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Relationships - March 2019

Red Flags


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.



Red Flags

My son is 18 and has had a girlfriend for about two years now. The first year was great but the second was full of bad fights and lots of tears. The girl told my son that he was the only one for her and that if he broke up with her, she would never see another guy. Long story short, they both go to the same university and have the same classes. They work in the same place and share the same appointment against our advice and wishes. A few things have happened and now my daughter hates his girlfriend who happens to think we are too close to our son. Christmas is here and our son is home. He told my daughter that if she doesn’t fix things up with his girlfriend he will leave and not stay home for Christmas. Actually he said he will not be coming home anymore. There are so many red flags I see but my son doesn’t see any of it. What should I do in this situation? I don’t want to lose my son but my heart aches to see how toxic this relationship is and what he’s doing to himself. Any advice from you would be greatly appreciated.

Dear Worried Mum.

You wrote to me on Christmas Eve and Christmas will be long gone by the time you read this reply, but I suspect things will be slowly sorting themselves out. I think your intuition is correct and that your son's girlfriend isn't the one that will last as they sound like they are living life 'in one another's pockets'.

That kind of intense closeness can never be tolerated for long, and sooner or later these kinds of relationships break under the strain. At their life-stage learning about adult life is happening on all levels, not just academically, but across the board and relating to another person as partner is one of the trickiest to handle.

It sounds as though the girl is not secure in her choices yet as she cannot accept the closeness of your family. It might be that she hasn't experienced it, so it is alien to her, but needs to be reassured that healthy family love isn't a threat to others. If she were to accept that, she might find there's enough for her too! For her to pressure your son by threatening him with her future choices is immature and manipulative. When the relationship ends she might be devastated and angry for a time but will recover. She will have other boyfriends. If she doesn't it will be her choice.

Unfortunately seeing all those 'red flags' from the viewpoint of a parent is very hard. We have all passed through the initiation into adult relationships and moved on to other testing learning curves. They never truly stop! For you it feels so difficult to stand back and watch this happen, but that is what will give you the greatest chance to be more neutral and remain approachable for when your son needs to come home for some comfort. Trying to put him off of his choice will only alienate him. He has made this choice based on his limited experience. He will learn a huge amount from this - when he realises it doesn't feel so good as at first, he doesn't want to share every move and every choice of friend, or his choice of family time, is ruled by someone else.

Most of us go through the process of elimination with boy/girlfriends in our youth. Each time we learn a little more about what we appreciate in others and what we need to avoid. We learn more about our strengths and weaknesses too, through the feedback of the people we become close to. In that way, whether the feedback was welcome or unwelcome, we exercise our choices in an increasingly selective way.

Your daughter needs to learn to step back a little as she has no say over his choice of girlfriend. She doesn't have to like them but it is not her business. But she is young and these strengths come with time.

You care and you worry, and can do nothing to influence your son's choice, but you can be there to listen to him and encourage him to be true to himself, to listen to the small voice inside that wishes something was different if he hears one. It is these small voices that can flag up a need for change. Without attention that voice becomes louder, but it can take a long time to shout, and by then it is harder to make changes without greater disruption.

Let him know that you will always be as a support, that your love isn't one that will fade, and that you won't judge him. Reassure him you will be there when he needs you, listen when he needs an ear and stand back when he needs space. If he isn't coming home so much now, tell him through occasional messages, a letter, or emails, texts, WhatsApp...of encouragement, together with any brief news from home. Don't bombard him, but these will maintain the link with him for when he needs it.



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


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