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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 38

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.

Should I intervene?

A reader of laterlife sent me the following by email:

"My friend has fallen out completely with her adult son. The conflict is so great that she is unable to visit him, her daughter-in-law and young granddaughters. She is hurting so much that she and her husband are about to emigrate to get away from the situation.

I am tempted to write to her son without letting my friend know. I would explain that I understand he has some grievances, that we all have arguments, but that he should forgive and forget. I want to say that his parents love him very much and are in a lot of pain - and after all none of us are perfect!

The son is an intelligent man with a good career and a lovely family, so my friend and her husband have obviously brought him up well.

Should I get involved? I feel that I couldn't make the situation any worse! I could suggest contacting Relate as well."



Maggi says...

How sad that you are about to lose your friend, and she and her husband are about to lose contact with their son and his family.

I am very wary of outsiders intervening in family upsets, but perhaps in this case it might be an action of last resort. There are certain rules to follow:

  • Make it clear that you have not been asked to intervene, that you are doing it only because you, personally, want to help ease the situation.

  • Ensure there is no use of 'should' or 'could have', no hint of judgement, fault or 'advice'.

  • Do not address any of the issues that caused the row – no matter how much your friend has confided in you. Make it clear that you are not interested in the row and who started it, just on the effect it is having.

  • Write only about what you know and feel personally - sadness and concern over the unhappiness there must be in the family at this impasse, for instance.

  • Mention your own unhappiness as well as that of your dear friend. You can say how much you value her friendship, how sad you see she is at having lost touch with him and his family and how you dread her being so very far away.

  • You can add your own thoughts on how it might feel to you to emigrate, leaving your family behind, wondering all the time how the grandchildren are growing and if you would ever see them again. But that bit must all be about you not her.

  • Keep your letter short and to the point, and end with your hopes – i.e. that they can find some way to resolve their differences, that she can be persuaded she is both wanted and loved deep down, that her grandchildren want to grow up knowing her and that you will not have to bid your friend farewell.

In the meantime your main work will be to help your friend find ways of making contact and making peace with the rest of her family. It is certainly a very extreme step to take – emigrate because of a row with your adult son. The problem will travel with her of course. There must be better ways for her to resolve things.

This is where you can mention Relate – to your friend. It is all part of their work in supporting relationships and families.



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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