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Relationships - 34

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 maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.

 

Becoming the victim of an obsession

Maggi Stamp, relationship counsellor for Relate and in private practice, writes about the emotional challenges we meet in later life

The recent furore over a major politician's affair with a married woman, and his fight for the right of access to the resulting children, brings to mind the times I have listened to men describe their feelings about distressing relationships in later life.


I recall one mature and successful man who was traumatised for years after losing his heart to a beautiful and wealthy younger woman. The signs of her instability were clear to him early on. But he was so besotted that he chose to read nothing but nerves into her fitful sulks and tantrums, her secretiveness about other aspects of her life, or her unreasonable demands. She wooed him powerfully and funded a great and public marriage.

After arriving at their honeymoon destination, too unstable to go on with the charade, she left him. It transpired that she had been looking for someone to father a child but couldn't cope with a lasting marriage. She desperately needed control over everything. When that urge is so strong, a relationship can seldom survive.

The humiliation this man suffered, and the impact on his life, were tremendous. It took him years to gradually understand what had happened. Meanwhile, he had to continue with his life, his work and rebuilding his friendships to bring back some semblance of normality. The understanding and support of friends and three years of counselling were vital for him to try to regain his confidence and start living life to the full again.

I talked also with another older man about his unwitting role as lover and father figure to a much younger woman who wanted the fun of a relationship without the responsibility of being an adult. Instead of getting a job, she coped creatively on state benefits and skilfully manoeuvred her way into a 'fast' set. He, being kind and generous, escorted her to parties, funded holidays in Europe, took her to restaurants and the theatre. He was unable to see what his friends could so clearly see, that he was being used by this immature woman. He saw only youth, beauty and delights he had missed earlier in life. He saw the opportunity to have those delights with this seemingly entrancing person and believed her when she said that she loved him. When she left him, taking many of his prized possessions, he was devastated, could not let go and for some time felt unable to look his friends in the eye.

Why did these women behave in this way?

With users – or abusers - of affection, their early experience is often of having had to fight for what they wanted or to have their opinions heard. In the first case, an enormously privileged woman was so emotionally impoverished that she thought a baby was the only way to get someone who was hers, and hers alone. She could not relate to men in an equal, trusting and affectionate relationship because, in her sad life, she had no experience of that.

In the second case, the young woman had lacked any father figure to assure her of her worth. She longed for fun, stimulation and comfort – a life she imagined the women frequenting smart shops and boutiques enjoyed. Then she found a 'sugar daddy' to give that to her.

With both women, it seems likely that their manipulative behaviour masked a history of being bullied or abused in some way. A person's need for total control often signals their experience of powerlessness over unpleasant things that have happened to them.

How can a partner of such individuals resist this behaviour?

Handling their rejection or their over-reliance is a delicate business. Here are my suggestions:

  • Try, firmly and respectfully, to discuss any painful or complicated issues, especially if there are shared parenting responsibilities.

  • Have small, structured and emotionally manageable meetings rather than thrash it all out in an exhausting marathon which makes both parties angry and defensive.

  • Try not to rush things. Struggling to sort it all out in a matter of days is counter-productive, because it probably took many years to reach this point. If this process is messy, it will affect the rest of your life.

  • Simply echoing their controlling, bullying style dashes any prospect of salvaging something worthwhile from the situation.

  • Consider getting expert help from a counsellor or psychotherapist, preferably as a couple. If the other person refuses, then get help on your own.

Suppose you say you no longer want to stay in the relationship.
An obsessive person, once rejected or spurned, can become very demanding, even threatening. We have all read stories in the newspapers about stalking and threats, of the ex-partner being bombarded by calls, letters and unwelcome gifts, or of someone saying: "If I can't have you, then no-one else will".


What is the best way to respond to this?

  • Don't give in out of pity. The abuser of affection aims, albeit subconsciously, for his or her own self-centred outcome. Once the abuser feels they have achieved it, they can abruptly change their mind and coldly terminate the relationship.

  • And if they refuse to let go? You have to be firm. Otherwise you could find yourself in an even worse situation. Terrified because they have lost total control, they may resort to threats, possibly of self-harm. Remember that they will have little understanding and probably not even much care about, the enduring impact on the object of their obsession.

  • You may have to point out that when you say you no longer want a relationship, there is no option but for the other person to believe it, and accept it. No one can force someone else to want them.

  • If you do receive threatening calls, gifts or letters, keep recordings of the calls but do not acknowledge them.

  • Don't open gifts or letters, but retain them until you are sure the person has stopped sending. Ask a close friend or solicitor to hold these for you if you would prefer not to have them with you.

  • Build up your support network, talk to close friends, a counsellor or maybe a solicitor. You may want to inform the police if the threats continue.

  • If you do arrange to meet, try to have a friend with you or nearby; try to stay calm and stick to facts.

  • Offer no new information about your life or feelings. They will only provide fuel for further involvement.

  • Remind yourself that, no matter how hurt and confused you may feel, you do not want or need this relationship which will make neither you nor the other person happy.
     

 

 

You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.

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

 



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