Couple, generic
Stay or leave? It's a tough question to answer. Image Credit: iStock

Dear doctor,

I realised that I am dealing with a partner who doesn’t make me feel secure, but instead only gives me intermittent love and attention. Why is it so difficult for me to let go of them?

A reader who wishes to stay anonymous asks

Answered by Dr. Ava Ghasemi-Holdich, Clinical Psychologist and Co-founder of Aurelia Psychology

Dear Reader,

I wonder how long you have been together and whether things have changed or whether they have been this way since you have met.

My dear colleague Matleena Vanhanen is a skilled couples therapist who works with very complex relationships. She always says to me, when the beginning of a relationship is rocky that’s not a good sign.  

When we work with people in psychotherapy we tend to ask questions to first define the problem in more depth and detail, to understand the origins of the problems, and to then form an impression of what the real issue is and how it may be addressed.

Before acting, ask yourself these questions

Also, before deciding to leave, it would help you to come to an understanding of what is happening. Here are the questions I would like you to think and write about. This is what we at Aurelia call ‘Ask Yourself’ prompts:

1) When did you feel that your partner started to give you intermittent love?

2) Was this unusual to you or expected? For example, was there a particular stressor for your partner such as work stress or health problems?

3) If your partner were here right now what would they say about when this happened. Are they even aware? In other words, if you have tried to speak about it how have they responded?

4) Have you been in any other relationships in the past where you felt that way?

5) Do you normally feel you don’t get the love and attention you need from your relationships or is this the first time?

6) What about when it comes to friends and family? Do you feel neglected there? In which relationships do you feel loved and attended to? Go as far back as early childhood and think about where you felt loved?

7) When is the last time you felt consistent and predictable love and attention in your relationship?

Since you ask “why is it so hard for me to let go of them?” I’m thinking that you have decided to end the relationship but that you find it challenging to take action.

Let’s say you have tried to work on your issues together and that you have communicated your concerns with them, and that they were receptive to your feedback at first but that they keep going back to their habitual ways of relating to you. So, you have come to the realisation that your partner is not a “bad” person but that they are unable to give you what you need. Now, you have decided and maybe even agreed to go your separate ways but find it difficult to leave the relationship.


Explore your emotional reactions

I would encourage you to explore what emotions you are experiencing and how you are reacting to the anticipation of the ending or loss of this relationship. When we lose a relationship we don’t just lose the person but also the vision we had created for ourselves about what life would be in a few years’ time. Perhaps traveling together, a family, children. What is the worst part that you struggle with? Loneliness? Moving? Missing the person? Having to start over? Allow yourself some time to observe your feelings without judgment and allow them to be there. Normalise your feelings and know that you are not alone with how hard this is. All these feelings are completely normal and deserve attention with compassion.

Imagine your future

See if you are you able to imagine a future where you will be happier and things will be better for you. What would that look like? If you were to find a way to handle your unpleasant feelings effectively and get out of your suffering and find happiness what would that be? Having the ability to have futuristic and realistic positive thinking is a sign of good health. For example, a healthy futuristic thought could be: “If I am able to get through this challenging time and take care of myself and work through my anxiety (or fill in the blank emotions), I will be able to focus on my goals and values and take one step at a time toward making myself happier.”

Watch out for warning signs within you

On the other hand getting stuck in the past and inability to imagine the future such as “I can’t imagine ever loving anyone ever again” and “this was a huge waste of time and I’m done with love,” is not a good sign and needs professional help.

On the flip side, being futuristic and overly optimistic and external focused such as “I know the perfect person and soulmate that will give me everything I need is out there and I just need to keep looking for that person until I find them and then I’ll be happy” is also not a good sign as it can result in more pain and suffering in the future and causes the person to set themselves up for failure. This sort of romantic dreaming causes many people to feel terribly about perfectly normal relationships and it also makes single people feel like failures. If you see yourself doing this speak to a psychologist.


Sure, being in an unfulfilling relationship can feel depressing but also having a mental health condition such as depression that has been left untreated can get in the way of making healthy choices. Depression comes with feelings of despair, guilt, low motivation, low energy, etc. Similarly, being in disappointing relationship may bring a level of uneasiness and anxiety but having a diagnosable anxiety disorder can come with chronic ambivalence and internal conflict that leaves the person unable to make a decision. Sometimes seeking appropriate treatment and getting help with self-understanding and managing such symptoms can open up the space for you to make healthy choices.

Find your way

As long as you remain in a relationship where your emotional needs are unmet, it would be very challenging to welcome or even enjoy external goals and milestones that would come with any relationship. So in a way by getting stuck in this position you lose out on the chance to find a new path that would be in the service of the values and goals you have.

Start by taking small actions daily and see how you go. For example, take time to connect with people who truly love you and care about you. Join a new group or start a new activity. Any new positive behaviors that will get you out of your old routines can potentially help open your mind to new possibilities. If all these and all the journaling still leads to no change make sure you discuss your situation with a psychologist who has a special interest in your area of concern. Be picky.

If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.