love and loss and stepfamilies

Dear Suzie, My partner and i fell in love 3 yrs ago. I can’t tell you how desperate I am – our lives are a mess. I have tried everything but nothing works. My ex-husband and I were very good friends with a couple who lived close by. She died of cancer three years ago leaving him with two children. After the funeral I helped them in every way I could and then he told me he’d fallen in love with me and I instantly fell in love with him. My husband and I had been happily married for 18 years. We were true soulmates and we both believed we always would be. I had the perfect life and I truly valued it and I was happy but I had to be with my partner. My husband and I split up and he immediately fell in love with another friend of ours and set up home with her and her daughter. We set up a new home with his two and my two children. My eldest saw his father until he was told they were getting married. He hasn’t seen or spoken to either since. My daughter’s contact with her father has been erratic but she now sees him every Tuesday/Thursday for a couple of hours. She never sees his wife. I have tried constantly to create a happy family but have failed badly. We are all desperately unhappy but we all want to be happy. We are all good people. I think we are all so angry about the people/things we loved and lost that we are stuck and most of all everybody is angry with me. Its understandable that we all have the various feelings that we have but we desperately need help. I wish we could be one of your success stories – its fantastic to see the smiles on the faces of the families you have helped. I just want to smile too – and I want to see smiles on the faces of everyone in my family – we all deserve it! I very much look forward to hearing from you.

Of course you all deserve it. But you need to know those smiles were hard-won. I didn’t come in and wave a magic wand and do it for them. What I did was go in and listen and then, using my experience, expertise and training, feed back the interpretations I had made. We explored what had happened, why it had happened, and how the past so often set patterns for the present. We delved and sifted though emotions – often painful and overwhelming emotions, that people often try to suppress and that by denying, only get worse.

All of this took time and a lot of hard work – on my part but mainly on the part of the families in question. They had to face up to some painful and often hard truths and it wasn’t easy. Some people in the series were reluctant to do that work and the sad fact is that if people won’t work, counselling can’t work.

You don’t need me, specifically, to help you work your way through this. You can do it with any trained, committed counsellor. But you’d have to be committed too. You tell me that your ex-husband and you had been happily married for 18 years and were soul mates…and that when your partner told you he was in love with you, you instantly fell in love with him. You tell me once you had gone, your ex-husband then fell immediately in love with someone else. You had a perfect life with him, but ‘had’ to be with your partner. And you then detail behaviour that reveals confused, conflicted feelings on the part of the children involved. I’d have to challenge some of those statements, and ask you to look at them. And I’d want to give those children the opportunity to voice their emotions – and you may find them hard to listen to.

One of the really important issues I highlight in the book I wrote to go with the series (Stepfamilies – surviving and thriving in a new family – see the books page on this site) is that separation and divorce are an adult solution to an adult problem and that children very rarely want it to happen. I wonder how much you have taken on board that what was right for you – and new beginning and love – was not good for them – it was an ending and a source of great pain. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go with it but I do think you need to address the fact that you and the children have very different viewpoints on what has happened, and their behaviour is a way of acting out their feelings because they may have found it hard to say them.

I’d suggest you look at getting a counsellor in your area – you could ask your GP for a referral or go to Relate, who offer counselling for relationship and family issues. Look in the local phone book for your nearest centre or go to . They also do phone counselling – call 08451 30 40 16 for an appointment. Or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy can suggest a counsellor in your area. You can ring them on 0870 443 5219 or write to BACP, BACP House, 35-37 Albert Street, Rugby, Warwickshire CV21 2SG or go to The Institute of Family Therapy can also help with family problems. Write to them at 24-32 Stephenson Way, London NW1 2HX, call 020 7391 9150 or go to

You may also like to contact Parentline Plus, often the first and best place for help with any parenting or family dilemma is. Their Helpline is on 0808 800 2222 and it’s free, confidential and open 24 hours a day every day of the year. You can write to them at Unit 520, Highgate Studios, 53-79 Highgate Road, Kentish Town, London NW5 1TL or go to their website at to read or download a range of helpful materials, or contact them by email. They offer a range of support from one to one phone counselling to phone conference calls with other parents and face to face courses. Good luck!

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