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Relationships - February 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 maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.



Getting crowded by his Girlfriend

My son is in his first serious relationship and it makes me and my husband feel very uncomfortable. He has now left school and is studying at a local college, but we feel he is being stifled by what is now a full sexual relationship. The girlfriend seems to be with him as soon as he arrives home, either by waiting outside for him or coming to our house within minutes of him getting in.  He has no leisure time without her. She listens in to every phone conversation he has and helps herself to food from our fridge or cupboards without asking. She sits around on the kitchen counters while we are having private conversations with him. There are gradually more and more of her possessions in the basement, where our son has his own self-contained living quarters.

We've made it clear to him that he needs to hang out with his mates from time to time, that we won't have her living in our house when she is 18, and that if he was still with her by then he would need to find a place of his own. He told us that he has not even entertained that idea and is nowhere near ready for that sort of relationship.
My husband and I don't know how to handle this situation. The girlfriend drives us crazy but our son is an adult and we don't want to alienate him.

You say your son is an adult and you don't want to alienate him.  He is only 18 years old and in his first serious sexual relationship.  What this generally means is that he and his girlfriend will be able to think of little else when they are together.  They are very young adults behaving in as near to an adult way as they have the resources and experience to do.  That experience is not much is it? He still needs your guidance, and you might alienate him, but it won't be a permanent state of affairs. You seem to be able to discuss things with him and if you are able to be respectful of his relationship but firm in your approach no-one need come to any harm.

He knows how you feel about his girlfriend moving in and will be alerted to it – though you might need to remind him at some point if he seems unaware of changes.  You might also need to speak with him about the danger of getting isolated from his friends by this exclusivity that exists at present. Tell him it is much healthier and more mature to conduct a relationship where each person has a night or two doing other things now and then. That way, they demonstrate trust to one another, and it is less likely to become so oppressive that it kills the pleasure in being together. Point out that any clinging behaviour could signal a very needy personality. He needs to avoid that at all costs. If he is able to talk with her about this and change it without upsetting her, they will have moved into a more mature relationship.

The girlfriend is still only 16yrs old and will quite possibly be in the stage of female teenage which expresses itself through rather obsessional attachments. How easy then to give in to the flow of hormones driving the young body, and become obsessional about being with her boyfriend and see that as status in the eyes of her peer group.  It sounds as though she has not yet found ways of expressing herself that are much more individual, more about who she is than through being attached to another person.  There is so much more pressure on young girls now to be sexual, glamorous, trendily dressed and coiffured, with all that entails. To feel she is accepted by her boyfriend's parents is a reassurance that she is growing up. But there is possibly no awareness of how to behave in a restrained and acceptable way. She too, might benefit from a little guidance from you.

Your house is where you call the shots. It is up to you to say clearly what is ok for your house. If coming in daily and helping herself to food without asking is not acceptable behaviour for a visitor, and I'm with you on this, then you must say so. You could express it thus: “We want you to feel welcome in our home when you visit, but you know, even …(son) is not encouraged to sit on the counters because it is where I prepare food”   or, when she makes for the fridge, “If ever you are hungry …(girlfriend), please ask me and I'll happily make something for you, as I always want my visitors to feel welcome.” Using the words 'visit', and 'visitors', you are making clear her status in your home – she is a visitor. I assure you that would change if you meet a girlfriend who is going to become a permanent member of the family – and that will happen someday, just not just yet – and probably not with this current girlfriend. So much happens to young folk in their late teens that outside influences can change and mature them at very differing rates, so your son and his girlfriend will no doubt run that gauntlet also.

And your position in all this?  You are experiencing the loss of 'your little boy'. It is very hard to watch helplessly from the side-lines as a son introduces his girlfriend.  Until then mother has been the most important woman in his life, but no longer. Even the most affectionate son will forget Mum if a girlfriend is on the scene. But there need be no competition. A girlfriend can never hold those special affections and deep bonds many sons share with their mother; the relationship is of a totally different nature. Likewise, there is no way a mother can be any of the special things a girlfriend will be, nor should any mother try. There will always be experiences that a son will share with his girlfriend, that exclude a parent. We feel that at first but it is all part of their individuation, becoming an independent person, a grown-up. And if they do this well, we will have played our part in allowing and facilitating it, by sometimes having the courage to speak out, and sometimes the wisdom to stand back and allow them to find their own way, difficult though that might be.

It is often an anxious time for parents. Be honest, gentle but firm. Good luck

 


You can write to Maggi at maggi@laterlife.com for her to respond in the column.


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