The people stuck in loveless relationships: ‘I wasn’t strong enough to leave’

Robert* knew it was over at a party. “I found myself watching the way she interacted with everyone,” he recalls of his then partner of seven years. “Her eyes lit up, and she smiled at people in a way that I hadn’t seen directed at me in as long as I could remember. That was the moment I realised the love had gone.” Robert stayed in that relationship for another year, trying to make things work. “I had convinced myself this was because I was so in love with her, but the truth was that I was actually just scared to be alone.”

Staying in an unhappy relationship might sound like a fate worse than death. You’re lonely but horny. Exhausted but argumentative. Emotionally drained but armed for your next WhatsApp battle. And yet, it’s remarkably common. In his 2012 book, You Can Be Right or You Can Be Married, author Dana Adam Shapiro wrote that just 17 per cent of couples are content with their partner. Meanwhile, in 2015, research claimed that 20 per cent of married people felt “trapped” in their relationship, while a quarter admitted that they were no longer in love with their spouse. More recently, a survey in 2021 found that almost half of married couples are only still together because of their children, while one-sixth said their relationship is only hanging on because they can’t afford to be single.

These figures paint a bleak picture. But it’s one that is quickly becoming a reality for many, particularly in the UK, where the cost of living crisis continues to force people into making significant sacrifices in order to cope. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that one of those sacrifices could be love. After all, with rent prices and mortgage rates going through the roof, sometimes living with a partner is the only affordable option. Plus, after enjoying the somewhat chi-chi lifestyle that can come with cohabiting with someone (You can watch what you want on TV!), who wants to return to a flatshare with strangers that may or may not eat their toenails?

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