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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 32

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.


Children flown, new home, coping with builders, being a carer, husband often absent....

Sandy writes:

At the beginning of the year we moved from the home we lived in for 27 years and crossed the country to be close to my father-in-law who is alone and now rather frail. Two of our three children are at University and one is working in London.

The house we have now is still being renovated. This means the workmen are in almost every day, we still don't have any central heating and the walls await the plasterer.

I'm told there's a thriving community here, but unfortunately some of the things I would be interested in joining are at times when I do my part-time job. And I need to look in on father-in-law every other day as well. I'm very fond of him, but I find I'm getting short tempered with him when he tells me how lonely he feels and how hard everything is. This always happens just as I prepare to go home.

Overseeing the building work also falls to me most of the time as my husband is away on business during the week. Although he is nearing retiring age – and I'm not far behind – he doesn't feel ready to stop the work he enjoys.

My problem is that I don't think I am coping very well with all the change. I was so excited at the prospect of being in a lovely part of the countryside that we know so well, having a house which will be a dream when it is renovated, having a garden that I'm itching to get at once the builders rubble is out of the way - and looking forward to my husband taking some time to share it all with me.

What I appear to have is all the hassle and discomforts but none of the rewards. I can't even feel pleased when the children come to see us as I want to prepare things for their arrival and make them welcome, but the home is still too unfinished. They say when they leave that they are "going home now". It cuts me to the quick. We have moved out of the house they knew as home and this one is "your place" when they speak of it.

We have been working so hard to get it all finished by Christmas and I'm not sure it will be now. I wanted it to be our first family Christmas all together as adults in this house to mark all the changes the family have gone through.

On top of that I just feel perhaps we made a mistake. I am so worn out by it all. The wintry weather makes me feel so negative about everything but I can't keep ringing my old friends in the place we used to live for support. I don't sleep well any more so everything is becoming a bit depressing.

Maggi says:

Sandy's problems, ones that affect many of us, seem to have hit her all at once, so it's hardly surprising that she is feeling overwhelmed. What can she do?

1. Children

  • Loss: When the children leave home, we want them to be happy, successful, healthy, independent. But sometimes, when they are, it seems so hard to adjust from being their central pillar. If they are ok then they have found their own life and we have done our job as parent very well. But boy do we miss them. We never stop being a parent and will always want to be involved in our children's lives, but, Sandy, they must move on, take on other important relationships and make homes of their own.

  • Home: It won't matter to the children where you live once they have settled into their own lives. It is you they come to see and need to see.

  • Making things perfect: As parents we try hard to welcome the children and want to make their visit perfect. You must try to resist this. The children will be soon reaching a stage when they begin to offer help back. It is hard to accept if you still see them as your little ones, but a joy when you see them as strong caring and capable adults who you helped make this way!

2. Father-in-law

  • It sounds as though he reflects your own sadness, loss and loneliness. And perhaps that's why you are unable to give him support as you yourself feel so vulnerable and depleted at the moment.

  • What can be done? Try putting in a firmer boundary regarding visits. "Let's talk some more about that tomorrow when I've got more time Dad," can be warmly offered as a response as you leave, knowing he is unable to disconnect from you. It offers him reassurance that he still matters and that you will be back, but it is also taking care of yourself, making sure you are not too drained by trying to attend to his troubles.

3. Husband

  • You need to talk about these problems together. I get the feeling that you are trying not to worry him, but if he isn't aware he can't help.

  • Over the weekend, ask him to sit with you as you have something important to discuss. Say you'd like him to just listen to begin with as you need his help. This might be hard: you might find it difficult to ask for help from anyone – you are a 'doer and giver'. Well, you are feeling the effects of what happens when this gets too much.

  • If our partner is regularly away for days at a time it can feel as though there is no cushion, no comfort, no relief from the concerns that pre-occupy us. Tell him the following:

    how you feel about the chaotic state of things at home
    you feel you are left to sort everything alone
    it is being taken for granted that you will deal with all of the building works
    it doesn't feel fair that you take on sole care of his father
    tell him it would be a great help if he was at home a little more in order to deal with the builders
    ask him if he could even take some time to be with his father – his father - once a week. How his dad would love that and feel important again to his own son.

4. Your health

  • It is amazing what the weather does to us. On sunny days our energy level is so much higher. Listen to what your body is telling you. We naturally want to hibernate in winter.

  • We are taking in less vitamin D from sunlight, so try a vitamin supplement rich in D and C or find extra in your diet to boost your energy.

  • A warm milky drink just before retiring could help improve sleep, and there are plenty of gentle herbal remedies in health food shops that help promote a good night's sleep without side effects.

    5. Change

  • Don't underestimate the power of change, even if it is looked forward to and wanted. You have spent all of your married life so far in one place. Now that is different and the family have flown the nest.

  • You will be feeling that loss and displaced until this house is completed and how you want it to be. We all want to put our mark onto our new homes and garden. Get out there into little bits of garden that are untouched by builder's rubbish and bond with it.

  • What is more, the builders need to remove the rubbish. Your garden is not their dumping ground even if they do still need a small temporary area. You can take control and will feel good about it.

  • Start collecting cuttings from magazines for a scrapbook of things you want for your garden. It is a lovely winter activity and will help you feel you are making progress.

  • Think about how you will decorate your home and look at cuttings to get ideas for furnishing it. Building a new nest is wonderfully creative for many people.

  • Has anyone in the family told you what an excellent job you've done coping with such massive changes virtually single handed? If not, then gently remind them in a humorous way – without making them feel guilty.

    Have the family at home for Christmas, ask each do some of the preparation and enjoy that celebration - finished or not. You deserve it.



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

To view previous articles in this series - see the Relationship Counselling Index page



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