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Relationships - January 2014

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.

Trapped by Tradition

Over the years I have changed. So have we all. This month I am answering a plea from a friend who finds she and her husband committed by default to an annual New Year's break staying with friends in a rented cottage.

My friends, I'll call them Gina and Rick, have known their pals since they were at college together. They have holidayed as single people, as newly marrieds, as families and again now, as mature couples whose children are independent.

Over coffee one morning recently Gina told me they were feeling trapped by the weight of 'tradition', and didn't really want to holiday with their old friends any more. By the time the coffee was finished it was clear that Rick had been feeling negative about these holidays for a few years and, as New Year approaches, Gina understands why. 

When they were all students they enjoyed a typical student lifestyle. All their leisure time was spent socialising and partying. Once they found easier task in the seventies....they met now and then, and invited each other to their homes, to their weddings and to celebrate the births of their respective offspring. It was so easy to holiday with friends who had a mutual background, who were roughly the same age and understood the process of catering for little ones.

But now all has changed. The children are no longer to be considered except as a talking point. Interests and activities they once shared no longer are. With time opinions become more entrenched and for some people more extreme. Hearty meals punctuated by healthy treks across hills and through woods and fields are forsaken now and their friends prefer to cut straight to the pub, where they set about what they refer to as 'the real business of the day'.  Where once Gina and Rick were happy to joke about their sometimes reckless appetite for alcohol, time has mellowed them and they are quite happy to have a glass or two of wine with a meal, or a couple of beers in the pub, they don't enjoy drinking in excess and find their bodies cannot recover so quickly. The conversation, once an update on the progress of each child has been covered and a general moan over the state of shrinking pensions is over, has dwindled to reminiscences. When this dries then sport on the TV is the default end to any evening with them.

All this struck me as the inevitable effect of time passing. We all change, but if we do not adapt and embrace those changes we become stuck in a pattern which no longer fits what or who we are now. Student revelries are great when you are a student. When you are employed dealing with the 'mornings after' become too hard to repeat often. Push the clock forward a few years and the sleep deprived new parent is far too tired to stay up late drinking unless someone else is caring for baby! And further on will see most parents thinking about setting a healthy example and preserving energy for kids who want lots of activity on holidays and weekends.

As all this is taking place most people are experiencing other challenges and problems which change outlooks and opinions. The loss of a parent can lead us to reassess not only what it is to be one ourselves, but how we view our deceased mum or dad. Job changes, illnesses and many other events can test or mould our character.

Losses change us. So too do gains. Time passing brings all sorts of ways in which we can discover more about ourselves. Our children show us trust and love and even at times a little hero worship. Their joy of life can inspire us to do better and more ambitious things with our own. We learn some of what others see in us. In retrospection we realise why certain people we have known, have advised or guided us towards what we are now.

What happened to Gina and Rick is that as the years have passed, their lives have developed and changed through experiences and the passage of time. Their friends, however, have staunchly held onto what they used to be, and although, as with everyone, the years have changed them and buffeted them, their safe place seems to be in the past. They expect Gina and Rick to be the same. Although it is always a pleasure to see them at first, after a day with them there is nothing left to talk about.  The net effect is a developing gulf between the friends.

It is sad to think that one has outgrown a friendship, yet we all move along making and leaving friendships which have helped us and held us, protected us and nurtured us at some point but, eventually, no longer fit who we have become. It is not that it is any persons fault, merely that everyone changes, and we grow in different directions at a different rate.

Gina said she was feeling that this was the end of the friendship. Yet it need not be that. True they are already committed to the January break, but throughout life Gina and Rick have adjusted. This could be one of those times. She said they enjoy a day with their pals. In January, when they are sitting round the fire after a meal, she needs to say how good it is to see them to catch up and reminisce, and to find a way of saying they feel they would enjoy doing that more frequently and cheaply, in light of the dwindling pensions, suggesting a day here and a day there. That way there is no risk of over exposure, boredom, or being pressed to over-indulge and end up being ridiculed as 'past it'. Meeting for a day has a neat limit to it so makes the whole thing more containable without the need to cut off the friendship altogether. Gina agrees.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful 2014


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

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