Love isn’t the only thing that keeps people in relationships.
Security, financial support, friendship, being a good parent, great sex, company – relationships offer us many different things and all are important.
In a good relationship, there’s love and a fair sprinkling of the other benefits.
Other times, love leaves and you’re forced to weigh up what’s really worth staying for.
Here’s my verdict on the most common reasons couples stay (when they often shouldn’t).
Which special circumstances make it worth staying with a partner even after love is gone? Tracey Cox investigates (stock picture)
YOU’RE STAYING TOGETHER FOR THE KIDS
The dilemma: ‘I fell out of love with my husband years ago but my children would be devastated if I left him. He’s not particularly nice to me but he is a good father to our two daughters. I’ll stay for the girls but the minute they’re old enough, I’m out the door.’
Research released last week found nearly half of all married couples in the UK (47 per cent) only stay together because of the kids.
Why? Because parents are told divorce ‘scars’ children. That they’ll end up feeling guilty, have issues at school and engage in all sorts of disruptive behaviours if their parents separate.
But is it really better for your kids if you stay together?
Tracey said that staying together for the kids could only work if you still sustain a positive relationship with your partner
If you’re happy, the answer is obviously yes.
Children thrive when they have two parents who love them and love each other and separation and divorce can – undeniably – make children anxious, upset and stressed.
But – and it’s a big one – divorce can also make children happier long-term. It all comes down to how bad your relationship or marriage is.
If you’re constantly arguing and angry, forcing your children to take sides, they’re witnessing verbal or physical abuse or having to exist in a miserable, depressing environment, you are absolutely not helping your kids by staying together.
In these circumstances, divorce is a relief for most children. It’s welcome and, if handled well, teaches them positive lessons about life and how to resolve difficulties.
Even if you aren’t constantly arguing, staying in a loveless, unhappy marriage is teaching your children bad lessons about relationships.
Young adults are sponges: they learn about how to have a relationship by watching their parents interact. Children who grow up with parents who are happy and respectful learn how to function and behave in a healthy relationship.
Would you like your kids to grow up and have a relationship the same as the one you have with your spouse?
If the answer is ‘Hell no!’, the solution is to separate not stay.
Separation and divorce aren’t easy for your children but if you resist the urge to badmouth each other, make sure they have contact with both parents and remain open, warm and affectionate, they will benefit in the long-term.
Verdict: If your relationship is toxic, it’s kinder on your kids to leave.
YOU’RE FINANCIALLY BETTER OFF IF YOU STAY TOGETHER
The dilemma: ‘We have three kids, I’m the main breadwinner and he earns very little. The lawyer told me that, if I divorce him, I have to provide him with an apartment big enough for the kids to stay over in. I’d be cleaned out.’
The same research (by Real Fix podcast) found one sixth of married men and women in the UK think their relationship is only functioning because one or the other can’t afford to be single.
Cheery news when you’re in the middle of a lockdown and pandemic, eh?
It’s stressful and depressing staying in a relationship you really don’t want to be in – or knowing your partner doesn’t enjoy – purely for financial reasons.
There are always options. Explore them.
If money is tight, work out what you think is a fair division of your shared property, money (or debt) if you were to split. Then talk to your partner, explain that it’s not working for you and you’d like to find a solution.
Your partner isn’t the only person in the world to share the bills with: live with some friends or find some new flatmates.
Sign on for Job Seekers if you don’t have any income or get a job. Ask your family or a close friend if you can live with them until you’re more financially stable. Some charities can help as well.
If you’re not hard up but splitting up will mean downgrading your lifestyle, that’s a different story.
Separating from your partner – especially if you have kids – can mean there’s less money for one or both of you.
Sometimes, if the relationship isn’t great but not awful, the right decision might be to rub along as best you can for a while, before biting the bullet.
But if your heart sinks every time you hear your partner’s key in the door and/or your relationship is volatile and stressful, I guarantee even living in a bedsit and eating baked beans will become more appealing long-term.
Is that new car or posh holiday really worth feeling miserable most of the time?
Verdict: Which is going to make you more unhappy? Staying in a loveless relationship or being less well off?
IT’S BETTER THAN BEING ALONE
The dilemma: ‘All my mates have wives and babies and I was feeling left behind – and lonely. It’s fine being single when all your friends are, not so much fun when it’s just you. My girlfriend isn’t perfect, but it’s better having someone than not having someone.’
The survey found one in four married adults is still with their partner because they’re afraid of being alone.
But alone doesn’t have to mean lonely – and there is nothing lonelier than being in the wrong relationship.
Yes, it can be difficult being single – especially now, during a lockdown.
