Advice from Spill's therapists
Be vulnerable and askReconnect firstThink about possible outcomesRelated resources
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Talking about the future of the relationship with a partner

Spill's qualified therapists answer real questions from employees struggling with loneliness.

I've recently returned from a friend's wedding, and it sent me crashing and feeling very lonely. I'm in a relationship, but I don't know if there is a long term future in it, and it makes me anxious. How can I communicate with my partner when I don't know what I really feel?

Our first therapist suggests...

Be vulnerable and ask

A French colleague I worked with many years ago used to have this phrase that he spoke in a beautiful Lyonnaise accent. I can’t remember the words exactly but the gist of it was this:

“If you have a pile of rubbish in your garden you can grow a beautiful tree in front of it so that nobody can see it but the rubbish will still be there.”

One of the most destructive things we can do to our relationships is to avoid talking about the rubbish behind the tree.

We all know why we avoid it, it’s because we don’t want to deal with the discomfort or the drama and consequences that might result. But this is counterproductive because relationships only thrive on openness and honesty.

Be vulnerable with your partner and tell them how you’re feeling. It is only through vulnerability that we can connect with another person.

What if your partner is feeling the same but saying nothing either?

What if your partner is happy and has no idea there is anything wrong?

Without talking you have no hope of ever improving a relationship and making it stronger or realising that you both want different things.

Sure, there is a risk in honesty but what is that risk really if the alternative is that you are feeling alone in your relationship without much sense of whether it is going anywhere?

It seems to me that both you and your partner deserve better than that.

It’s ironic but I find that people often answer their own question in the way that they ask it.

“I feel lonely in our relationship and that isn’t how I want to feel. I want to feel close and loved and connected. I don’t know exactly where we’re going and I’m anxious about it. I’d really like us to talk about what we want and how we can make things better, whatever that means.”

That’s essentially what you wrote to me and it’s the perfect way to open up a discussion with your partner.

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Our second therapist suggests...

Reconnect first

Sometimes our connections aren't very strong or they get disrupted. This experience can be exacerbated when we’re around others who we perceive to have a strong connection with others. We can be left feeling isolated or lonely, even when we’re surrounded by other people.  It doesn’t sound like a fun place to be right now, but listen to the anxious feelings because, as you’ve mentioned, they’re signalling a sense of disconnection. Let’s look at ways to build the connection:

Check the disconnection you feel isn’t coming from elsewhere (stress at work, not seeing friends as much, etc) so it’s worth checking out just in case as any stress causes our body to feel under threat and disconnect from others.

Have an open and honest conversation. Let your partner know you feel a bit disconnected and invite them to join you thinking of ways you could come back together a little more.

Hear how they’re feeling about the relationship to get another view on what’s going on — you each have your truths but a fresh viewpoint can be helpful.

Build ways to reconnect (date nights, time set aside to have meaningful conversations, shared activities/games, more sex/intimacy, etc.) and then set intentions to do some of these things.

Maybe explore your love languages together so that you can recognise when you are being shown love and attention by your partner and therefore feel it.

Do what you intend and then review in a few months, together.

It’s very easy for life to get in the way of connections. Relationships and friendships take time and effort to maintain. Put the effort in and then see how it feels. If you’re not sure how you really feel, then it will be also add layers of doubt and confusion to the mix, including whether you want to bother trying. The question of “How do I feel about this relationship?” may just be simply answered with “Disconnected” right now. I would invite you to work towards a stronger sense of connection before evaluating the relationship and its future.

By trying to build a stronger connection, you’ll get more of an idea about whether it’s fulfilling your needs or not. Right now it’s not, but you know why and you can do something about that.

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Our third therapist suggests...

Think about possible outcomes

Thanks for your question. You recently attended a wedding which has made you re-evaluate your own romantic situation. It sounds like you would like tips on communicating with your partner about your future together. The following are tips that should help:

  • Find the right time to talk about your relationship.
    This might be a time when you feel close to your partner, and you are relaxed together. You may alternatively decide to ask your partner when the best time is to have a conversation with them. Think about where you are as well. The conversation is likely to go better in private rather than out at a party! It doesn’t matter how old the relationship is in terms of timing. It is worth bearing in mind that there are people who have these kinds of conversations the first time they meet a potential partner. It’s normal to check if someone you are dating or in a relationship with has the same goals as you.
  • Tell your partner how you feel and what you want.
    Acknowledge the conversation is uncomfortable if that is how you feel. You could mention the wedding and how it made you reflect on what you want for your future. It will probably help to state that while you are not looking to immediately get married you do wish ideally to be in a relationship that has the potential to be long-term (and resulting in marriage eventually if that is what you want). You could ask your partner what they envision for their own future. You might want to discuss other goals, dreams and plans as well.
  • If you are going to raise this conversation it is worth thinking about the possible outcomes.
    Is there any evidence that your partner is averse to long-term commitment or that they desire it? How do you feel about the quality of your relationship? What will you do if it turns out your partner thinks marriage is non-essential? How will you cope if you feel rejected?
  • Understand that it’s an ongoing conversation rather than a one off.
    You may need to revisit this topic numerous times although if your partner wants different things, I recommend accepting this rather than hoping they will change for you.
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