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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 77    

                             September 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.



I'm Afraid of Losing Him

Dear Maggi,


I am 63, my "boyfriend" is 55. We have a wonderful sex life and he has enjoyed many more things since we got together. He is widowed with two teenage children. Since his wife died 8 years ago he has devoted himself to caring for the children and has no social life. He met me on a dating site which he joined about a year ago.

He had a very loving but not very physical marriage, leaving him very frustrated.
We have been seeing each other for 6 months. At first he was very much in love and frightened of losing me. Now I’m the one, loving him so much I’m frightened of losing him.

I foolishly questioned if he was still dating women from the dating site. He had said he still received and replied to messages. I knew it was the wrong thing as soon as I said it. He is the most honest, truthful and trustworthy man I’ve ever met. He was shaken to think I didn't believe him. He said he wondered how we could ever to live together if I didn’t trust him. I was upset and he agreed to try again. All seemed fine until he commented that he brings all his baggage to me, that I always listen and never complain, but then he just takes it home again. I got worried that he was saying he couldn't see me again because of this but he said it was just a throw away line, I shouldn’t read too much into it.

I don't think he has room for anyone, not just me, while his teenagers are his whole life.
For example, he worries about his son who is mixing with older, undesirable boys. Although he joined the dating site to try to make a relationship for himself, I’m worried that he is going to say ‘let's just be friends’. I don't know how other couples manage when there are teenagers involved. I know we can't be together for, say, five years until the children are more independent, but I’m prepared to put up with this and share his worries as long as I have his love.

Maggi answers

What a lot of misunderstandings you have had. You both sound so anxious to build a good relationship under rather testing conditions, that you’ve become hypersensitive to each other’s comments.

First, the misunderstandings. It appears you both begin some fairly in-depth conversations but then shy away when there is a comment that sounds like a criticism. In all the instances you give, each was not meant the way it was taken. You are both trying hard to avoid conflict, by not asking for clarification of the comment that has troubled you, and, in keeping quiet, has taken away the wrong impression.

Bear in mind that you both have a past. You say nothing of yours, but your partner had a good marriage and was bereaved - and perhaps in immersing himself in child care, has not given himself time to recover fully. You, too, could have had experiences that left your emotions a little delicate.
  • Avoid comparisons with previous partners.
  • Take your new relationship slowly and talk about anything which troubles you.
  • Try not to over-react.
  • Establish an agreement that “a bit worried, need to talk it through with you” does not mean “I want to tell you what you’ve done wrong”.
  • In a healthy relationship couples view a misunderstanding as a problem for both to sort out and clear up on the path to being stronger still.
  • In a healthy relationship a couple are more likely to hold on to the knowledge that they have shared goals and are on the same team.
  • It is good that he can come to you and talk about his worries. You are a good listener. That is appreciated and there need be no expectation of you jumping in and sorting it all. It should be enough that you listen warmly and openly. We all need to accept that our own problems cannot be solved by anyone but ourselves.

This is a relatively new relationship which gained momentum through good sex. What a release it would have been for your partner initially - perhaps the frustration was mutual. But there is a difference between being in lust and falling in love, although the one can follow the other. There is a long way to go, no matter how sure anyone feels, to reach the trust and the openness to share all life’s ups and downs. As that grows, he will gradually realise that the love he has for his children will never be diluted by any feelings he has for you. It is a totally different kind of emotion, and has been there since their birth. Yours is adult to adult and nothing to do with parenting. You might even reach a decision not to wait (5 years ?), until the last young person wanders off, before you settle together.

Your partner has been locked into caring for his children and seems a little afraid to strike out and have a life of his own. While this is a perfect example of paternal devotion and protection, it is possible that the teenagers are grown enough and aware enough to know that their father needs a companion in his life. It would be a huge burden on them if they felt the responsiblity for his entertainment and company fell on their shoulders, just at a time when they need to be developing the ability to make a life for themselves outside of home. There is a danger in such a situation, that the remaining parent over-compensates for the loss of the deceased parent, to a point where the children are shielded from any hint that, in this case dad, might have feelings or desire for the company of another adult. If they are teenaged they will not be shocked or put out by seeing you around their house once they know you well.

The skill is in being there but not doing anything which changes their pattern of living. Importantly, as I’m sure you will already know, have no expectations of becoming parental to them in any way. To try and become close and ‘mother’ any of them would be a step too far. Their mother is lost to them. No-one will ever take her place, no matter how much they long for someone to sort out their laundry or serve up the meals she used to cook and advise or comfort in the way she did. No woman coming into dad’s life will ever be welcome in that place, nor should they try to take it.

When done with care and subtlety, becoming slowly integrated into an established household is perfeclty achievable and can help every person to move on from the sometimes static postion they held on to. Teenaged, sometimes adult, offspring who are living with a single parent can be very protective, and occasionally jealous, of the affection or attention being shown an outsider. Any kind of affectionate exchange needs to be minimal in front of the children of the house until the incomer is completely accepted and a good relationship is growing between them. And given that the teens are a notoriously turbulent time for most young people, expect some choppy waters occasionally.

Teenagers are less shockable than we sometimes think and they are at a point where they are preparing to leave the home. That is the time when their father needs to be looking to his own future too. Would they deny him that? I would hope not.

Talk and listen, openly, often and honestly, in the knowledge that you do want to be with each other. Take this new relationship slowly and try to accept that fear of losing each other is shared and natural. Reassure each other regularly, relax, enjoy each other and time will do the rest.


Relate Guide To Step Families
Suzie Hayman

One in three people find themselves as part of a step family or ‘second family’ at some point in their life. This book offers practical and positive strategies for coping for all the people involved – ‘new’ parents, established parents, children, the ‘ex’, grandparents.

Adolescence: The Survival Guide For Parents & Teenagers
Elizabeth Fenwick & Dr Tony Smith

This guide for parents and teachers includes information on the growth spurt, increasing independence, rebelliousness, and problems such as drugs and pregnancy.

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

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