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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 20

It could be you.... 

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.


When The Past Gets In The Way

I am offering advice to two different people this month. Their problems have a common theme. For both Francis and Sophie, the memory of someone in the past is influencing and getting in the way of a present relationship.


Francis runs a small business which appears to dominate his life

"My wife, family and friends tell me that I ought to ease up and let my employees do the day-to-day work for me. I can't do this. I get restless if I'm not there to unlock in the morning and check progress on all the projects. I am fifty three and run a small but successful furniture restoration business. I have never been one to sit around.

I don't see myself as they seem to. I don't think of myself as successful, real success is when you have established a multi-million pound concern, or become respected in your profession like my father.

As a GP, dad never had time for leisure and worked until a few months before his death at the age of 72. He was always busy at his surgery, there for everybody who needed to see him, or researching a subject for his next paper or book, which he would write on family holidays.

I wish we had been able to talk about what he thought but sadly we never had time to get to know each other much.

My wife says I am just like him but I can't see it. I just feel I have let my father down by not following him into the medical world. I never felt I could be that dedicated. He worked so hard and was loved by all of his patients.

I want to stop our arguments about working less hard, which are happening more often now. They are coming between us and I don't know how to show my wife that I really do love my family."

Francis, it sounds as though your loved ones really can see something you can't. You have achieved in ways that many people might envy. You have gone your own way and built your life around an activity that interests you and gives you satisfaction.

Your family are proud of you. But perhaps they are now asking for a bit more of your time and attention. Your wife has supported you at home all these years and your family still care enough to want your company.

I wonder if you are still trying to be like your father and make up for not following him into the medical world. He was certainly dedicated but worked himself into the ground, even on holidays, without having time to get to know you. Is that what you want for your children?

You don`t have to stop altogether. Try working a shorter week and longer weekends, try out a few things which you have never had time to do. There`s no law that says you must stick to them if they aren`t what you are looking for. Maybe your family could help you here, they are the ones who know you best.  It could be a really effective bond, helping them feel involved, and you could find you have fun trying things together.

Sophie is upset over her husband's preoccupation with his ex wife

"We have been happily married for five years now. It is a second marriage for both of us and we love our life together. Robin has three adult children from his previous marriage. I am forty seven and haven't any children. Robin always had a very difficult relationship with his first wife, their divorce was acrimonious and they only stayed in touch when necessary through their children.

Six months ago his ex-wife died of cancer and since then Robin has been less and less available to me. He sits and gazes out of the window, sifts through old boxes of stuff he has stored from when he left her and even reminisces to me about the time they bought this or went on holiday there. He goes through old photos like they were the most interesting things on earth.

I am feeling so angry and neglected. I'm angry that he is doing this over someone he says he was so relieved to get away from.  Does that mean he was lying? If so how can I trust what he tells me?

I`m feeling neglected because he is no longer spending time listening or noticing me. Even when he is sitting next to me he isn't 'here'. It feels a bit like my first marriage, which ended through neglect."

How hard and painful this must be for you Sophie. Suddenly your loving and attentive husband has drifted off into a world of memories you have no part in. Robin's previous marriage was long and difficult. His ex-wife's death will have revealed many things he has to sort and let go of. Many of these things will be recollections of his marriage, the things that went wrong and some happier occasions too. No matter what way the marriage ended, he will still need to settle some memories down and start to let go of many things now. He will be grieving in a very natural way but it in no way means that he has stopped loving you.

You need to tell him how this is affecting you and ask that he unpacks his memories privately. It may not have occurred to him how unfair it feels to parade all of this in front of you. This situation is a testing one for you and needs all the patience and stamina you can muster. Give him time to process the change, but emphasise his present life is where he is needed, loved and wanted.

We hope you find the column useful and interesting …  and if you have any comments or suggestions, Maggi would like to hear from you.  Either share some your own experiences in the laterlife forum or email her on .


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

To view previous articles  - see the Relationship Counselling & Advice Index page  



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