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‘My girlfriend’s extreme mood swings are ruining our relationship’

Ask Roe: The persistent sapping of my energy is getting under my skin; I’m walking on eggshells

Staying in a relationship where you find your partner draining, where you can see the relationship starting to affect your emotional and mental health, is betraying yourself and your needs. Illustration: Getty

Dear Roe,
I’m starting to find my long-term girlfriend emotionally draining. Her nature is to have extreme emotional fluctuations whereas my nature is to be calm and less excitable. I’m not certain if this has always been the case and I’ve only noticed it mid-pandemic or if it was always prevalent but less noticeable due to the distractions regular life has to offer.

We’ve recently spent time apart due to the restrictions and I don’t miss her as much as I thought I would, something that’s partly sparked my concern. I’m beginning to question our relationship as I feel like it’ll only spiral downwards and become even more draining, having an adverse impact on my own mental health and emotional wellbeing.

It has now gotten to the stage where the persistent sapping of my attention and energy is getting under my skin, occasionally I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around her. I’m uncertain if it’s spelling the demise of the relationship or if it’s all due to the added complexity and strain of living through a pandemic. I’m convinced I still love her but recently I’ve started daydreaming about dating others. Any input would be greatly appreciated.

As regular readers of the column will know, it’s quite rare for me to tell people that the one and only solution to their problem is to leave their relationship. This isn’t because I think all relationships are worth saving; it’s because I know that relationships are complex, they contain multitudes that can’t be summarised in a letter, and they are not easy to instantly leave just because an advice columnist thinks you should. So I think it’s more helpful to state the concerns I have, give my opinion and then give some options. You could stay, or you could try this. You could leave, or try this. In doing so, I hope that something I write will be helpful, no matter what the outcome.


Here’s what I want you to remember: no matter the outcome of this relationship, wanting to leave can be enough.

I’m noticing a recurring theme of guilt in the letters I’ve been receiving lately; partners feeling guilty for wanting to end their relationships during Covid; feeling guilty for working too much; for not wanting to go back to work; feeling guilty for not wanting to have sex; feeling guilty for wanting more sex. Our circumstances have changed, our needs have changed, and everyone’s feeling guilty about it. Enough of this.

We are not automatons with no needs; we are human beings whose needs and desires change with surroundings, with circumstance, with time. Just because one thing worked for you before doesn’t mean it always will. And as long as you act with honesty and integrity, changing your mind or evolving is not a betrayal of anyone. Whereas ignoring the fact that you have changed and trying to stay the same for someone else, can be a betrayal of yourself.

For you, staying in a relationship where you find your partner draining, where you can see the relationship starting to affect your emotional and mental health, is betraying yourself and your needs.

Men can be emotionally abused by women, and it's often excused by dismissing women's anger and attacks on their partners as not being serious

I need to say that you don’t specify if her emotional fluctuations include getting angry with you, and if “you’re walking on eggshells” out of fear of her temper. If this is the case, this is one of those “leaving is your only option” letters. Men can be emotionally abused by women, and it’s often excused by dismissing women’s anger and attacks on their partners as not being serious. If you feel targeted, attacked or manipulated by her emotions, leave now. But even if she’s not directing any anger or aggression at you, you’re still walking on eggshells in your own relationship, and staying like this is not an option. Your options become: you could address these issues and see if they change, or you could leave.

One thing that is interesting about this dynamic is that you note it’s possible your girlfriend always had these “extreme emotional fluctuations”, but they were diluted by everyday life – it merely seemed like she was reacting to things, rather than this being her base level of emotion. Of course, it is entirely possible that her fluctuations have escalated with the stress and isolation of Covid, and it’s very important to keep that in mind. But you have been with her a long time, and I wonder whether she actually knows that her mood swings are affecting you negatively – or if they’ve been so accepted up until this point that she assumes they’re a normal and even vaguely enjoyable part of your “opposites attract” dynamic. She swings, you level everything out.

I wonder if she thinks you enjoy her excitable, extreme nature, and enjoy being the calm in the centre of her storm. And in midst of Covid, I wonder if she’s playing this up, either consciously or subconsciously, to try keep things “normal”.

However, this is guesswork, but here’s how you interrupt guesswork: you start talking. If you want to try solve this problem, schedule a conversation with her and start by talking about your own mental health. Address any stresses or senses of isolation you are experiencing during Covid, and highlight that for your emotional and mental wellbeing, you need more stability right now, and you need to feel like you’re in a relationship of equals rather than constantly playing the supporting role – literally and figuratively. By highlighting how your needs have changed, you’re not placing blame, merely addressing a dynamic that needs to change if it’s going to be good for you.

Then mention that she has been very emotional lately, and it’s been hard to know how to support her when you’re nearly running on empty yourself. Ask her what’s been going on for her, and if she thinks Covid (or anything else) is affecting her, because she has been presenting her feelings as more intense lately.

If you decide you want to leave, leave. End your relationship respectfully, and leave without guilt

Here’s the part of the conversation where you listen, and if she expresses that she’s been struggling, suggest that maybe she needs some extra support from family, friends or a therapist. You can say “I want you to feel supported, and I myself need some support and space and stability so our dynamic can be sustainable.” If that doesn’t stick, or if she denies that anything has changed, say “I still love you [only if this is true] but what I need right now is a more calm, stable dynamic in our relationship. How can we make this happen?”

By presenting this as a shift that you need, and a problem to be solved together, you can gauge whether she is willing and able to listen to you, to respect your needs and boundaries, then change her behaviour. Through talking, you will have a much clearer idea of whether you can stay or go.

But if you decide you want to leave, leave. End your relationship respectfully, and leave without guilt. Your girlfriend’s emotional fluctuations are not your first priority – your own emotional and mental wellbeing is. Put on your own oxygen mask first and, if necessary, reach for that parachute.

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at