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Planning Retirement Online



Relationships - July 2013

It could be you ....


Maggi Stamp, LaterLife's Relationship Counsellor

Every month Maggi Stamp, a qualified and experienced relationship counsellor in private practice after 20yrs with Relate, writes about some of the emotional challenges we meet as we pass our half-way markers. 

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.


Can we really tell how it will be? Bullying within relationships

At the beginning of WW2 a man threatened to strangle my mother. They were crossing a remote field with no-one else around. She was walking with John in the Berkshire countryside as he was visiting from County Durham, on brief leave from the army. They had grown up together and she had just refused his marriage proposal. She told him she was engaged to marry someone else and he lost control, shouting in her face as he tightened his grip. “If I can't have you no-one else will”. It was only her hoarse cries to remember his mother which saved her from whatever he had in mind.

A recent very public spat between a famous married couple in the London 'celebrity' scene, where the husband was photographed grabbing his wife by the neck, briefly triggering an expression of shock in her eyes, reminded me of Mum's story and other similar situations I have known about or worked on over the years.

I was struck by the similarity in appearance between the man who had lost his temper and the features of some people I've met, and of my mother's description of John. Each of them were described as passionately loving and charming, full of wit and charisma.

It is vital to my work to always be very alert to my own feelings and prejudices, so however a client looks to me, he or she is sent through my 'personal impression' filter, helping me remain neutral to guarantee the client is supported totally during counselling.

However, in looking back over many years of experiences both at work and socially, certain things do gather in that private corner of my mind reserved for self-preservation.

What those messages are differs from person to person, but for me there has always been a particular set of features and behaviours which, when are present together, will lead me to be a little wary.

Somewhere deep in my past,  experiences have slowly logged a basic learning of when to be alert.

Which are my own and which were learned from my parents is hard to disseminate after all this time! All humans and animals do this; animals being masters at tuning-in to dangers. Humans are less aware in the modern world of what basic messages the mind is accessing as we are beleaguered by external information, making it hard to listen to the inner voice. I know that many times that voice told me one thing and I've ignored it and done another, only to rue my haste and wish I'd listened to my 'instinct'.

But if we have become involved in a relationship which seems solid, lasting and mutually rewarding, at what point can things change into a struggle for control that we didn't see coming?  I hear plenty of people lamenting the lack of awareness, or of dismissing a warning, internal or from a friend or relative. “If I'd only listened....”

If a relationship turns into a battle, then it is time to look carefully at what has changed, what remains the same and where the stresses are. Bullying is never a healthy thing in a relationship and needs attention. The problem could stem from stress in either person or a fear that one is losing the affection or attention of the other, or from something much more entrenched. If you are feeling bullied then there are several things you need to think about and several things you need to do.

First, attend to safety – if you feel physically threatened think about where you might find a safe haven away from home if the bullying turns to violence. If there are children in the home, you need to take them with you.

Much bullying is verbal and if you feel it won't become physical then try to find out what your partner is trying to achieve by their action. Often the perpetrator is frustrated by feeling they are not listened to or understood and finds it hard to explain calmly.

Try to make it clear that no change can happen while they behave in this unacceptable manner, but if it stops then you can talk about what is frustrating them.

Be aware that a bully can be convincingly remorseful, solicitous and full of 'never agains'. It could be genuinely meant but if it recurs, there is a problem which must be addressed by you both.

Ask yourself if there is something in the set-up which is familiar from a past relationship or from your parents. Are you attracted to overbearing partners? If the answer to either of these is 'yes', then talk to a counsellor

Offer to listen providing your partner agrees to do the same. Make it clear that all talk stops if they revert to bullying tactics. Keep the talks to a manageable length to avoid going round in circles, which will begin the behaviour again. Find a couple counsellor, who will listen to both parties and work with each person to help them be in better and more balanced personal control.

If your relationship has turned violent – and 1 in 4 women find themselves in this situation - then don't try to negotiate unless there is someone else present to begin with. And by that I mean a professional person, trained to help and support couples who are in an abusive relationship.

I have known several people put up with being belittled, mocked and humiliated for years, feeling they had no choice. Each of them waited until they could bear no more and then left their bullying partner. Two women left once their youngest children had passed infancy, a very vulnerable time for the new mother, and the third waited until her children had left home and just walked out one day with nothing but a few clothes and the family photographs. Her children were delighted that she had found the strength at long last. One husband, on his second marriage to a charismatic woman he loved passionately, put up with frequent public humiliation from her, until she did it at his friend's wedding. He didn't go home that night and sent for his personal belongings the next day, never to return.

Each illustrates the result of ignoring the messages and leaving the situation unchecked for too long. There is a danger of it becoming so entrenched that only a 'last straw' will force a change. Leaving things too long if you are raising a family will play a powerful part in how children learn to relate to others. They might find themselves being bullied, either at school or in a relationship later, because apparent victimhood is a familiar pattern for them. A few might learn how to be a bully, from the parent who is being one, or by feeling angry that their bullied parent appears not to fight back and do something to change things.

My father used to tell me of how he would want to stay in the kitchen to protect his mother when his step-father came home. But his mother would push him under the table to hide at the last minute. He was damaged emotionally by those experiences, and struggled with guilt and his own angry demons for the rest of his life. Needless to say it made for an interesting match between him and my mother, who, from the day John threatened her, never truly trusted any man, though she married Dad and stayed that way – 'for better or for worse' - for 50 years. I loved them both and am eternally thankful for their devoted care and love, but the memory of their conflicts remains etched on my mind.

The UK Freedom Programme helps women and men deal with domestic violence

Women's Aid is working to end violence against women and children.

Men's Aid is the national charity supporting male victims of domestic violence, their children, family and friends.

Relate are available for all kinds of relationship problem throughout the UK.


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

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