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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 71    

                             March 2008

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.



When divorce is the best choice ....

Dear Maggi,

17 years ago I went ahead with my marriage although I had said to my husband-to-be on the day that I didn’t want to go through with it. He ignored me. Two years later we had a son and for a few years I tried to make the best of things. The last 10 years have not been happy. My husband has been a good father, even to my older son who I already had when I met him. He enjoys his step-grandchildren too. But we are so mismatched. He is very passive, can, and does, sleep through anything. He takes no responsibility for anything to do with running the house and I’m fed up with being the main provider (I started up my own business in 2000), the house keeper, financial planner, problem solver and carer, when he is perfectly capable of pulling his weight.

I have pretended for so long to try and save face and protect him, but don’t feel I can keep it up any more. Now I have asked for a divorce and feel as though I no longer have to maintain the charade. It was such a relief that I began to change. I lost weight and feel much better about myself. People have commented on the positive changes in me but my husband has said I’m having a mid-life crisis and need therapy. 

I know now what I need and feel it isn’t wrong to want to be happier. How do I get him to take me seriously?

Maggi answers:

Part of me thinks there is little reason to get through to your husband now as you have already told him you want a divorce, but actually you do need to discuss a lot of practical issues concerning the family, finances and housing arrangements. I know this is the very thing you are so sick of having to do but it is necessary to minimize the emotional damage to your younger son, who still lives with you.

I am glad that you are enjoying the changes that taking hold of this most distressing and difficult decision have brought about. I am also interested in how you describe your husband. You say he sleeps through anything and takes no active part in home tasks. Is he depressed, or a closet worrier? Does he have any other health problems which could lead to long term lethargy? Many low-level thyroid, heart or lung, conditions stay undiagnosed for years before they are uncovered. When treated the sufferer can experience a new lease of life. Why not encourage him to have a thorough check-up at the GP to ensure nothing is amiss.

You sound hurt and angry that your husband didn’t listen to you right at the very start and has continued in that vein ever since. Maybe you were as frightened of voicing your change of heart strongly enough as he was of hearing such words. What a tough thing to have said right at the last minute. That must have taken a lot of courage. It is not unusual for at least one of a couple to do a bit of anxious last-minute soul-searching. After all, a wedding is a very public and serious marking of a life-time’s intent. It deserves a lot of thought. Perhaps some of your anger and frustration is at not having made sure you were taken seriously right there and then. You were over thirty by then, not a shy young teen bride who hadn’t thought much about the implications of marriage.

If you had said anything that gave me the feeling that you were still fond of your husband I would have suggested you try to find some couple counseling to see if there was anything that could be done about changing the way your marriage works, but it sounds like your mind is made up. The only way you can convince your husband you are serious about a divorce is by talking to him about it, openly making plans for the creation of separate bank accounts, separate homes and discussing how you share time with the family. He will probably want to continue to see his step-son and family so that too needs to be talked over.

You need to be aware also of the effect this might have on your 15yr old son. Let’s look at some of what Relate research findings tell us: (I have left in the references to girls for the benefit of readers with daughters)

Adolescents are troubled by parents' behaviour and concerned about moral issues - goodness, right and wrong. They fear for their own futures and capacities to make relationships. They have the capacity to understand, accept and feel relief at parental decisions.


Early adolescence (11-16) May intellectualise/rationalise when under stress as well as

resorting to contempt or denigration - 'stupid, incompetent adults'.

Girls may plunge into premature autonomy - promiscuity, running away from home.

Boys can have discipline problems at home and school, may be violent. They can have difficulty in separating from or leaving single mothers.

Late adolescence (16 upwards) May be compassionate, arrogant, pedantic, idealistic or angry. For them, divorce has fewer destructive effects, though they may regress into early adolescent behaviours.

Studies of divorced couple’s children over 10-15 years show a rising need for fathers in adolescence. Girls' needs peak in early adolescence, boys' needs peak later (16-18). Adolescents of both sexes may go on literal and psychological searches for their


This excerpt is to give a rough guide to the possible effect that parent’s divorcing can have on some children. It is not exhaustive and your son might not show any of the reactions listed here, but they are frequently seen and are normal ways of dealing with the stress of their parent’s separating.

It has taken you all these years to reach this point of major change. Take each step carefully and thoughtfully. Given time at the planning stage, the future will be better built for you all.

Good luck.


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