find something new to put in place of clubbing that would give them some joint enjoyment and focus (a replacement part) and would better suit their finances and their increased maturity.

Be kind to your son and be patient with him.  Encourage him to talk with a friend if not with you. Reassure him that you are always available to him.  Give him the time and space he will need to recover, even if he can’t see that as a possibility at present.



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

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