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Planning Retirement Online

Relationships 81     

                            February 2009

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 fear I have lost my husband


Dear Maggi,

I am 57 and two years ago my husband tried to kill himself.  He was hospitalized then went into a hostel.  He refused to see me. There were a lot of debts, the bailiffs came, we lost our home and moved into a flat not far away.  When he left the hostel I had no idea where he’d gone and reported him missing.  He finally contacted me and said he was suffering from hypothyroidism and had had a nervous breakdown.  He said he wanted to return to me and our 15-year-old daughter and has since visited us and stayed every 5 weeks. Cards he’s sent are stamped in the town where he claims to be in a hostel.  I became suspicious and through a website that traces people I found out he is living down the road from his mother, brother and sister, not where he said; yet his mother insists she hasn’t seen him. Why am I not allowed to know where he really lives? If I ask he gets agitated. I only call his mobile occasionally - if I’m really worried -  but he doesn’t answer for days. His phone calls became sporadic but in July this year things improved for him and he said he would try to return to us in November.


In November he visited and said he could not return yet but intended to eventually and would be at home for Christmas. He didn’t come, due, he says, to a course of antibiotics making him feel too ill.  Over the holiday he spoke to my daughter on her mobile phone and I spoke to him then briefly, but he hasn’t called our landline since that visit.


That last time he came I suggested he was not in a hostel anymore.  He became agitated, saying he lived with people with the same problems as him, yet the tracing website showed he was at an address near his mum’s and I don’t think she would let him stay in a hostel. Since finding out where he is I have become very depressed and do not know what to think.  The phone calls are scarce again. My older son says he is not telling the truth.  I love him so much I am in despair.  I am very isolated and have absolutely no one to talk to. I don’t know what to think. I’m confused and fear I have lost him somehow. Please help me.


Mental illness of any sort can create havoc throughout a family.  In your case, your husband has been struggling to regain his sense of place, of belonging and his equilibrium.  You have had to cope without your life partner and handle the shock of discovering debts which possibly contributed to his illness, the humiliating and distressing loss of your home and the re-establishing of a family base in a flat. Your daughter has lost day-to-day contact with her dad and your eldest son has lost faith in him.

Hypothyroidism is a condition that can cause depression, slow reactions and loss of interest in family or usual interests.  It occurs when the body fails to produce enough iodine in the pituitary gland and needs long and careful balancing of medication to correct, so I hope your husband is getting regular blood tests and checks on his medication levels.

Recovery from mental illness can take a long time.  It might make no difference to your husband where he lives while he fights to recover so long as he feels he has a network of people nearby who can support him without needing anything from him.  Back with you and the children, or nearby, he would get support I’m sure, but you would all, naturally, be waiting for the day when he became his old self again, taking part in all the activities he shared, doing all the old things that defined him as husband or dad.  It sounds very much as though he is staying clear of these expectations for now because he isn’t feeling emotionally strong or confident enough.  The tough thought for you is that maybe he’ll choose to stay away permanently. 

The issue of trust is in the background of this unhappy situation, too.  Your husband built up debts which destroyed your trust in him and when he absented himself from the family during his recovery, you checked up on him, not believing what he was telling you.  Both of you would need to be really honest and careful about repairing mutual trust if ever you did get back together.  That would best be handled with the help of a relationship counsellor.

He does assure you from time to time that he intends to come home, but never quite manages to do so. But he is keeping in some sort of contact with your daughter, so he does recognise the importance of his relationship with her.

Your worry is whether to wait for him to come back or just get on with your life as a single parent.  That is what you have been doing for the past two years and although it must feel so hard and so painful, you are now, like it or not, used to this single way of running the family.  So you need to see yourself in a different light.  At the moment, you are saying you love him so much, you feel isolated and have no-one to talk to.  You feel in despair. 

Take a look in a mirror.  Really, lift your head high and go and look.  What you will see is a strong woman, someone who has single handedly dealt with a series of extremely hard and agonizing situations, has faced huge losses, material and emotional, and yet has rebuilt a home to bring up her daughter and created a loving base for her other children.  Your oldest son trusts you enough to be open and honest with you about his feelings towards his father.  Your 15-year-old girl is also open with you, she tells you when she has spoken with her dad. What you will see is a woman who is strong enough to have brought her family through a trauma that has changed you all.  Until we face such difficult times, we cannot imagine ourselves coping with such things.  Then, when they happen, in whatever form, we get on and deal with what has to be done, as problems present themselves.  It is only when the worst is over that we take time to assess where we are, how we got there and how we have changed as a result.

Your husband is making a decision to stay away.  You have no idea if that is a permanent or temporary thing.  Therefore, all you can do is get on with your life as it is now, without him. Make decisions based on what is best for you and your children.  The loss of your relationship is painful and will remain so for some time, but the longer you make life work singly the more the pain will ease. 

This is not to say you are shutting the door on his return. But as time goes on, the harder it will be for him to do and for you to accept.  Underneath your love and regret I pick up a sense of anger.  Not an unusual emotion to feel in these circumstances, but one that needs to be acknowledged rather than hidden beneath the grieving.  If your husband is living near his mum and siblings (not a sure thing as people-tracing websites don’t always give clear or full information and can easily conflate facts from different people or different dates), then that is where he feels he has the best chance of making a good recovery.  This might feel like a rejection of you but, given the depth of his illness, he must be where he feels stronger.  When you get an opportunity, tell him simply, clearly, briefly and calmly what you intend to do.  Don’t pour out all of your regrets or hopes to him, he’ll probably hear it all as recrimination, or blame, or pressure. Just talk about you. Tell him you consider yourself a single parent and will live your life accordingly, that if he feels he wants to talk about changes he will be welcome to call you and (only if this is the case) that you will cherish the memories of the good times in your marriage.

Having done that, start 2009 as you mean to go on, with strength

and with a higher regard for what you have achieved in the past two years.

Further information on the condition Hypothyroidism


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

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