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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 59    

March 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.


Trouble with my daughters and ex-husband

Dear Maggi:

I was divorced 5 years ago and am now in a much happier relationship. My former husband was constantly unfaithful but is now telling our two daughters – both in their late twenties - that he will never love anyone another woman and wishes to be buried alongside me.

My daughters have been somewhat distant with me until recently. The situation had been improving, but now one of our daughters has been hospitalised with a nervous breakdown. She cites a traumatic childhood and I have no idea what this can mean. There seemed to be no trauma present when they were little. She has said that she doesn’t want me to visit her in hospital and I must try to respect her wishes, but there is part of me that wants to be with her more to help her through this.

I have just been diagnosed with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, so life is not too good right now. What can I do about this situation with my daughter? This feels so painful and unfair.

Maggi replies:

What a difficult time you are having, not only coping with your own recent diagnosis but having the illness and rejection of your daughter to contend with.

There seem to be several strands here that need to be considered: Your daughter is in hospital trying to recover from her emotional crisis; she is telling you not to visit her. You are longing to go and see her to support her through this crisis. Your ex-husband is telling the girls he is still deeply attached to you. Your physical health is compromised by the arthritis.

Let’s look at these items singly

  • Your daughter is in hospital and saying, “Don’t come to see me”. Of course, you must respect that, but maybe you can talk to her psychiatrist to see how this will help aid her recovery and ask what you can do to support her. Perhaps she needs to isolate herself from family in order to examine and understand what is upsetting her.

  • You feel you want to help in some way. Check with her medical care team if it will be all right to write to her. If that is acceptable, you could send her a nice card each week or so, not saying too much but just with loving messages that demonstrate how you feel about her, or how you look forward to times when you are back in contact and can make your relationship strong again. Remember to keep it light and encouraging.

  • Your ex is telling the girls of his abiding ‘devotion’ to you. It sounds as though he has adopted the role of the abandoned spouse and has chosen to portray himself as a victim in the failed marriage. This cannot have helped your daughters adjust to having separated parents. It is never easy to get used to mum and dad being divorced, even if you are an adult when they do. But the animosity that can be passed on to them by one, or sometimes both, parents is huge and makes the task doubly difficult. It leaves the children feeling they have to take sides and it blocks their own adjustment process.

  • It is likely your former husband has been unable to let go of what happened and make healthy changes in his life. Although going to see him might be a step too far for you, what about telephoning or writing to him to suggest that it is obvious he loves the girls a great deal, so he could help the girls very much if he were able to stop telling them the things he has been doing? We need to guard against pouring out all of our problems to our children. They are not our carers (except in obvious circumstances of incapacity) and have their own lives to lead with their own problems to work out.

  • Keep your communication with him free of accusation or blaming and guard against being drawn into any argument. Just be polite, stick to the points you want to make and the things you need to ask him. Remind him that you will always be their mother and will always love them and want to support them in whatever ways you are able.

Ask him to ‘please’:

  • Remember the girls need to make their own changes and decisions and get on with their own lives.

  • Make sure you don’t use them as the dumping ground for your problems. If you need to talk and work things out, then see a counsellor. That is not and should not be their role.

  • Leave the girls to make up their own minds about how they feel about each of us, without trying to influence them.

Let both of your girls know that you have rheumatoid arthritis. Tell them not to worry and that you will be taking care with your health, but hope that it will not stop you having a full and happy relationship with them.

And make sure you do take care of your health. Pay close attention to your diet as it can make a great difference to the length of remissions and the speed and severity of the progression of rheumatoid arthritis. There is a great deal on the internet to support and inform you. Complementary treatments (some now available on the NHS if you ask your GP to prescribe them), are most helpful in easing the pain and stiffness of the disease.

National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society

NRAS provides support and information for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, their families, friends and carers. There are health professionals with an interest in Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Around 400,000 adults in the UK are affected with the condition and around 12,000 children under the age of 16. Many people experience disabling pain, stiffness and reduced joint function as well as severe fatigue, which can have a huge impact on quality of life for them and their families. It can affect organs as well as joints. You can find more information at

RA is an autoimmune disease and quite different from osteoarthritis which most people are probably familiar with.


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

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