a Later Life Relationship Counselling: Hitting a Low Point

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Relationships - January 2017

Hitting a low point


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.


Hitting a low point

Nothing seems to be working out for me right now. I'm hitting fifty in a couple of months, the two kids are in their bolshie teens and I'm struggling to have any decent conversation with my husband.

I'm finding it hard to get off to sleep, feel exhausted all the time and frankly can't get enthusiastic about anything, even food or sex. I have an overwhelming urge to just walk out of the door and disappear.

Everyone in the house seems to be completely absorbed in their own world. They'd hardly notice if I wasn't here!

Six months ago I said goodbye to a man who was the only one who seemed to understand how I felt. He had been a family friend and was over here temporarily. He's now gone back to Australia, after five years living near us.

We spent long hours together as a group of friends. His wife was a lovely woman but totally driven by her successful business and he was a stay-at-home-dad. He'd often come round to our house and chat and was very aware of how lonely my life looked from the outside. He was gentle, considerate and a great listener. Although we never spoke of this I think we were both feeling we were getting too close. And now that family have gone away and I miss his company so much. It has made me look at my own life and feel things are not right.

What one earth shall I do? Am I depressed? Where do I start?


It sounds like the New Year has certainly not brought any optimism for you. It feels so unfair when all these things seem to cause problems at the same time.
Your three questions at the end of your letter are good; start there.

Are you depressed? Get an appointment with your doctor and have a chat. Ask for your hormone levels to be checked, as menopausal symptoms are hard to handle and there are plenty of ways to ease them - not necessarily medicinal. If you are depressed then there are various things you could do to start clearing all the feelings you have locked inside. Ask the doctor for an appointment with a counsellor to talk these through. It might seem less of a mountain to climb if you can sort out where the problems lie, then how to address them - for address them you must.
There is a whole string of conditions you mention that could be contributing to how you feel:

  • you have teenaged children who are being difficult
  • you don't feel supported or noticed by your husband
  • you and your husband have lost your feeling of intimacy and you've gone off sex
  • you aren't sleeping well and feel tired most of the time and have lost enthusiasm for things
  • you are missing the male friend you had grown close to
  • you are almost fifty years old

There's also a whole string of readers who are nodding and murmuring 'Welcome to the club'!
This isn't to dismiss the miserable feelings that disturb you and make you so unhappy.
But here you are, probably menopausal - sleep disturbance is one of the miseries of it - and having relationship problems with your husband...whether he is aware of it or not. Although he might not have acknowledged it he will, I'm pretty sure, have noticed that things are not as cosy between you as they used to be.

This is where a counsellor can be useful to you. He or she can help you pinpoint what is missing for you, what things used to be like and how to talk to your husband about them.

Your husband needs to know from you just how bad you are feeling. Although he might say he's quite happy plodding along as things are, he has to know that in a partnership, if one person is unhappy there is a problem for both. So find a way of involving him.

Just like a bicycle or a car, if one tyre is losing air, the whole vehicle is not balanced and is harder to control. Ignoring it courts disaster.

If he has been a good husband and father then he will not intentionally leave you to struggle with what is happening alone. Talk to him at a time when he can concentrate on what you are saying - that is. not when he is just home from work or his favourite TV programme is about to start. Explain to him without blame - just concentrate on your own feelings wherever possible. Ask him to listen - without putting any of his own views - to how you are feeling, what is worrying you, and how he might help you get back to feeling better about yourself and the family.

The family - they need to know too. Talk to them but reassure them they are not being criticised. Tell them how much you care about them and ask for their help. They are old enough to start taking some of the responsibility of being part of a family group, where everyone has a part to play in generating the comfort and contentment of others.
You are really missing the warmth and friendship of your friend, but it is so much easier to feel attraction when you are feeling deprived within your relationship of the very things the friend was offering - attention, understanding, care and concern. He has helped you be more aware of the things you need. It is good that he has been strong enough to keep his emotional distance and you can let him go with a feeling of gratitude for what his friendship has shown you. That doesn't mean you can't have those things inside your marriage - you need to ask for them.
If your husband is not a naturally empathic person, you can help him be better at it by explaining how those things can work wonders, how small kind gestures - not grand ones - are the wonderful re-chargers of relationship batteries. Be specific. Tell him of the power of a smile, a touch as he passes, a hug now and then, and to look at you and ask how you are...and listen to your response!

