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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 57    

                                 January 2007

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.



Reminder: what alcohol can do

The Easy Way to Stop Drinking: A Revolutionary New Approach to Escaping from the Alcohol TrapIn early December ’06, the UK relationship counselling organisation Relate published results of new research into the effect of alcohol on couples’ arguments. A quarter of people asked admitted to having rows when they were drunk. Younger age groups are more likely to fall into this category, while older age groups say when drunk that the issues that cause most rows are about children and domestic chores.

Things to remember about what alcohol can do

This is a rough guide - proportional to your age, sex and weight.

  • If you have had too much alcohol in the course of an evening, at midnight there is still 200mg per ml of it in your bloodstream.

  • At 7.30 am, as you lie in nursing your hangover, you are still way over the legal and safe driving limit.

  • By midday your level will be down to 80 mg, just about on the legal limit.

  • At 8pm not all of the alcohol is gone, but it is ok to drive again. Be careful.

  • Remember, the body has only one speed of clearing alcohol from your body, slow.

Young people and drink

  • Many people learn the ‘pleasures’ of alcohol from seeing their parents drink. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a need to have open discussion of the pros and cons of drinking, and setting a good example of responsible use of alcohol.

  • Don’t be too hard on young people, especially if you know they are generally well informed and sensible. Praise them when they demonstrate their ability to make a good judgement; it isn’t that easy when they are in the company of their pals.

Sex and alcohol

Alcohol affects the body’s hormone levels and is unlikely to lead to your best sex ever. You are less likely to feel desire – and many men find it difficult to achieve and maintain an erection. That effect remains for up to 12 hours after drinking 6 pints of beer or the equivalent.

Avoiding the rows

  • Try staying close to the guidelines of 21 units per week for a man and 14 units per wk for a woman.

  • Remember, with the help of booze it is much easier to get angry, or aggressive, or into an argument.

  • Try to recognise the familiar ‘oops, here we go again’ feelings and act on the warnings.

  • Think beforehand about how you feel when you are getting into an argument, decide that when that starts to happen you will do something to calm yourself.

  • Talk about your strategy before you are in a stressful or volatile situation and you will both be able to understand the other’s attempts to cool things down.

  • Negotiate ahead of time what help you and your partner might need and discuss possible stress points. Neither of you are mind readers so be open and honest with each other, voice any fears you have about a potentially stressful period

If an argument begins

Sometimes we argue because we are feeling worried or insecure about something that hasn’t been discussed before, or feels hard to say. Alcohol can unleash the emotions around that worry.

Try not to hit back verbally when something is said that annoys you, take time to wonder what it is that might be worrying your partner - but bear in mind that they might not be in a fit state to discuss much until the alcohol has worn off. Drink is sometimes used to mask shyness or stress – at work or at home.

It takes two to make an argument. Remember, you are responsible for your own part in any argument. You can choose whether to escalate things or stay calm, walk away and cool down.

Sometimes things happen so fast that you are in a row before you know it, especially if you’ve had a little too much ‘sauce’ as well.

So, if you feel you are about to get really annoyed, say so – explain you don’t want to spoil things and then remove yourself from your partner’s company for a while. Take a walk, go to another room and read or stroke the cat, have a wander round the garden to cool off, whatever calms you.

If the worst happens, talking things through afterwards calmly, is the way to ease the tension. Without raising your voice, speak only of how you feel or felt, rather than telling the other person what they were saying or thinking, or how they made you feel. That way, you avoid blame and the other person has no need to become defensive or aggressive - and you are less likely to start all over again.

There is no room for pride in the aftermath of a row, so don’t be hesitant in saying you are sorry that the row happened. If you think it is you who triggered it, apologise – it doesn’t take much time to say and the results can be important.

Still struggling afterwards?

If things are no better in a day or two when you have tried to calm things, but you can’t get back to normal, then find yourselves a specialist couples counsellor. Counselling ensures you both get a hearing.

Going to a counsellor together is the ideal, but going alone can also be really helpful, so don’t worry if your partner refuses to go with you. I was talking on the radio recently and someone said a friend felt he needed couple counselling but was afraid “too much would come out”.

A well-trained counsellor will be acutely aware of this fear and will work with you to say what you feel you need to, keeping everything contained and working to help both of you to understand the impact on your relationship.

NB. Relationship counselling is a specialised skill and general counsellors are not trained in the techniques necessary for couple work. Check if a private practice counsellor has that extra training. Relate are the UK experts in helping couples understand their situation and there are other organisations that offer good training.

Happy New Year to you all. I hope the Christmas/winter holiday has been enjoyable for you


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

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