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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 3


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.


Still strangers after all these years?

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, describes how Jill and Patrick got back their intimacy.

A loving and supportive partner committed to the same pattern of life is a reassuring source of strength. Many of us in steady relationships carry on sure in the knowledge that we have a deep understanding of the other person.  We think we know them as well as we know ourselves.  

Well do we?

Our lives change without us really making allowances for the effect change has, upon ourselves and our partners. As we face new responsibilities, direction changes, new interests and challenges, we often give less time to thinking about our closest relationship. It is only too easy for a couple to lose touch with their mutual support and care, and this can lead to breakdown of communications or even cause the end of a once trusting and loving partnership.

When Jill and Patrick married, it was, she explained, because they felt they had a special closeness and understanding of each other. "In those early days we longed to be together, to know more about each other, I felt Patrick was really interested in me, he listened to me and wanted to hear about my thoughts and feelings, my pleasures and worries. He was so reassuring and attentive", says Jill. Patrick smiled at the memory of those times and said "No-one can keep that up forever, we just got to know each other." Perhaps he was right.

It is a heady and seductive feeling, being listened to, having someone be that interested in us. We treasure the experience and the person who gives it. But how many people look back in later life and remember it as just that, a rare experience that happened in the past?  What happens to that first flush of interest and attention-giving years on?

Patrick tried to compensate for working long hours by doing things with Jill and their children at the weekends, and seeing friends regularly. But this left no time at all for them to just be a couple and enjoy each other's company. They had lost the habit of talking things over and it had led to a sad, muted existence where they got on with the day-to-day tasks of life but were unable to share worries or pleasures. Each resented the other and both felt on the brink of giving up on their marriage.  

Friends suggested counselling to Patrick when he mentioned his worry - he was concerned that Jill was becoming more withdrawn. "Was it her time of life? Was there someone else?" He couldn't ask. It was, he said, as though he didn't know her well enough!  They were back, full circle, at the 'strangers' stage.  

It was time for asking questions, and, more importantly, time for a lot of very focused listening to one another.  I suggested they set aside some time for some listening work. It is tiring, it takes time, concentration and energy - but can reap great rewards. Most of us listen with only part of our attention much of the time.

Patrick and Jill did their version of the following exercise for a while and reported to me how it had worked. Initially it felt forced but they gradually talked for longer. I noticed a change in the way they paid attention to each other in our sessions. It felt safer now, explained Patrick. He felt that Jill was not going to be angry and Jill felt he was actually interested in her.

How do you listen to each other? Try this for yourselves:

Make sure you are not going to be disturbed - phone silenced, computer, TV, radio etc. off, children out or asleep.

Choose a comfortable a room - private, with no distraction. Sit near, but not side by side - at a table will do.

Now, one of you speak for 3 minutes about yourself - maybe a recent, pleasant recollection of when you were first together, a way you have changed over the years, or something new which really interests you. N.B. Keep the content fairly light, this is not therapy.

This is the hard part - while your partner is talking maintain your attention, no gazing around, no impatient gestures - and say absolutely nothing, nod or smile but no words.

When you have finished - (you might be surprised at how long 3 minutes feels) - do not discuss what has been said. It is not right or wrong and not important for you to agree. It is information about what your partner thinks or feels.

Now swap - the other person talks about themselves.

Afterwards you can talk about how it feels to be listened to and given undivided attention, or you can think about that and tell each other later. If you want to talk about what was said it must be at another time so that you consider what you want to say and make sure it will not be hurtful.


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


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