I know terrible things are happening in the world that make many people more anxious in general as it all feels out of our control. But within your home, you need to speak out clearly and gently - and often if necessary - so that through giving family members information, you feel you have more control over what is happening.  I hope it will give them an awareness that helps them to feel they too have some power.
Much of what I have talked about is in your control; you can start changing things now.
Check your general physical and mental health with your doctor of course, because there might be something that can help medically, but you are the one who can make it all happen and bring you a much better year than you first imagined, through having the courage to talk, inform and ask.



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


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Relationships - December 2016

Sex and the boyfriend


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.


Sex and the boyfriend

I have surprised myself. My sixteen year old daughter has said she wants her boyfriend to stay the night, in her bedroom. We have two older sons and never felt like this about them when they said they were staying over at their girlfriends home.

My wife and I have talked and talked about this and are struggling with how to say no, to our very open and honest young daughter.
I can't bear the thought of my girl having sex with a boy under our roof. We're not religious but it really doesn't feel right.

I feel so silly making a fuss about this. At 53 I should know what to say, and why. But that just isn't happening.

We've put her off for now but we are bound to be back in this situation again. There's the Christmas and New Year holiday coming up soon and I'm getting more un-easy as time goes by.

What can I say?


Oh yes, that milestone which marks your child's next big adult step is becoming unavoidable. Many parents whose children are now adult will have been where you are now and none of them will have found it easy to know what to say or do.

All kinds of pressures are at play here.

  • Your daughter is unmistakeably sexually aware/active - she may already be having sex with her boyfriend
  • You are reluctant to make yourselves unpopular with her by saying no but are feeling very uneasy
  • You are not yet feeling ready to see your daughter leave her childhood (and implicitly you) behind
  • It is hard to see her being much more reliant on the company and the affection of someone her own age than on you
  • You are, naturally, concerned that she might get emotionally hurt if she takes such a bonding step with a boy, or that she might get pregnant, and that her education might suffer.

This is a time when you need to be strong in your parenting, strong in knowing what you can personally deal with at this point and strong enough to be open and honest with her about what boundaries you wish to put in place. Yes, you might be unpopular with her if you decide to say that he cannot share her room if he stays overnight, but that is only one of many times a parent will be unpopular. You are her parent, not her best friend who wants to go along with everything she does.

Ask yourself why you were able to cope with her older brothers telling you they were staying overnight with their girlfriends. 'Out of sight out of mind'? How did the parents of those girls handle the situation? It is perhaps still considered ok for boys to go off and do this, but when it comes to your own doorstep and your own daughter, things change.

You know your daughter. Is she street-wise in terms of looking after her sexual health? Does she know about the importance of contraception?
These are things you need to know in order to make your decision. She has shown respect for you in asking permission. She obviously cares about you. You in turn need to respect her by showing concern and interest in how she intends to stay safe. You cannot protect any child from getting hurt no matter how closely you wrap them. They have to take more risks as they enter adulthood in order to learn, and it is one of the hardest things to stand by and watch them take their first steps towards it knowing they'll make just as many mistakes as you, have as many thrills and successes, and as many regrets or hurt feelings.

Talk to her, do your 'safety checks', tell her how you are feeling and always let your daughter know you love her and will always be there, in the background, when things get tough - or when she just wants to be mum and dad's girl again for a while.

You say you have no religious belief that makes this stage of your daughter's development clear in terms of what a parent must do. Can you work out what makes this next stage hard for you? Is it the thought of the girl you see as your child having sex with her boyfriend? Is it that you fear for her emotional or physical safety? Is it that you would be horribly embarrassed?

I'm not saying that any of these things are not natural and normal. They are, totally. What I want you to consider is that they are your - not your daughter's - feelings, fears and embarrassments. She has come to you to ask, after all. You and your wife have to decide - for yourselves - how you might respond to her request. And for that you need to be clear about your reasons, so that you can explain to her and stand by them if you are telling her "no, not yet" or need to negotiate.

Get to know her boyfriend better. This is important. Once you are used to seeing him regularly in your house and you are at ease with that, then you will find there comes a time when you are ready to say ok to him staying over. You might even be the ones to suggest it!

But be prepared for the possibility that you do not warm to him. You might not be comfortable with him. If you say no after a period of seeing him often, you need to trust your instincts and be aware that to say no would then mean she could merely stay overnight at his home instead.
The truth is that you have to go through this 'barrier' and get used to your more adult daughter's next life stage. It is always uncomfortable for parents, but we all face it, go past it and survive it. The more smoothly and honestly that is done the better for your child. And you will have done your best.

Explain, negotiate, and have a wonderful Christmas and New Year holiday.




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


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