Loneliness: how we feel about it

Loneliness can be a frightening prospect, and one that can cause us to act in irrational ways.

Staying in an unfulfilling relationship because you’re frightened of being alone is a relatively common situation, and one that many people come to individual counselling with for help.

It can be tricky to address because the fear of loneliness may be based in deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour or issues related to self-esteem.

Why do we feel like this?

Often, when someone says they’re scared of being lonely, what they’re really saying is they’re scared of being in their own company.

What might be truly frightening is the thought of having to deal with their own feelings when there’s nothing – or no-one – there to distract them. They may worry that they’ll be unable to look after themselves, or that they’ll feel lost or directionless without anyone there to help.

This is often a feeling that settles in over a long period of time. It can come from a protracted sense of low self-esteem – a lack of belief in one’s ability to get by, because of a lack of belief in one’s abilities generally.

It can also come from a lack of experience of being single. Often, people fear being single again when they’ve been in a relationship for a really long time, or when they’ve never really spent much time outside of one.

What effects does loneliness have on a relationship?

A relationship where one person isn’t really present isn’t likely to be one that brings much joy or fulfilment.

Although it’s entirely possible to sustain a relationship like this for several years – indeed, one of the biggest risks with this kind of thinking is that the relationship limps on with no end in sight – neither partner is likely to be particularly happy.

One of the finest, yet arguably most painful, things about relationships is that they force us to be vulnerable. When we’re in a truly intimate relationship with another person, we show them all sides of ourselves.

If one person no longer loves the other – or never loved them – sooner or later, they’re likely to notice. It may come out in small things, like a lack of physical affection or eye contact. Or it may come out in bigger things like arguments, or spending a disproportionate amount of time away from home.

So… while it’s possible to fake it, it’s unlikely to end well. The usual outcome in situations like this is a gradual widening of the gap between the two people until, eventually, they break apart.

What is loneliness?

What do we mean by loneliness? Is it being alone? Or rather, is it not having anyone around who understands us?

If it’s the latter, then it’s entirely possible to feel lonely while in a relationship – and it’s quite likely that the relationship is not a fulfilling one. That’s the irony of all this: staying with someone to avoid being lonely is likely to make you feel lonely anyway.

The unfortunate truth is that the only way to avoid feeling this way is through seeking authentic and meaningful connections with others, and if your current relationship is making this impossible, making any changes necessary to allow this to happen.

Making changes

Ending a relationship is invariably painful. Even when you’re aware that the relationship has no future, breaking up with someone is still a form of loss – and is likely to feel like one. Even if change is painful, it’s sometimes only by weathering this that we can put ourselves in a position to find greater happiness eventually.

It’s usually a good idea to give ourselves some distance between relationships while we figure out what it is we do want. If you’ve been in a relationship for a really long time, it can be useful to get to know yourself again – to focus on what you like doing, what makes you happy, the things you value in life, and the direction you want your life to take.

Knowing these things can put you in a much better position to choose the right person when finding your next relationship, as it’ll mean you’ll be able to identify someone who has the same values as you and who is likely to be compatible in other ways too.

It is also good to take time to establish and nurture non-romantic relationships in your life. Having a support network is a crucial part of growing and maintaining self-esteem. Spending time with friends and family will remind you that, even if you’re not in a relationship, you’re not alone. And creating new relationships – for example, by joining social groups, or even getting in touch with people you haven’t seen in a while – will allow you to develop a sense of independence – something that will be an important part of any healthy romantic relationship anyway.

Although all of the above is certainly important when cultivating a healthy mental attitude and sense of self-esteem, being single can still feel lonely. Even when you’re doing all the right things, there will still be occasions when you’ll miss having companionship. Though this can be difficult, sometimes the best option is simply accepting this as part of life.

Moving in together – make it work well by avoiding the pitfalls

Moving in with your partner is an exciting new stage in your relationship.

We all want it to work well – and there are a few things we can do to try and make sure of it.

Our newest video Moving in together highlights six top tips that may help:

  • Do a trial run first
  • Learn to negotiate
  • Communication is key
  • Don’t score points
  • Sort out finances together
  • Figure out your boundaries

The video is on YouTube here.

