If you are reading this you are probably in a very lonely place, trying to work out how to move forward in an unhappy relationship. If you have been together a long time, life beyond your ‘coupledom’ will probably feel very scary. If you have children your anxiety will also be for them and how you will cope being a single parent, or non-resident parent. Your partner who has perhaps been your closest friend in the past, can’t help you with this decision. Family and friends who know you as a couple may struggle to offer support for fear of taking sides. Coping alone like this, whilst still being in the relationship can feel like a very heavy burden and may lead to depression and anxiety. The conflict between your inner feelings and the outer reality causes psychological stress. This often begins to show in the body with tiredness, aches and pains and ill health.

For many people once they get to the stage of considering leaving, they have already been feeling alone for some time. There is nothing so lonely as a relationship when it isn’t working. The question that will be going round in your head is can this relationship ever get better, or will it never be right for me? Only you can make this decision, but often people know the answer deep down yet still don’t make the move. Practical reasons for staying together such as money or childcare issues can feel impossible to overcome. Feelings of shame or religious belief may influence your decision too. For some though they just have the feeling that if only they could get through to their partner, things could be better. This hope keeps couples together but may not actually move them forward into happier times.

There are hidden factors at work when we feel that our partner isn’t right for us, yet cannot break away. Everyone has a sort of blue print for love or ‘attachment’ which is formed in early life. Our ‘attachment patterns’ are dependent on the way we were cared for as infants and the quality and shape of relationships with loved ones. Even a childhood that is remembered as happy and loving can leave tendencies in later life, like avoiding conflict, ambivalence about intimacy or a deep sense of need which never seems to get met. Difficulties communicating desires, or being insensitive to the needs of another are usually at the heart of relationship breakdown and are both avoidance strategies for coping with a fear of rejection or alternatively being overwhelmed by the other.

Adult love can feel very disappointing when it doesn’t completely fit our attachment needs. The longing for a secure base coupled with a sense of being understood and valued brings people together but often feels tantalizingly out of reach. Partners failings re-trigger in each other the emotional pain of much earlier relationships, in which they were let down by parents and others, whose attunement to their needs was lacking in some way. People complain a lot about their partners, but understanding one’s own history and what attachment patterns or scripts this has left us with, is the key to unlocking the potential within a relationship. Relationships take work, not just in terms of behaviour but also emotional and psychological effort. Your partner may not be right for you but there is more of a chance for a relationship, in which both people are prepared to work, to reaching a deeper understanding of themselves as well as each other.

First published 4th November, 2014