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Relationships - August 2015

I really like the girl...


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 really like the girl...

I really like the girl my son is going out with now, but how do I stop myself getting attached, in case they break up?

The short answer to that short question is, you can't.

But the issue does raise painful truths about growing fond of others.

The people we love - friends, lovers or, as this e-mail implies, lovers of our children, who will, we hope, share their lives and make them both happy - are sometimes not in our lives for long.

We like to think we can fully control our nature but in truth, there are still parts of our emotional reactions which do their best or worst however we try to regulate them.
By the time we’re adult we can, generally, with guidance and practice, manage greed, malice and envy without coming to too much harm. But other emotions can come into play - love, lust, desire, passion - and from then on we must try to stay in reasonable control of our feelings! Fortunately, most people do (more or less). But just think of how many people you know who have partnered the love of their lives and then, years later, have had affairs or found someone else? Yes - love and lust and desire and passion, plus a touch of obsession and lack of foresight ... they’re all exciting and often wonderful, but are fraught with danger. The wrong mix can do huge damage. It can destroy your confidence in being able to trust again. Wariness, and fear of being hurt, can hinder and upset all kinds of attachment.

This brings me back to that question: “How do I stop myself getting attached?”

You say you like the girl. Your emotional self has already decided you could grow fond of her. So what you need to ask is: 'Do I like her because she’s my son's girlfriend or because she’s a pleasant person in her own right?' For a good relationship to develop, the girl deserves to be seen as an individual, not just someone attached to your son.

Should their relationship deepen and become permanent, you’ll be in an excellent position to welcome her into your family with open arms. But if the relationship withers, or founders, there’s no rule that, because she’s no longer your son's girlfriend, you must stop liking her. You will have chosen to like her as an individual and - provided she hasn’t badly hurt him - you’ll still have warm feelings for her. You might not often see her but you can still be fond of her.

I will never forget how loved I felt by my parents-in-law during my divorce from their son. They told me I'd been a loved member of their family for 20 years and they, most certainly, were not divorcing me! They remained my “other parents”, loving and supportive, for the rest of their lives. I loved them both. Yet, when my ‘ex’, their son, introduced his new partner to them, they remained open to the possibility of growing fond of her too, initially because their son loved her, but as time passed, because she was kind, affectionate and attentive.

Openness is the key here. If you can trust your instincts and let human nature help you decide how to be, you will remain open to the possibility of the relationship between you and her growing into something deeper. But because deep emotional attachments can seldom develop quickly, give the situation the time it deserves. Your son will lead the way. If he deepens his relationship with his girlfriend, you will come to know her better and feel more warmly for her. But if the two reach a limit of compatibility, as can happen in any new relationship, you can decide for yourself whether to continue contact. If not, it doesn't mean you have to stop liking her. Our lives are peppered with people we knew, liked, even loved, but lost contact with. It is not a failing – it is part of being open to people.

Maybe fear of being upset is where your doubts about allowing affection to develop come from. Sometimes, if we’ve been hurt by losing someone we were very close to, we can indeed be wary of letting ourselves become so vulnerable again. If you suspect that that is part of your reason for e-mailing me, do talk to someone about your fears around bonding and why you have them.

Remind yourself that your son's relationship with his girlfriend is the important one to get right - your relationship with her is secondary. Stand slightly apart and let it grow. You know how you feel about her. Try not to plan for what might not happen. That is just a waste of energy.

(Because this e-mail was even shorter than printed here, I have made a few assumptions. I hope I've not moved too far from the intended question.)


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


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