The number of cohabiting (unmarried) couples living together has more than doubled from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. So before moving in, you may also want to know your rights are as a cohabiting couple should you end up separating.

Family lawyers Resolution carried out a survey which found two-thirds of cohabiting couples wrongly believe ‘common-law marriage’ laws exist when dividing up finances in such circumstances.

Many unmarried couples mistakenly believe that they have an interest in their partner’s assets upon separation, especially if they have contributed towards the costs of those assets.

Common examples include  someone who contributes towards the cost of a mortgage of a property held by their partner, or someone who helps purchase a car.

As the law stands, if an asset is in your partner’s name, you have no automatic right to a share of that asset, even if you have made financial contributions towards it.

This can, of course, produce very unfair results and can see one person at the end of a relationship in a bad financial position.

But there are legal means to help people ensure that their contributions towards an asset are protected if their relationship breaks down.

It’s recommended we seek this advice at the point of making such a contribution, or upon agreeing to make a regular contribution. Solicitors can then ensure the relevant agreements or ‘declarations’ are put in place to avoid unfairness.

The Citizens Advice Bureau highlights important points we need to know:

Cohabiting v Marriage: Six ways your rights differ

  • If one cohabiting partner dies without leaving a will, the surviving partner will not automatically inherit anything – unless the couple jointly own property. A married partner would inherit all or some of the estate.
  • An unmarried partner who stays at home to care for children cannot make any claims in their own right against their partner for property, maintenance or pension-sharing.
  • Cohabiting partners cannot access their partner’s bank account if the partner dies – whereas married couples may be allowed to withdraw the balance providing the amount is small.
  • An unmarried couple can separate without going to court, but married couples need to go to a court and get divorced to end the marriage formally.
  • Cohabiting couples are not legally obliged to support each other financially, but married partners have a legal duty to support each other.
  • If you are the unmarried partner of a tenant, you have no rights to stay in the accommodation if you are asked to leave – but each married partner has the right to live in the ‘matrimonial home’.

Lawyers urge all couples who intend to cohabit, or make a financial commitment to each other, to take legal advice.

The Law, it seems, has not caught up with our modern way of life and still distinguishes between married and unmarried couples.

Whilst the Government has announced several intentions to update the law, until this happens cohabiting couples must take extra care to ensure that they are not caught unawares when separating – which can leave people trapped in a relationship they do not want to be in.

If you’d like to talk through moving in together with one of our counsellors (who cannot give legal advice), either alone or with your partner, why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

Take your time

You’ve probably read that January is notoriously the most popular month for divorce.

Tensions over the holiday period – or the final straw in a relationship breakdown that’s been coming all year – may leave us emotionally drained: we don’t want another relationship, ever.

For others, the stress of dumping someone, or being dumped, leaves us needing to fill the void, and quickly – just to prove to ourselves that, even if our ex-partner doesn’t value us any longer, others will.

We’re tempted to hook up with the first person who gives us a second glance.

Do ‘rebound relationships’ work?

The common definition of a ‘rebound relationship’ involves someone rushing into a new relationship before they’re ‘over’ their previous one – replacing old with new.

Popular opinion suggests these relationships are destined to fail: that the new partners will eventually realise they have nothing in common, or that it’s just too unstable a foundation on which to build anything substantial.

There’s some truth in it: it’s hard to deny that ‘rebound relationships’ can come with risks.

The biggest is that the new relationship is being used as a way of avoiding emotions and feelings bound up in the previous one – that, by finding a new partner quickly, we try to avoid the pain of breaking up and the sensation of uncertainty that may follow.

The problem here is that these feelings often have a way of working themselves out anyway – and that may create instability in any new relationship.

Another risk comes from the way in which rebound partners tend to be chosen. While the popular perception of ‘rebound relationships’ is that we choose a new partner at random, the actual pattern can be more problematic. It’s not uncommon for us to choose a partner who is very, very similar (either physically or personality-wise) to our previous one – or someone who is totally the opposite.

