My partner plays me like an emotional accordion

One day he tells me he can’t wait to see me, another that I’m a boring person

PROBLEM: I have been in a relationship for 15 years with the same person. He is not from Ireland and for work reasons he decided to spend more time in his home country in the past two years while I’ve continued working here. We have a house in that country. Since he got in to difficulty and lost his business, I’ve been paying much of the bills – about €1,000 a month – and that continues up to now.

Lately, I have felt very misunderstood, as he plays me like an emotional accordion, one day telling me he can’t wait to see me, another telling me I’m a boring person and he doesn’t understand me any more. I started therapy about two years ago and I’ve changed. I have more confidence. I’m doing things I never thought I’d do, such as going back to college part-time, painting and making new friends. He really minimises these things.

On a practical level, I’m feeling a bit frightened that if we break up he will take the house. He wants me to give up my job and move there with him now, even though that’s not something I’m ready to do. We rent in Ireland, so maybe my fear about the property is that he would drag it out for years until I’d eventually say “there”. I just don’t know what to do.

To try to hang on to a relationship that is painful, does the pain outweigh the reward? How to sort out the practical issues, or should I just walk away and start anew in my 40s? I’m so confused and alone in this as, apart from my therapist, no one knows how difficult my marriage is, and I almost feel ashamed about it, explaining how I’ve invested so much energy, time and money in a relationship and I don’t get anything out of. It’s like he’s trying to drive me away, and then, when I’m feeling really insecure, he throws out a bone of kindness, and that makes me so happy it’s actually pathetic.

ADVICE: There seems to be a growing knowledge that this relationship is not working. You are creating a separate life in Ireland while he is very invested in living in his home country. It also seems that you have given a lot of time and energy to developing your own resources and capacities and are enjoying a new sense of freedom and confidence. But leaving a long relationship is not something anyone does with ease, and there was enough good in it to give you serious thought, and occasionally you get a snippet of how good it was.

There is no doubt that both of you need to address this relationship in a way that honours you both as people and takes into account a sense of justice about the finances and commitments.

You sound as though you feel used by your partner in financial terms. You express that he is getting all the benefits while you feel trapped and angry. Is this all that is stopping you from separating? But you also say that you are happy when you are in receipt of kindness, so no doubt this is not a simple case of financial justice and you are also emotionally involved.

To continue as things are spells disaster: you will continue to feel manipulated and he will continue to wax hot and cold with you until things deteriorate into a form of separation that has no freedom in it. You are not a puppet. It is up to you to make decisions about your own life that you can stand over. If you want to give this relationship a chance, it will require a commitment from both of you to change. Currently anger, fear and resentment appear to be what holds it together. This would take time and effort, and perhaps one of you would have to make the sacrifice of moving to the other person’s country. Love always requires some level of sacrifice but the result is that everyone benefits.

If you feel that this is not an option and that the life you have created is too good to give up, you must begin the process of separating. All separation involves grief and loss; there is no shortcut through this. You will need supportive friends and community, as it will be painful and traumatic. You will also need good legal and financial advice, and you can start this process by seeking help from your local Citizens Information Centre. Your instincts for self-preservation are good – you have a good therapist, new occupations and have a social community – so the chances are that whatever you choose, you have the resources to meet the challenge. Have faith in yourself, but above all make a decision and follow it.