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Planning Retirement Online


                           November 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 husband drinks too much

Dear Maggi

My husband and I have been married for a little over 40 years and have two grown up sons. We have no obvious worries over money, children, etc. but for one: namely alcohol, which my husband overuses. I used to enjoy a drink or two, or three, as well, but have found that alcohol affects my health badly now. Still my husband drinks like he has always done (1-2 bottles of wine per evening), but as he ages the alcohol affects him more quickly and in a worse way.

It has got to the stage where as soon as I notice 3/4 of the bottle is drunk, I retreat to my bedroom to avoid arguments. He is not an alcoholic exactly, because he CAN stop for up to a week if he should choose to, but his mood hardly alters. Sometimes I don't know whether to ask him to drink or stop.

We argue over ridiculous, nonsensical things. He also seems to think all can be forgotten the next day however vicious his words have been. He is a Jekyll & Hyde personality. It seems talking to friends that our problem is not unusual at our age (65)

Now to the question: Do I stay or do I go? He has always said he will never divorce me, but now he is just hateful, and I think depressed, hating having no status or purpose in life. (He plays golf and has interest in horse racing). I am in a difficult position as I come from a different country and if we break up, I wouldn’t know where to go, where I belong. We are diametrically opposed personalities, so we have no interests that overlap, but in business we were good together because we complemented each other.

The situation now is that we basically live separate lives (in the same lovely home), but the verbal abuse continues. What to do?

Maggi Replies

You are both 65 years old, have been married for 40 years and have worked together in your business all that time to great effect. You have been successful and have no money worries, a lovely home and two fine adult sons.

Yet all is not well. You are in a position of great uncertainty. You find that although you don’t drink as much as you used to, your husband continues to down a bottle or two of wine in an evening. You say he isn’t an alcoholic because he could give it up for as much as a week if he chose, but for a person to be drinking a whole bottle of wine every evening is pretty worrying; drinking two is dangerous. Your husband’s health is in great danger from this. He will be putting excess strain on his liver and his heart. Liver disease is often accompanied by depression. Whether he drinks because he is depressed or is depressed because he drinks is not clear but what is obvious is that he needs to get help for his problem immediately. Of course, when someone is so entrenched in drinking heavily they will seldom see that they have a problem, and depression carries that tendency for some people too.

But perhaps that is where you start. How do you feel about getting your husband some help? First, talk to his GP. Tell the doctor about your concerns for your husband: tell him or her how much he drinks and what effect the alcohol has on him; say that he becomes abusive and seems depressed to you. Then try to speak to your husband, during the day when he is not drinking but not too early in the morning. Suggest that as you are both retired now, it would be a good idea to have a full health-check. Tell him you have become increasingly concerned about him, and feel he would benefit from seeing his GP. Say he needs to stay fit enough to continue enjoying his hobbies of golf and horse racing.

This is hard for you, of course, because you already feel alienated from him because of his unreasonable behaviour. But do this for him at least. It might alert him to think about what he is doing even if he doesn’t act upon it immediately.

Retirement is a tricky business. For decades couples, get on with the pattern they have grown accustomed to and then change it. For some time that change will have been expected and, in most cases, looked forward to. Yet when it comes, some find they have lost touch with their partner – and some aren’t even sure of who they themselves are any more. They were defined as a person by what they did or by what position they held. When that position goes, so does their confidence. It is possible that this is what has happened to your husband – and to you, in a way. You are realising that you have nothing in common, no shared interests, only the memory of working well together professionally. At this point, you must give a lot of thought to whether or not the relationship is viable. What is it you want from a relationship now? Is it companionship? Are you happy with something that is just tolerable, leaving you to live as you have been doing? Or do you want more closeness and fulfilment from it?

You say you argue over ridiculous things. What would happen if you didn’t respond? How can there be an argument then? Can you do that? If you aren’t drinking any more, it will mean you are less likely to rise to his taunts and can remove yourself. It sounds like you feel you have to get out of the way quite quickly, so does that seem like a dangerous position to be in? If so, you need to think about times when you might need an emergency exit strategy. Are your friends nearby and do they know how things are between you? You must make sure you have a place of safety.

If too much damage has been done then you are right to start thinking of how things might be if you were to separate. You say you are not sure about where you belong any more because you aren’t originally from the UK. Do you have relatives elsewhere? Perhaps you could visit them and talk things over. If that isn’t possible, don’t forget you have friends here that you’ve been discussing things with, and your sons are here. You have lived in this country for decades. All that provides very good anchors to help you into a new life. As money is not a problem, then it is certainly possible to set that up. 65 is not so old these days. We are living longer and staying fitter – health and alcohol abuse excepting – than we ever were. Life is never quite what we plan, but we can make decisions that guide it in a particular direction.

The main thing is to decide on what you would prefer to do, what you would want in the future, and then take gradual steps towards it. Can you discuss some things with your sons? They might be more supportive than you think. At least you can alert them to their father’s physical and mental state and ask for their help.

Deciding what you want in this situation is not as easy as it sounds, so it would be good to talk all this through with a counsellor, who would help you work out what your options are and support you in the process. It might be that you feel clearer about trying to get your marriage back to a new kind of balance, or you might feel better equipped to strike out on your own and make a life tailored to you alone, free of all this anxiety.

Look after your own health and take time to consider all of your options. Good luck with everything. 

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