Both outcomes can be fraught with difficulties. Choosing someone similar may mean we’re trying to work out unresolved issues with our previous partner – finding a similar partner with whom we can re-live and ‘correct’ experiences.

This is an unwelcome burden for the new partner to face, and usually an unpredictable way for such issues to be resolved.

However, choosing someone totally different can mean we end up with a new partner who turns out not to be particularly suitable – events often take a turn once the initial ‘honeymoon’ phase is over.

There are no concrete rules.

But, when it comes to relationships, it doesn’t pay to be too prescriptive. ‘Rebound relationships’ come with risks, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doomed to fail.

As many of us can attest having witnessed the newly developing relationships of family and friends, and indeed our own, occasionally what some might describe as a classic ‘rebound relationship’ turns into a strong and loving partnership that lasts many years.

The truth is it can be really hard to predict what will work. A partnership that looks great on paper might not go the distance in real life – and vice-versa.

So, instead of drawing up hard and fast rules for what we ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do, we might instead ask ourselves some questions before deciding whether to get involved:

What makes the difference

How do I feel? This can be a complex ask – especially when we aren’t feeling any singular emotion at any given time – but it can be useful to try to get a sense of where we’re at regarding our previous relationship. Are we experiencing confusing feelings and emotions? Do we feel we may be acting out of hurt or anger?

What do I want? Again, this can be a perplexing, but just thinking about it may begin to help us move towards an answer. Is there a direction we want to head in next? Conversely, is there a direction we don’t want to move in?

What would I say to someone in my position? Sometimes it can be useful to step outside ourselves and consider things more objectively. If you were to have a conversation with yourself about what’s happening, what would you say?

Of course, the answer to any, or all, of the above may still be a resounding: ‘I don’t know!’ If this is the case, your best option is probably to proceed with caution.

It can take time before we’re able to understand what it is we’re really after – or indeed how we really feel – but, in the meantime, there’s no need to rush into anything.

That doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding new relationships, but it might mean refraining from making any big decisions, or diving in headfirst into a serious commitment. In short: don’t put too much pressure on yourself.

Equally, try not to worry too much about what people say about ‘rebound relationships’. In the end, what really matters is whatever makes you happy. And, sometimes, the best way to figure this out is simply to take your time.



Do unto others…

We wish you a happy Christmas.

The Relate Bedfordshire and Luton counselling centres are closed from close of play on December 22 till January 2 2018.

We do wish you well but know that for many people it can be a difficult time of year.

Deciding who to spend Christmas with is often a major source of tension in relationships – especially for stepfamilies or blended families where there may be competing agendas.

At Relate, we see people who feel enraged by an ex-partner having somehow “manipulated” offspring into spending the big day with them.

Underneath the outrage is often terrible sadness and feelings of abandonment and failure.

Children can get anxious too if they’re asked to choose which parent they want to spend the day with: our counsellors often see children who feel they can’t please both parents.

Distressed children may deal with these painful feelings through behaviours regarded as difficult and sometimes abusive.

Often problems about Christmas arrangements arise when, after years of going along with the same routine, someone wants to make a change.

It may result from life changes such as children leaving home, a family member feeling fragile following ill-health, or from someone simply thinking: ‘It’s about time the mould was broken.’

A change of scene at Christmas may be just what the family needs, but do it too suddenly and it can create dilemmas often made worse when we don’t communicate effectively.

Often at the bottom of much of this distress is the genuine concern that, if we make changes to our plans, someone who may have previously relied on us will be hurt and possibly alone. The fear of loneliness at this time of year is heightened – an Age UK poll found that nearly 400,000 people aged over 65 in the UK were worried about being lonely over Christmas.

But… some pointers may make things a little easier.

First, be realistic. You can’t please everyone. Neither can you, nor should you, take on vast swathes of extra work trying to achieve the impossible. If it falls to you to do most of the sorting out, start talking about what feels do-able sooner rather than later. This often means more of the family’s opinions being canvassed and considered before a decision is made.

Second, it’s usually better to make change gradually. People often accept minor differences which – before they (and you) know it – become part of a new way of doing Christmas, so it’s less of a shock to the system.

