I don’t love my partner romantically – I don’t think I ever did
Tell Me About It: My parents don’t support the notion of us breaking up because they don’t think I’ll be able to cope
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I have been reading about a woman facing retirement who is enjoying the thought of it. I am at the other end of that. I’m not married, but living with a partner and two young children. I work four days a week and my partner works most days as well. Although of course I love my children and am so grateful for them, I don’t love their father romantically at all, I don’t think I ever did. I would love to be single. I regularly find myself attracted to other men and I would rather spend my free time with my friends and children or by myself than with him. I feel a bit stuck as the set-up we have is just affordable for us and I think I wouldn’t be able to maintain my lifestyle if my partner didn’t live with me. The household income would drop by half as he said he wouldn’t be able to support our family if he didn’t live here. I find myself very happy with many aspects of my life but living with my partner in a small apartment is taking its toll. My parents don’t support the notion of us breaking up because they don’t think I’ll be able to cope.
ANSWER Feeling stuck is a common experience for many people; it can happen that things are not bad enough for change to happen but not good enough to be satisfied. The danger with this is that we can spend years or even decades in this state so that dissatisfaction becomes the norm in our lives and that is what we exude in every aspect of ourselves.
None of us had this as our dream for our futures, and we would not want it for our children, but somehow we find that we are unable to unstick ourselves so it is worthwhile looking at the blocks to this.
Often fear is a huge factor – fear of the unknown. However we cannot fear what we do not know. What we fear is what we think will happen and this is usually a negative imagining. You say you are fearful of a drop in income and there is no doubt that this is likely if you separate, but is this really the only thing stopping you?
Your parents say that they are concerned that you will not be able to cope and perhaps you also harbour this fear. Did this worry about lack of coping ability have some part to play in your choosing to spend your life with a man you did not love and did not marry?
Habit is also a contributing factor to feeling stuck. We can get used to almost anything and both the habit of everyday living plus the habit of putting off decision making can leave us circling our lives waiting for a crisis to shock us into action.
In your situation this crisis might come in the form of an affair, as you say that you are attracted to other men. If this were to happen, the ensuing separation might be fuelled by betrayal, anger and rage and everyone, including your children, would suffer more. Breaking habits is hard, as anyone who has ever tried to break a simple habit such as eating chocolate will attest, so it will require motivation, discipline and determination. If you take on the responsibility of living deliberately, you will have to grow the self-worth and belief that it will take to meet the demands of the life you have created.
The first step towards addressing feeling stuck is to make a decision. A decision should be based on what is best for you (and your children) right now. If you decide that separation is what is best, then you must follow that decision with all your capacity and intelligence. The Irish family mediation service is a free Government service that helps couples with all aspects of separation, including finances. Both of you will be supported to come to an agreement about how to separate and your children’s needs will be paramount at all times. Indecision can keep you in this limbo place for decades and you might need to consider what your children are learning about relationships.
Alternatively, you might decide that what is best right now is to stay in the relationship as stability is the biggest need. If this is the case, you might consider committing to this aim and supporting whatever is needed to make it work. This might include working on your relationship to make it an honest and respectful one? Can you two be friends if not lovers?
Perhaps it is possible to support each other in a way that can honour your overall family’s needs while giving some consideration to your individual needs. Any attempt at dealing more directly with your situation should improve your sense of self-esteem and improve your capacity for handling fears and habits. This is developing resilience and you will need this for facing future decisions.