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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 44

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.


Problems with stepdaughters

I have heard from a reader of this column, J, who is in a very difficult situation regarding her indifferent husband, two stepdaughters and their embittered mum.

J has also been married before and has five children of her own. Her stepdaughters visit regularly but have been violent and abusive to her, and very lazy in the house when her own girls are expected to help. Her husband has been recently diagnosed with MS. Although they have split up several times, he has managed to persuade her that he will be more supportive in future. The ex-wife constantly undermines any kind of relationship that the stepdaughters might build with J. She has behaved in such a troublesome manner that there have been a couple of court cases to sort things out.


Maggi responds

It is very sad that J’s husband has contracted MS and may now need support from his second family. However, it sounds as if he has been totally unsupportive of J’s efforts to make a good and welcoming home environment for both sides of the family.

Rather worryingly, J tells me that her husband told her when they were living together before they were married, that if his girls didn’t get on with her he would end their relationship. “Perhaps I should have gone then,” says J.

There are several different points of view in this unhappy family, so I will deal with them in turn.

The ex-wife

Sometimes a woman who loses her husband to someone else finds it very difficult to adjust and move on. She may begin by seeing herself as a wife who is waiting for her husband to come to his senses and return home again. Too long spent in this phase after the end of a marriage can result in an emotionally toxic state and can begin to ‘infect’ those around, with the following results:

  • The bitterness stops her from having a new life.

  • It also ‘infects’ her former husband and his new wife, and stops them from settling well.

  • It holds back her daughters from adjusting to the new situation and bonding with their step mum.

The ex-wife may be jealous, fearing that J will try to be their mother and take her daughters’ love from her. That is not likely, but it is likely that sooner or later the girls will begin to see how obstructive their mother is being and lose respect for her. Sadly it will be her doing.

J and the stepdaughters

The only way J can combat these developments is to continually reassure her step daughters of her own wish to live peaceably with them and care for them when they visit.

  • She needs to make it clear that she will not take the place of their own mum.

  • She can make efforts to notice the pleasanter things that show through their confused behaviour, comment on how nice they are looking, on any kind deed they have done, or funny or understanding comment they might make.

  • If at all possible, she could link this with compliments about their mother; what good taste their mum must have, how neatly she has packed their case for the weekend, what a loving mum she must be, etc.

  • All this must be done tactfully, without over-stating or being ingratiating.

The husband

What follows can only occur if J has the total support of her husband. Since he has promised to be more supportive, it is not unreasonable for J to request these actions from her husband.

  • He must make it clear to his girls that he loves them as his daughters but loves his wife too and will not condone their bad treatment of her.

  • He must openly demonstrate his own respect and support of her for them to see.

The children

All of the children in this household are in danger of growing up in the belief that women are to be used and abused; and that men are blameless, please themselves, withdraw love when displeased and do not get involved in sorting out family problems.
What kind of life will this prepare them for? One that follows a pattern of misery and acceptance of victimhood? Or perhaps they will become rebellious and possibly unable to sustain stable relationships.


Parenting is complicated these days by many people marrying a second or third time, but if all adults truly work for the best interests of the children, there is a much better chance that they will develop a healthy attitude to relationships and to their own role in them.

Counselling could help It might be that J has tried until she is blue in the face to persuade her husband to support her more. If that is the case, she needs to find herself a good relationship counsellor to help her explore her options. Perhaps, in the course of this, she will get to understand a little more clearly her own role and involvement in the cycle of difficult relationships.

This website give information about the work of Relate, a list of Relate branches in your area plus useful guidance and links to other websites and helplines.

Relate Guide To Step Families
Suzie Hayman

One in three people find themselves as part of a stepfamily or ‘second family’ at some point in their lives. This book offers practical and positive strategies for coping for all the people involved – ‘new’ parents, established parents, children, the ‘ex’, grandparents.

Caught In The Middle
Alys Swan–Jackson

For teenagers: packed with real-life studies and essential information, this book shows that it is possible to live through your parents' divorce and still come up smelling of roses.

The Family Survival Guide: Change Your Family Life for the Better
Trisha Goddard

From talk show host, Trisha - a book that aims to help you change your family life for the better forever. This book takes you through the challenges, choices and changes that are faced within the family including: losing and choosing a partner, being a parent, step-families, dealing with conflict.

Living With A Teenager
Suzie Hayman

A survival guide for parents. Packed with insights and strategies which will help you to understand a teenagers' needs and behaviour and make those teenage years easier to bear.

Uncommon Sense For Parents With Teenagers
Micheal Riera

In this remarkable tribute to the parent-teenager relationship, the author offers a fresh interpretation of adolescence, asserting that this period of a child’s growth is too often misunderstood as a phase to be dreaded instead of enjoyed.


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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