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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 4


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.


First steps to a new beginning

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, describes how Martin dealt with worries and guilt when separating after a long marriage.

After years of living in a difficult and tempestuous marriage, Martin and his wife decided to call it a day and divorce. They had been living virtually separate lives for some time and were only together for the children or at family gatherings. Most mutual friends knew of their estrangement and avoided seeing them together as this often created a tense atmosphere.

There was little doubt in Martin`s mind that he was doing the right thing. What made it harder were all the other considerations that kept him awake at night, some vital to get right and some he could do nothing about.

But let`s look at the kind of things that troubled Martin and which trouble many other men when they are faced with the end of their marriage and the splitting of their family.

The big worries.

Money. This is always of great concern, especially if a man has been the main breadwinner and if there are still dependent children. This was Martin`s situation, his wife had worked full-time in the home and his own job had been very time consuming. He had worried about finances for a long time before the couple made the decision to part. Martin assured his wife that she would have a house, and allowance of her own - above that which he was obliged to pay towards the care of the children.

Though he no longer felt any love for his wife, he did respect her and the way she had maintained a stable home for the children. He knew she would find it hard to make her own way as a single person. He felt he owed it to her to support her financially after the years she had given to the family.

Children. The most painful thing for Martin was the thought that the children would blame him and not want to see him. Despite his very deep worries, he felt unable to talk with them about his concerns for fear of upsetting them and fear of being rejected by them. He was determined they would want for nothing. What he wanted most of all was to have a home of his own, where his children would be happy to visit and to spend time with him.

Living alone. After so many years of living within a traditional family unit, Martin dreaded the thought of being alone. If he could afford a place to live, would he have the time and inclination to take care of it? Could he manage to sort his washing, to cook, clean and iron? What about social life? At the moment of separation he felt more like hibernating than socialising. The thought of dating filled him with dread. He wasn`t sure anyone would want a man who had been married for twenty years and had the financial and emotional commitment of teenaged children.

Guilt. For many people this is an inescapable part of splitting up, especially if they are the one to be leaving the family. Martin was haunted by feeling that he should have spent more time with the family, been more attentive, less busy. Things might have been different. He wondered too if he should just stay in this loveless marriage and accept that this was it. After all, there was a certain comfort in being at home, with the children, near friends.

New relationships. This is a big worry for anyone leaving a long-term marriage or relationship. They worry that they have lost the skills needed to build a new friendship. This lack of confidence is not surprising given that they have been living with someone who hasn`t been interested or attracted for some time. There can be a fear that there is nothing left to offer, especially when money is going to be very tight.

Physical and emotional health can take quite a dip when leaving the family. To avoid his rented flat and forget that he was missing the children and the material comforts of home, Martin threw himself into work after the separation. He put on weight and slept badly.

The key things to take time over are:

The welfare of the children. Talk to them. They need to be reassured and told clearly of the situation, but without criticism of their other parent. Try not to over compensate, they need you to be what you always were to them.

The finances - both temporary and longer term. Try to find a degree of flexibility, as circumstances can change. If you can't agree it really does save on solicitors' fees if you have a couple of sessions with a Mediator.

A new routine of caring for yourself. When coping with the inevitable sense of loss, it is all too easy to neglect yourself. If your health fails then everything suffers as a result.

Try not to get stuck in the 'if onlys'. It takes a lot to leave a long marriage and generally a long deterioration means it isn`t retrievable.

The anxiety that accompanies a new life isn`t fixable straight away. Loss of your home and its routines take time to ease, you need to allow time to recover. For this reason it is better to feel secure in your new life before entering into a major new relationship. At a later stage Martin recalled this stage of his life as ‘a bit of a blur'. It was only in retrospect he realised how traumatic the whole experience had been.


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



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