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Relationships - April 2015

When love upsets the family.

 

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.



When love upsets the family...

I have two older brothers, both in their 20s and still living at home. We are a very close family but I fear that is changing.

One of my brothers (24) has been in a good relationship for seven years. My other brother (28) started a relationship three months ago with a girl he has known for a couple of months. I've known his girlfriend for many years as she lives in our town. She's very generous to me, we get our nails done, have movie nights and day trips etc. and she and my brother are a good couple. However, I have a problem. My elder brother gets very attached very easily; he's had a few relationships in the past (only one proper one which lasted four years) and always changes.

But this time my whole family (my parents, my brother and me) all agree he's gone too far. He spends more time with her family than with us lately, which upsets my parents. There was a problem at work recently because of my brother's lack of work ethic, which upset my other brother (they co-own a business ).

He's also very self-centred now, always talking about himself or their relationship or texting/calling her. It upsets me hugely. My brother and I thought it was because of the "honeymoon period" but it's gone on for three months now and there's no change. I'm happy for them, as I love both my brothers and their girlfriends as well and want them to be happy but my brother is really hurting all of us right now and I'm scared to talk to him about it.

Please help.

There is a part of me that wants to say 'back off, this man is 28 years old and is capable of making his own decisions and his own mistakes. He will learn by them'.
But I recognise how hard it is to adjust or accept such a deviation from your family pattern, especially in one as close as yours obviously is. You have been fortunate indeed to have had such a close and loving upbringing. It is clear that you all care about one another very much, and are also welcoming of the partners of your siblings. How fortunate that you personally enjoy plenty of time with his girlfriend.

Your email clearly shows the fact that reaching adulthood bears no relation to the end of learning. We learn new things, most importantly about ourselves and how to be, throughout our lives. By the sound of it, your elder brother is on a pretty steep learning curve at the moment; so too are your parents.

Having worked so hard to raise their children and done so well to maintain a really close family can sometimes mean that when there’s any deviation from what has been the unspoken ‘norm', it is hard to see its positive elements.

The negatives seem to be:

  • Your brother spends more time at his girlfriend's parental home than his own home and that upsets your mum and dad;
  • He spends much of his time talking about, or to, his girlfriend when away from her. Too much information can, frankly, be boring for others;
  • He has neglected his work a little and upset his brother;
  • There is a sense of loss, not gain, in the family.

And the positives?

  • You have a really nice woman friend to have fun times with in the family;
  • Your brother is in love;
  • He wants to be with her as much as he can in his spare time and not share her - that is easier at her home than yours, where everyone is close and ‘involved';
  • He can think of nothing but his girlfriend and wants to be in contact 24/7;
  • He loves to talk of her because it helps him feel closer to her when they're apart;
  • His mind is not effectively focussing on his job right now because it is on other things - however, that will pass as he gradually gets used to his new situation and learns the essential skill of balancing it all.

It is true I have looked at the positives mainly from his point of view, but I have done so to demonstrate how much is changing for him, and some of the possible reasons he is not quite 'available' to his family and work. Falling in love can seem a bit obsessional at times. It changes everything for the individuals, and can change much for those around them. None of us can predict when it will happen or how long it will last. But all of us learn that it will change things.

For many parents, the sometimes painful process of letting go of their children, or at least going through some kind of change in which their sons or daughters fully assert themselves, happens in the teenage years. There are conflicts, arguments and feelings of loss, where the young are defying or challenging their parents. That is a necessary if fractious time as the young push into the adult world while exploring who they are and what they are capable of. Over time it often works out that they come almost full circle. If allowed to separate and differentiate from parents, the young adult will come closer once more when they feel ready. Although it is unlikely that the young adult will behave exactly as before – time and experiences change us all – alongside the changes they will always be, essentially, the person present in the child.

But things are different in your family. You have remained very close. It can be a wonderful source of safety, security and reassurance. Yet the effect can also be to make it very hard for any member of such a close group to step out of that safe, tight circle. It spoils the shape. It is uncomfortable. It disrupts the usual patterns and forces change.

If you have no sense of that happening then all three of you have been blessed by exceptional parents. They will be doing what every caring parent does, worrying that their son won't be hurt, won't get into a mess at work, and won't fall out with the rest of his family. In other words, worrying in a very normal parental way. Let them get on with that - they are old enough and experienced enough to deal with the inevitable hurt of feeling 'less' important (though they will never be in danger of that, just differently important).

You can then concentrate on being the honest, loving sister you have always been. So do not be afraid to talk to your brother about how hard this is for everyone. Tell him that you are happy he has found someone who he can feel so strongly about and gently remind him that his family still value him, and want him – and his girlfriend – to spend time with them. Remind him too, in the wonderful sisterly manner sisters can use, that he is in danger of being a 'girlfriend bore' and losing peoples interest as a result. As for his concentration at work, perhaps that is better addressed by your other brother or your parents. You won't lose him. He will always be your brother, but he has to move on in his own way.

Thank you for writing to me. It is refreshing to receive a letter which bridges the gap between the generations by demonstrating such a loving concerns. I wish you luck.


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


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