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Relationships - February 2015

I'm at my wits end

 

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.



I'm at my wit's end

I'm at my wit's end about my 20-year-old son, and his girlfriend, 19, who have been dating for two years.

Last September, when she started college, she stayed at our house with my son every weekend. Her parents, who live nearby, objected to this and said she could only stay here when they were away.

My son tells me she and her mother quarrel constantly, and don't get on at all. I've met her parents several times and found them to be rather strange, arrogant, rude and suspicious. The first time the father came to pick up his daughter, he stood in my house and silently stared at me aggressively while I tried to be pleasant and welcoming. The mother has also been rude, unfriendly and dismissive towards me. It is a relief that my son now has his driving licence so we don't have to see them.
We used to see the girl as very shy. She would come in, say 'hi' in her quiet voice and they would go to my son's room and play video games until one day when they went to his room as usual. Alone and quietly reading my book, I soon heard her very loud 'love-making' noises coming from the room, just ten feet away - through the open door! This was extremely uncomfortable. I spoke to my son later and said this behaviour felt disrespectful and seemed in some way to be a deliberate attempt to disturb me.

Various other things left me feeling discomfited too. She crossed the room to leave her book on my chair when I got up to fetch a drink from the kitchen, but left the room herself. There were strips of my craft fabrics hanging on my son's bed-head, which he told me, rather self-consciously, were to blindfold him.

I feel constantly challenged by her, by the way she looks at me and by her behaviour. I am finding it increasingly hard to tolerate her in my house. My daughter feels the same. I have told my son he must carry his relationship on elsewhere as she isn't welcome in our house.

Was she trying to act out her issues with her own mother with me? I'm fairly easy-going, but this has shaken me. It causes arguments with my son, who says I'm being unfair, but my gut feeling is that I really don't want this girl in my house.

You certainly have more information about your son's personal life than parents need to know, or are comfortable knowing! And you are quite right to feel it was disrespectful to leave the bedroom door ajar when they were having sex, knowing you were close by.

It is hard enough becoming accustomed to our own children being actively sexually active, but having it flaunted like that is not acceptable. We all know...perhaps remember? ...just how powerful our surging hormones were in teenage years, but most of us managed to keep our activities well away from parents.

Trying to accept our children as young adults, and keep the family home as welcoming to their friends or partners as possible is a hard juggling act. It is also important to keep in mind that your young adult is probably getting ready to leave home. You will still be in your home. Your home. It will no longer be his, no matter how much you wish it to be. I am sure he will always want to come 'home', to be with you, to feel the safe and reassuring atmosphere of where he grew up. I am also sure you would always welcome him. But until then, he is living under your roof, and by your rules of what is and is not acceptable.

When I think of the boys/young men I dated as a teenager, I shudder to think how unsuitable some of them were. They seemed ok on the attractive surface, but one turned out later to be a swindler and spent a few years in prison, another was found to be a serial philanderer, and yet another, a brilliant athlete when I knew him, was so lazy he was unemployable. I didn't have enough judgment then to have sensed those things, I just got bored with each in turn, except the last, who got bored with me. My point is that teenage relationships are usually ephemeral. They work on hormonal drive more than on our skill in choosing the right person. That develops through experiment and elimination as we stumble into adulthood. If we are lucky, we start to find better matches to the person we have become. That too is an ever-changing set of parameters. We change throughout our lives. Sometimes we are fortunate and our chosen partner can change alongside us and stay in tune. Sometimes that cannot be sustained but we can always learn more about ourselves as a result.

It is likely your son will tire of being dominated - for I suspect that is what you are thinking when you mention not just the constant phone calls, texts and so on but the strips of fabric that were used for ties or blindfolds - and he will become more confident. He will grow out of this very juvenile relationship and know more about himself. He needs to make those important steps, to succeed and to fail. What you have done, by talking to him about all this, and by saying his girlfriend is no longer welcome, is show him clearly where the boundaries are at home. It won't feel good, saying these things, but it will help him. He'll know more about how to behave as a result. He will learn gradually that sex is something very personal and private, to be shared with a partner only, not to be cheapened by being as explicit as he and his girlfriend were.

Strong as the hormonal urge can be, it is - and has to be - controlled until the time and place are appropriate. That waiting can be part of the power of such an experience....call it 'delayed gratification' and it will appeal to all the people who watch Fifty Shades of Grey!

No-one says we have to like every girl a son brings home, but we do have the right to expect them to be respectful of our hospitality. If they do not accept that, then their presence is not tolerable. Given what you have seen of her parents, perhaps she didn't get such clear guidance on how to be, as you have tried to give your son. There are so many more ways young people can be influenced by others now, that it is sometimes hard for a parental voice to be heard. In adolescence that voice can get shut out altogether. The adolescent brain is wired differently to the mature adult. The focus is narrow. Thus, it is near impossible at times for young adults to be considerate to anyone except themselves.

Watching their child metamorphose during adolescence is the toughest test for many a parent. Try to be patient: they are finding themselves. You will get back the lovable person eventually providing you try to continue offering love, support and, if they will accept it, guidance.


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


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