Third, if you have a difficult relationship with an ex-partner (or a current one), it helps to have tricky conversations about any arrangement away from other stressors. Finding time to connect, talk and listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings within a neutral environment can be a powerful way of reaching a reasonable agreement.

And finally, recognize it’s OK to take control of the Christmas arrangements. Others have a choice about how they react to new arrangements. But the old adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” isn’t a bad starting point, especially at this time of year.

Christmas tensions trigger huge rise in New Year calls to Relate






Do you ever feel unattractive?

Feeling you aren’t attractive enough to be with your partner can be demoralising and isolating.

It can happen for various reasons.

Your self-esteem may have taken a knock – and with it, your sense of how desirable you are. Perhaps it’s something that you’ve begun to feel after going through physical changes; after an injury, following pregnancy or during menopause. Or, perhaps it’s something you’ve felt for a long time – you may have grown up believing that you’re unattractive, or have been told this in a previous relationship.

What do we mean by ‘attractiveness’?

Does being ‘attractive’ mean fitting into some mould of what you’re supposed to look like? Or is it more complicated?

While there are certain traits, or physical characteristics, that are more celebrated and valued in modern society (often unhelpfully reinforced in the media), there is no set criteria for attractiveness. The phrase ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ may be a cliche, but it holds true: what is attractive to one person may not be attractive to someone else – and vice-versa.

In truth, we tend to feel more attractive when we enjoy self-esteem. People with high self-esteem tend to feel attractive because they simply feel good about who they are. They feel they are desirable – and see themselves as such. Less positive people tend to emphasise what they see as the bad parts of themselves – and therefore see someone less attractive when they look in the mirror.

The tricky thing is that it can be cyclical – if we begin to feel unattractive, our self-esteem may drop, causing us to believe it even more. If several things are affecting our self-esteem, this can lead to deeper issues of mental health, such as depression and anxiety. Conversely, poor mental health can cause low self-esteem.

Feeling less satisfied in areas of our life – such as family or work – can affect how attractive we feel. Someone feeling unsuccessful in their career may not feel they’re attractive because of the effect it has on their self-esteem. They may feel that, because they aren’t accomplishing as much as they want to, they aren’t desirable. Similarly, those of us struggling to exert control over finances, or finding ourselves emotionally drained by our extended family, may feel this way.

Looking after your appearance and staying healthy influence how attractive you may feel, but it’s easy to over-emphasise the physical – in doing so, you can create an unhealthy and self-fulfilling pattern of thinking.

How does feeling unattractive affect a relationship?

The effects on your relationship can be difficult and sometimes emotionally painful to navigate and may create distance between partners.

When you feel unattractive, your partner may seek to reassure: “I do find you attractive, and you shouldn’t worry.” But if you aren’t easily reassured, you are likely to reject this support, telling your partner they’re wrong, or simply ignoring what’s being said.

This can leave your partner feeling helpless, frustrated and rejected. Your partner may not know what to do – and may get tired of trying to offer support and getting nowhere. Then the distance between you and your partner gets wider.

What can you do about it?

Try to understand why you feel unattractive.

If it’s something you’ve started feeling recently, think about any changes that could be causing you to feel this way. Perhaps you aren’t feeling satisfied in your work. Perhaps you’re under financial pressure and this has left you feeling out of control. Maybe there are family matters causing you stress. All can have an impact and damage your self-esteem.

Consider whether any practical measures could alleviate your feelings. At work, think about areas where you do feel more effective, or those you’re more passionate about. Do you and your partner need to talk about money? Do you need to give yourself some space from your family?

Is there someone you can talk to about what you’re feeling – a trusted friend or family member? Sometimes having the chance to express yourself, even if it is just a quick chat, can make a difference.

If your feelings of unattractiveness are rooted in a longer-term pattern, or they’ve come about after physical changes, think about whether you need to reframe how you’re assessing your ‘attractiveness’. Sometimes, a small effort to focus less on what you see as the ‘negatives’ can have a positive effect.

One practical tip is to keep a note documenting your levels of confidence. It can help you identify when you feel less confident or aware of your ‘attractiveness’ and, conversely, when you feel better about yourself.