An interesting thing happened to single women during the first lockdown however: a good percentage decided they didn’t need a romantic relationship to make themselves happy after all.
Forced to stop looking for a partner, they turned their focus to other things. Friends, walks, nature, pets, projects, cooking, reading great books, watching fantastic telly.
Guess what? They found all of these things make them just as happy as being in a romantic relationship.
Staying with someone who really isn’t making you happy purely because you don’t want to live alone never works. You spend your whole life looking at genuine couples, feeling envious, which makes you even more resentful of your partner.
Do both of you a favour and, if you can, find the courage to go it alone. Move in with a friend or get a pet if the thought of living solo scares you.
Verdict: Leave. There’s nothing lonelier than being with the wrong person.
THE SEX IS GREAT (BUT NOT MUCH ELSE IS)
The dilemma: ‘My partner is the first and only man who has ever made me orgasm. We’ve been together two years and it’s the best sex I’ve had. The problem is, he bores me otherwise. But what if I leave and I still can’t orgasm with anyone else?’
Of all the reasons to stay, staying for sex is the least logical.
Don’t get me wrong, sexual chemistry is an extremely powerful force. It’s what makes people cheat on much-loved partners and engage in other risky behaviour.
If you have it with someone, it’s definitely worth hanging around to see what else you can nurture to go with it.
But if it’s all you have?
Lust rarely lasts past the ‘honeymoon’ period. If sex is the only reason you’re together, you’ll leave anyway when desire drops (as it inevitably does).
The other thing is sex skills can be taught.
If you’re attracted to someone, they’re open to guidance and you’re clear about what you need and want sexually, there’s no reason why the sex won’t be good with someone else.
Verdict: Leave. Sex alone isn’t enough to base a relationship on long-term.
Even if the sex is great, intercourse alone cannot carry out your relationship for the long-term, so it is better to walk away, Tracey said (stock image)
YOU DON’T WANT TO UPSET PEOPLE BY LEAVING
The dilemma: ‘I don’t love my wife other than platonically, but I don’t want to hurt her either. I’m close to all her family and it would cause mayhem and upset if I left. It’s a shame because there’s a woman at work who I have feelings for.
‘I won’t act on them because I’m married but I know she would make me very happy if I was free.’
I find this one of the saddest reasons why people stay in relationships because it generally means the person who wants to leave still cares deeply for their partner.
Kindness – putting your partner’s, family and mutual friends needs before your own – is a very nice thing to do. In one sense.
But while your motivation might be pure, you are still staying with someone, essentially, out of pity. Few of us would be comfortable with that.
Most people want to be genuinely loved, rather than be with someone who is pretending to love us.
Staying when you aren’t genuinely committed, means your partner is robbed of the chance of meeting someone who really does think they’re just perfect.
Not to mention stops you from doing the same.
Separation and divorce are a last resort: no-one chooses to go through the emotional chaos that results.
But not all break-ups are acrimonious. Handled with respect and love, ‘conscious uncoupling’ can be a reality and fall out kept to a minimum.
Verdict: Leave. It’s not fair on either of you.
YOU’RE BEST FRIENDS BUT NOT ‘IN LOVE’ WITH YOUR PARTNER
‘I’m closer to him than anyone else in the entire world and he is, without a doubt, my best friend. Do I fancy him as much as I did? No. Sometimes I worry he feels more like a brother than my lover.’
Here’s where you get a reality check: if you’ve been together a long time, you probably aren’t going to feel ‘in love’ with your partner.
What most of us think of being ‘in love’ is how we felt at the start of our relationship. That giddy, butterflies in the stomach, I’ll-die-for-you, intense emotion that made everyone else in the world apart from your partner pale into insignificance.
The truth is, that isn’t love, it’s infatuation. A state fuelled mainly by powerful love and sex hormones, released for evolutionary reasons to make sure we mate and procreate.
Once the love hormones – designed to keep you around long enough to make a baby and feed it – wear off, couples move into different stages and types of love.
There’s a period where you see each other as you really are, an adjustment, (if you’re lucky) acceptance and then a kinder, gentler, warts-and-all type of love takes over from the lust-driven, starry-eyed one.
This is true love. And it’s not unlike strong friendship.
Feeling ‘in love’ with your partner and loving your partner are two different things – and it’s the latter that is more important.
If you have absolutely no romantic feelings for your partner whatsoever, and honestly wouldn’t mind at all if they started a sexual or romantic relationship with someone else, leaving is something worth considering.
But if you’re worried simply because that fizzy ‘buzz’ has disappeared, stop buying into the love myths perpetuated by the movies and stay right where you are.
Verdict: Stay. Real love feels a lot like friendship.
Traceycox.com has more information about sex and love and Tracey’s books and product ranges