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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships - 6


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.



A new start after divorce  

Maggi Stamp, laterlife's counsellor on human relationships, tells how Martin's new relationship ran up against some problems. 

The challenge of starting again stems from many sources: it could be through major changes at work, moving house, changes in the family, children become more independent or leaving home, the ending of a marriage or relationship or the beginning of another. As a relationship counsellor I am often helping people examine the dynamics of a new beginning as a couple.

Martin, mentioned in a previous column, divorced and moved on. He then found himself facing some typical  problems of starting with a new partner. He met Jenna at his office summer party. She had recently joined the company, was 32, outgoing, lively and ambitious, and impressed him with her dynamic approach to work. She was very different to his former wife.

Martin worked long hours, a major contributing factor in the breakdown of his marriage two years earlier. After the divorce, he bought a small flat to be near his two children, Abbie, aged 10 and Max who was 12. He was at last on reasonable terms with his ex-wife, indeed it was her parents who encouraged him to start looking for a new companion. The children were often with him, he loved being with them, making it easy for him to stay in and not bother building a new circle of friends.

Then he met Jenna, and as his relationship grew stronger, they moved in together, talking of marriage in the future. Martin couldn't have been happier, this felt like a second chance to get things right and an end to the stultifying loneliness that washed over him occasionally. He wanted to care for Jenna, maybe have a baby with her. He was 45 when they met and was attracted by her vivacity and intelligence. She was confident, independent, and always ready to listen if he wanted to ‘have a bit of a groan about things'. 

This seemingly perfect opportunity to make a new life quickly ground to a halt. When they first came to counselling, Martin and Jenna were hardly speaking. The disappointment was so clearly expressed in their faces and the list of their concerns took them the whole of the first session to unfold.

Jenna didn`t want to be ‘looked after' in the way Martin was used to doing before. She was accustomed to getting on with things herself, neither asking nor expecting anyone to give her a hand. This left him feeling in the way and not needed. Jenna in her turn felt patronised and a bit stifled by Martin's attempts to care for her, and by his expectation that she might want to give up her busy career ‘and have babies'. She enjoyed her social life and wanted to share her friends with Martin, though he was a quiet sort of person and unused to being amongst a younger crowd. 

Then there were family issues. Jenna's parents seemed a little reserved to Martin and he feared they thought him too old to be with their daughter. Jenna also felt that Martin's children resented her being with their dad. Max stopped coming so much at the weekends and Abbie became very clinging and needy of her father. This got in the way of them being together and also saddened Martin, which Jenna mistook for blame.

We began to look at the positive side of why they were together. Martin's steadiness was an anchor for Jenna. She liked not having to ‘sparkle' continually, even with the children. She recalled previous boyfriends being put off by her energetic independence. There is a tricky balance between guarding one's independence and allowing ordinary human vulnerability to show through. We need to show some vulnerability in order to allow others to get close to us. It was this balance that Jenna was finding hard to get right. Martin had found Jenna's liveliness the ideal antidote to his recent quiet single life, and though it was many years since he had socialised, going out with her was stimulating and rejuvenating.

Hearing one-another's concerns within the counselling sessions gradually reassured them. They listened well and Martin realised several things:

  • Jenna, and her friends, enjoyed him being part of their social group

  • Her parents, always reserved at first, were pleased she had met someone  quietly reliable at last

  • His son was showing healthy signs of building his own social life as a young teenager

  • Abbie was having a normal bout of jealousy over the new person and needed lots of reassurance.

  • Perhaps he worked too hard

Jenna also felt less threatened as they talked more:

  • Martin loved her, was proud of being her partner, but also needed to be a Dad to Max and Abbie

  • She didn't need to constantly prove herself, and could show her worries without being thought weak

  • Maybe she worked too hard

  • Martin knew he needed to live differently with a new person

  • Max wasn't rejecting her but growing up

  • Abbie needed some extra time alone with her Dad

  • Having a baby wasn't something Martin wanted unless she did

That lead to them realising that the most useful thing they could do for themselves was to talk regularly, openly and positively about their concerns. This being a new tool in relationships for both, would mean they practised as equals.

And practise they did. In our last meeting I hardly said a thing!

Please don't send any confidential information to

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



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