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My partner and I want very different things in life. I think I’ve made a huge mistake

Ask Roe: I’ve just bought a house with my partner but my ex says she loves me and I can’t stop thinking about her

Dear Roe,

I recently purchased a house with my partner but I am having severe second thoughts. We have been together for a number of years and things had been going well enough that we bought a house together. I had concerns before we finalised things, but I put that down to standard nerves about such a big move. Now it’s done, I can’t stop thinking I have made a mistake. We seem to want very different things in life and have grown apart. I also cannot stop thinking about my ex, who reached out before we progressed with the sale to tell me she loves me. This confession has got me thinking and now I feel strongly that I love her also. I’m unsure what to do or how to proceed.

Park the ex question right now; it’s a red herring. You are in a committed relationship with someone else, so unless you’re leaving details of an affair out of your question, you have not been romantically involved with your ex in many years. You broke up for a reason, you both have presumably grown and evolved over the years, and you do not know what a relationship with each other would be like now. It might be great, it might be terrible. You do not know, and so the thoughts you are having about your ex right now are a fantasy, an imagining, an escape. You’re projecting a hypothetical future on to them and judging it to be far more desirable than your present. The ex isn’t the issue. How you are feeling and your desire to escape is the issue, and that’s what you need to focus on.

When we are drawn to other people while in committed relationships, it’s rarely as much about the other person as we think. So much of cheating or fantasising about someone else is about how we feel about ourselves and our current situation – and what version of ourselves we would rather be. We all do this, to a degree. Even when we actively choose the relationships in our lives, we can mourn the options that shut down and the versions of ourselves that become harder to access. When in that state of mourning, or when we realise that the choices we made aren’t working for us any more, it can be easy and seductive to believe that one person holds the answer, to all those other exciting choices, to our perfect future.


But there is no perfect future; there will always be choices to be made and options that are no longer available, and we will always struggle to bring the best versions of ourselves to the fore. Wonderful partners can help, of course, they can; but self-awareness and a reality check are required, too. What options will be the hardest for you to give up? What parts of yourself do you need to hold on to when you find them slipping away? Even if there was no alluring ex in the picture, what choices would you need to make to be happy, and what would your ideal future look like?

You are in a situation right now where you feel trapped, where you’re not as happy as you want to be, where you don’t feel connected to your partner and you don’t feel comfortable in your home. That’s a really hard space to be in. Focusing on all the promises and options and ideals that your ex represents is easy – but you need to focus on what you feel your life and relationship are missing right now and address that, instead of escaping into a dream bubble that may burst quickly. It’s time to start examining how you are feeling, so that whatever you decide to do – to leave your partner, to stay and try to work it out, to run into the sunset with your ex – you are making a decision that feels like you are moving towards a future that is right for you, not simply running away from a situation that is bringing up some vague and uncomfortable feelings. Maybe you’re simply adjusting to a long-term, live-in relationship and going through an adjustment period as you mourn the options that are no longer available – or maybe this relationship is truly not right for you. Only you can make that call. But I think some digging beneath the vague statements will be vital for you to know. A therapist will help you, but here are some questions to think about.

You bought a house with your partner. Why? We often assume that couples need to move in together, need to purchase property together if they have the means, that this needs to happen when they reach a certain age or have been together for a certain amount of time. These assumptions mean that we can make huge, life-altering choices almost by default, instead of examining these decisions. Why did you and your partner move in together? What vision of a shared life did you have? What feels different now? And when you had your doubts about living together, what shape did they take? What made you ignore them?

You write that you and your partner seem to have “grown apart”, which is a commonly used phrase that needs more examining, even for yourself. People can grow in different directions and still find ways to stay connected, allowing for each other’s evolution and even celebrating discovering new facets or themselves and each other. In what ways are you growing that is causing a disconnect? You also say that you “want different things from life” – which could mean huge life plans such as getting married and having children or could mean having different daily routines. Some of these things are navigable – but only if you want them to be.

Have you spoken to your partner about how you are feeling? It is possible that they are feeling the same disconnect that you are, or maybe they love how your relationship is evolving into a different shape since you’ve moved in together. But talking to them will get you out of your head and start giving you some clarity on where your relationship stands.

If you decide that you cannot stay in this relationship, that’s okay. It can feel overwhelming to walk away from a big commitment, but people do it every day. Make a list of everything you have that will help you: the people who will emotionally support you, the people who will help you with the logistics of the house, financial information so you know how you will manage, the friendships and adventures and possibilities that will help bring you some joy as you navigate the break up. Use everything you have learned about yourself in this process to think about what you want from your future, future relationships, and what parts of yourself need to be cultivated and protected. Even if you were to leave this relationship and not reconnect with your ex, what would you want to life to look like? How will you move towards it?

Staying with your partner and getting through this period will require some soul-searching and emotional work. Leaving your partner and soul-searching and work. What you need to decide is which path and what work will get you closer to the future you want. Good luck.