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Relationships - Septemeber 2014

Live in Grandaughter issues

 

Maggi Stamp is a highly qualified relationship counsellor and trainer who writes each month about emotional and practical concerns and challenges that many of us meet in later life. For 20 years, as well as running a private practise, Maggi worked with the organisation Relate to help married and single people, cohabiting couples, same sex couples, families, young and old people and the bereaved to develop, foster and enjoy healthy and fulfilling relationships. No less important, as she is herself a wife, mother and grandmother, she brings a lifetime of varied and eventful experience to enhance her empathy and understanding.  

Many of her examples are based on concerns that clients, family and friends have presented over the years. In the monthly articles where she responds to issues raised by readers, she strictly respects confidentiality and never identifies those who write to her. But the individual worries they raise are invariably felt by others, so her responses can help many.

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



Live in Grandaughter issues

I’m 60 years young. I've been married for 19 years and my husband retired last October. Life is so stressful I feel like running away.

Although we like to sing together and create music, this fun part of life happens less often now, as my husband seems to get bored. He is drinking a lot and I can’t get him to stop. In the last month he's taken to driving great distances. This is an expense we can ill afford because of debt he has created since retirement. I’m still working to pay for the car he's bought and to control our credit card. I don’t spend, except for the business, which I keep to a minimum.

We have a granddaughter living with us to help her get on her feet, though my husband hates my whole family and resents having helped them in the past. He seems compelled to drive for miles, spending money we haven't got. We are living month to month. He buys bizarre, expensive and unnecessary things. I work as a realtor to ease things but there's a limit to what I can earn or I'll lose my pension.

I’m tired. The stress of trying to work and balance things is wearing me down. I can’t make ends meet on just my retirement pay so I’m on a treadmill, trying to maintain a positive outlook. Lately I wonder why I'm bothering? I know it’s all up to me, but fear has locked and tied me down in chains. How can I get out from under a pile of paper that is sucking the life out of me?


Your email paints a picture of great stress. Both you and your husband are unhappy by the look of things.

You are working your fingers to the bone while staying under the earnings limit, trying to keep up with his expenditure. He is aimlessly driving around to kill time and spending money to alleviate his boredom. For you, retirement is a big disappointment.

There is no getting away from the fact that not every retiree has a rewarding experience. Finances, illness, unhappy relationships and lack of preparation all detract from what can be freedom and release from the daily routine of decades. In several columns lately I have focussed on these problems and spoken of the need to discuss plans and speak of individual and joint hopes and fears about retirement before it happens.
You and your husband need to make time to sit and talk about finances and how each of you sees the future. Once you are both clear about what you actually want from retirement, you can work together to plan how to move toward it. All very easy to say, I know, but what if he is not ready to listen, or is drunk?

In a marriage, a problem for one is a problem to be faced by both. Somehow or other you need to tell him, in as reasonable way as you can, that you cannot go on as you are. The extra work and stressful financial juggling is wearing you down and affecting your health. Choose a time when you know he is sober, when neither of you have particular things you need to do, and when you won't be interrupted by your granddaughter or the phone.

Some of what he is feeling seems like anger. You say he resents the amount of help your family have needed. It also sounds as though the family you speak of, including your granddaughter, are his step-family. Finance involving step-families can be a very touchy area, so needs to be discussed thoroughly and honestly, and treated with great care. As a couple with joint finances but separate families, respect for the needs of those families should be handled through consultation with one's partner or spouse. To support a family member with joint funds is a decision for both people.

To have developed affection and familial concern for a step-family is something which is it's own reward, well worth the time and effort taken to a achieve. But that is not always an easy thing to build, especially if there is still pain from children who might blame a new partner for breaking their own family group, sometimes without justification. As children become adults they need to become more accepting of what one or both of their parents have done, recognising them as individuals, not merely Mum or Dad. Remember, it isn't possible to like every person you meet, and it is no different in extended families, but we can respect and accept their importance to a partner.

You have been married for almost 20 years, long enough for old family feuds or resentments to have been displaced by a realisation you two have made a long commitment to each other, and deserve respect for that. But equally, children and grandchildren deserve recognition as individuals who try to make decisions too, and occasionally need a bit of a helping hand from other members of the family.
But where does this get you with a husband who is drinking, driving and spending to excess?

It is going to be very difficult to say all of the things you wish to without making him more cut off. Approach things slowly if you can, focus on just one of your issues in any conversation and keep to the point. Try to be reasonably brief and steer clear of chucking everything at him each time you talk. Appealing to his better nature and asking for his help in coping with a problem - even though you know it is one of many - might just lead him to make an effort which you can thank him for, thus feeding his self esteem. Someone who does what he is doing is likely to have very little self respect. For some folk driving is when they feel most unencumbered by troubles. He is at such a loss now there is none of the old structure to his day – even though he may have longed for work to end – there are none of the daily contacts with work colleagues, and no regular pay coming in except for his pension. It is no wonder he is drinking. But nor is that any way to improve things, quite the opposite. Also, by drinking and driving he is of course breaking the law and posing a threat to the safety of others.

The experience for many newly retired people is similar to other kinds of loss, there is a huge readjustment to be made and gap to fill. Not everyone is good at doing this. They could need help in thinking about what they are good at and enjoy, so that they might start doing more of it, and what kind of duties around the house they might take on, that will support their partner, especially if one is still working. To remain a useful member of society and a loved, valued, supportive spouse is an essential feeling for us as we age. If those feelings, especially in the relationship, are lacking then outside advice is necessary to stop the marriage from failing.

For your own use, make a list of the things you value about your husband. If and when those things are evident, try to tell him how much you appreciate them. You need to be on the same side, as a couple. If this feels too difficult to achieve then you need to use outside help. As finances probably wouldn't stretch to a paid counsellor then try talking to a voluntary helpline or to a wise and trusted friend who you feel would try to understand both sides of these problems.


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


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