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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 50
June 2006

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.



How do I move on?

J writes: I divorced four years ago after my husband left me for another woman. Although she was not the first he had an affair with, he has stayed with her and her two sons nearby.
Our own sons, aged 20 and 23 still live with me and are feeling so estranged from their father that they don’t want to go to his wedding in September. He has distanced himself from them so much and it is painful to see them get hurt like this.
I am feeling so angry still and have been told that I need to move on and get him out of my head. It feels really difficult to control this anger and get on with my life. What can I do?


Maggi replies:

There are two themes running through your email, J. The first is your natural and understandable concern over the distancing of your sons from their father and their reticence about attending his wedding; the second, the anger that is preventing you from getting on with your own life.

First of all, are you absolutely sure that your anger hasn’t influenced your sons? Are you quietly pleased they are boycotting his wedding to the woman he left you for? For their sake or for revenge?

One of the toughest things for a lone parent to balance is allowing the children to maintain their own relationship with the absent parent free of negative input from the present one. Staying as fair as you can be when talking about their father is very hard when you feel so wronged and abandoned, and that can often influence the opinion of the children. They see their (in this case) Mum unhappy, lonely, grieving and at a loss and sometimes very angry. They will form their own opinion of what is happening. They will go through their own stages of anger at their father, worry about their mother and feelings of abandonment and dislocation too. But this needs to be their own and not their parent’s emotional work.

Too often the angry parent can slip into bitter comments about the absent parent. This can influence the children unfairly and distort their unique relationship with him or her. If helped as neutrally as is possible, to work through their own upset, anger and loss, they can gradually reform a relationship with their father that is based on who he is, and they are, now.

Your sons are young adults and will have seen their friends and maybe their own relationships have ended. They will know that sometimes people grow away from each other and endings can be messy. This is more likely when a couple have never developed the dialogue that allows them to talk things through - until it is too late.

What ever happens he is still their father and has spent almost twenty years in the family home. The loss to them will be great too, even if they do not show it. Maybe they are angry at Dad’s new partner “for breaking up the family”, a natural reaction, though later on they might come to realize that it is never one person’s decision.

But their relationship with Dad doesn’t end here. In time they can adjust to the change and realise his relationship with them has not ended in the way that yours has, but has undergone an uncomfortable period of change. It can develop into something much more adult and companionable if supported by all involved.

The second issue surrounds your ongoing feelings of anger. Once everyone who needs to know you are angry knows, and knows why, it is of no more use to you. Anger is the emotional communication method of choice when we feel deeply wronged , mis-judged and out of control of a situation. Expressing feelings of anger can help us move through difficulties as they can energise a depressed state of mind. Anger releases adrenalin into our bloodstream which allows our muscles to work much harder to deal with the very basic ‘fight or flight’ state of emergency.

When the emergency is over, and after four years it is, that anger is not spontaneously generated but nurtured and maintained by your conscious mind. It will still trigger the adrenal glands to produce adrenalin, it will still reach your muscles ready for action, and then what?

If adrenalin isn’t used it will keep your body in a constant state of tension and can end up maintaining depression rather than help escape it. Amongst other effects, your sleep patterns will be interrupted, your heart will beat faster and blood pressure stay higher. Your general health is being compromised by this. You need to take regular aerobic exercise, walking swimming or cycling, to free up your muscles. Find a local yoga class to structure your relaxation technique that will help soothe and calm you .

This, along with finding a counsellor to explore the reasons for such prolonged angry feelings, will free you to get on with the rest of your life and enjoy the single and independent woman you are. Your boys will be happier then too.

The following website is informative and useful. See the article by Dr Barry Tigay.

Moving on: Breaking Up Without Breaking Down (Relate Relationships S.)

Relate Guide To Moving On
Suzie Hayman

Suzie Hayman draws on her many years as a Relate counsellor and agony aunt to provide information and advice on how to cope in a positive manner with the stress caused by relationship break-ups.


Starting Again: How to Learn from the Past for a Better Future (Relate Relationships S.)Relate Guide To Starting Again
Sarah Litvinoff

When a relationship finishes it can feel like the end of the world – but it is also a new beginning. Starting Again can help you deal with your feelings of separation, grief and recovery, and will help you to start looking to a positive future.




You can write to Maggi at for her to respond in the column.

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