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Planning Retirement Online


Relationships - 36

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.


After divorce: can you be good friends with your ex?

When all the dust has settled and life has found a new pattern after divorce, new challenges are likely to present themselves.

One of the more nerve-racking of these is meeting the new partner of an ex-spouse for the first time. Whether you are the 'leaver' or the 'left', the feelings of tension around this event are very high. And if there are children of the broken marriage, then it is highly likely to be on the cards sooner or later. The occasion might be a child's birthday, a wedding or a general family gathering of some kind.

Here is Jeannette's account of such a test.

"I stayed very close to my ex-husband's parents after the divorce. We had been family for such a long time and I loved them as if they were my own parents. My sister-in-law too stayed friendly and in touch.

"For about three years all was steadily sorting out when the prospect of a party to celebrate the golden wedding anniversary of my former parents-in-law came around. By this time my ex had married the person he had left me for and she was partly involved in arranging the event.

"I was dreading meeting her and seriously considered not going. My children, both students at the time, had already met their 'step-mother' on several occasions and pointed out to me that their grandparents were very fond of me and would be upset if I wasn't there. They and their partners were fully aware of how I felt and promised to be around to help me through.

"I can't tell you how nervous I was. To this day I'm not sure which I was more afraid of: seeing a ravishing young thing in the position I used to be; the painful memories it would bring rushing to the surface; or losing my self control and blurting out something embarrassing.

"On the day, with my kids faithfully sticking to me like glue, I walked into the party, heart pounding, to be greeted by every member of the family so warmly and affectionately that I managed to avoid 'the moment' for some time. That welcome was so reassuring that when it came to the point of meeting the new wife I was able to mumble polite and neutral words of acknowledgement and move on.

"Finally, at the buffet table, we got talking together. I found her friendly, open and welcoming. She told me how pleased she was to meet me, and how relieved. She said that she had been dreading it, and immediately I said that I had too. It seems that we were both scarlet with stress as we met. She was obviously having similar fears to mine!

"By the end of the day I felt I had cleared another hurdle towards my single life and I'm glad it happened that way."

Maggi says:

Jeannette was fortunate in having the support of her children and of the extended family to help her through what is a very sensitive time. She had been able to talk to her children, and their loving reassurances helped her to achieve an important milestone towards a stronger life.

Not only is it hard after a long marriage to adjust to single life, there are also the fantasies as to what kind of person an ex-partner has chose as a 'replacement'.

Is it possible to have a good relationship with an ex and his or her new partner?
There may be bitterness and recrimination to start with, but time can heal if there is a will for it to do so. Another danger may be to remain dependent on the ex partner and find it difficult to move on.

This was the case with another divorced woman, Debbie. She had found it very hard to separate from her husband, and tried to include him in her life rather too much. She still relied on him after ten years to fix things in her house and support her financially whenever she needed it. Unfortunately letting go had not fully happened for her, blocking her ability to move on. Sadly she remained stuck in all of the pain and regret of their failed marriage.

Meeting the new in-laws

I recently attended the 60th birthday party of my former husband and was warmly introduced to all of his 'new' in-laws for the first time by his wife, with whom I have a reached a state of friendship and respect over the years. He has been in his second marriage now for as long as his marriage to me lasted.

Meeting his in-laws was surprisingly easy and relaxed. There was an emphasis on how many positive things we all have a common share in.
They complimented me generously on my children, now adults in their own long-term relationships. Even more healing and strengthening, they said how much they would like it if they were able to refer to my children and grandchildren as part of their family too. They made me feel acknowledged and included. It was a great celebration!

Reaching openness and acceptance

It can take a long time to reach that kind of openness and acceptance, and so often it is a painful and seemingly-lonely road to tread. My aim in counselling those coming to terms with the end of their marriage is to slow down the expectation of the recovery process.

  • Finding peace after the end of a long relationship will take a long time.

  • There is a natural period when you experience grief, anger and feelings of abandonment and redundancy.

  • The pain of loss of the former way of life stays for some time and it is normal for it to come back occasionally for all kinds of reasons.

  • It is important not to rush to put it all of this to the back of the mind.

  • First we re-learn to exist on our own and cope with raw emotions and any physical fallout such as broken sleep, weight loss, lack of concentration.

  • Gradually we make more and more solo decisions.

  • In doing that we steadily strengthen and rebuild our damaged confidence and sense of individuality.

  • For most people it is only after some time, when acceptance of a new kind of relationship with the former spouse is established, that one can move towards accepting that he or she has made a new life and the new partner is an important part of it.

  • In coming to respect that, we give ourselves freedom to move on and make our own new life stronger.


'Moving Forward and Parents Apart' are two excellent courses run throughout the year in many parts of the UK. See www.relate.org.uk for further information.

The following Relate Guides are available in most bookshops as well as on the web. Many of my clients, male and female, have found these books very helpful.

  • The Relate Guide to Moving On. Suzy Hayman, £9.99

  • Relate Guide to Starting Again. Sarah Litvinoff, £7.99

  • Relate Guide to Step Parenting. Suzy Hayman, £8.99

  • How to Succeed as a Single Parent. Carole Baldock, £6.99
     

 

   

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 Relationships Index page  

 



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