Reading your notes back can help you understand that your perception of your attractiveness – or your perception of how important this is – is as much affected by your moods as it is based in reality. It can also help you think about how doing more of what you enjoy can have a positive effect on your self-esteem – and directly affect how you feel you are perceived by others.

Reconnecting with your partner

The other important step is that you and your partner reconnect and talk about how you’re both feeling. The benefits are threefold:

  • It gives you a chance to express what you’re going through. Your partner may not fully appreciate what you’re feeling – especially if you haven’t told them, or you haven’t sat down together to have a proper mutual conversation.
  • It gives your partner a chance to share their perspective on the situation. Be mindful of breaking out of familiar, negative communication patterns and really try to listen to each other.
  • Reconnecting in this way will help your relationship stay strong and mitigate the risk of issues causing you to drift apart. It’s important to address any issues in your relationship before the distance between you becomes greater – sometimes, being brave and getting it all out is the best way to do this.

We know it’s hard to be open and honest about this kind of thing – and it’s so much easier said than done. If you’d like some help from one of our counsellors why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.


Christmas tensions trigger huge rise in New Year calls

We’re expecting a peak in calls in the New Year after relationship tensions come to a head over the Christmas holidays.

In January 2017, we received more than double the number of calls from local people compared with an average month – the total uplift was 108%.

That figure was four times the uplift in Relate calls nationally.

Visits to our website at www.relatebedsandluton.org are also expected to outstrip the national uplift of 47%.

“This rise in people getting in touch is a pattern we see each year,” says local Relate counsellor Diane Whitmore, “but by the time many couples get in touch, their relationship is already at crisis point. For some couples, it is already too late by then. January is also notoriously the most popular month for divorce.

“However, Relate’s research [with more than 5,000 UK adults] has found that one in 10 divorcees say that, with the right support, they would have been able to save their relationship and stay together.”

In addition, 18% say that, with the right support, they would have been able to make the ending of their relationship easier to deal with.

“This is why we encourage people to seek support for their relationship at the earliest possible stage,” says Diane.

“As Christmas approaches, there can be added pressures placed on relationships as family tensions come to a head and the added stress of organising the festivities can ironically result in more arguments.

“Yet there are some simple things you can do to survive this busy period with your relationship in-tact such as delegating tasks and carving out that all-important alone time.

“Many people leave it until after Christmas to contact Relate and, whilst it is never too late to seek support for your relationship, the earlier you do it, the better chance you’ll have of resolving any issues and moving forward.

To help us all through the holidays and out the other side, with our relationships in a good place, we’ve come up with some common triggers for Christmas tensions and how to avoid them resulting in a full-blown row:

Relatives assume you will spend Christmas with them this year

Try to discuss your festive plans well in advance of the big day, considering everyone’s feelings as much as you can, and if you cannot spend Christmas Day with them, find another time during the Christmas period when you can get together. Remember though, it might be impossible to please everyone – try not to worry nor feel guilty about it.

Your partner tends to spend a lot of money on food and gifts

Relate’s research has found that money worries are a top strain on relationships and Christmas can place extra pressure on finances. Talk to your partner beforehand about what you can jointly afford to spend on food and presents. If the arguments persist, consider counselling to help you better communicate about money and understand each other’s attitudes to it.

A family member has too much to drink and makes hurtful comments

As tempting as it may be to react, take a few deep breaths and try to stay calm. Accusing them of having too much to drink could make it worse. Instead, you could say: “I’m not sure Christmas Day is the best time to discuss this. Let’s talk about it another time.” If you feel there are deeper underlying issues you may wish to consider family counselling.

Constant socialising is getting too much

Don’t feel bad about excusing yourself so you can get an hour or so of ‘me’ time. It will mean you are in a better mood when you are with your family, so it is in everyone’s interest. It’s even better if, as a couple, you can ensure you have some quality time together.

You have too many things to do and you‘re feeling irritable

Don’t suffer in silence. Explain to others in the family how you’re feeling. See if you can delegate a few tasks and share the burden.

If you’d like to talk with one of our counsellors why not give our friendly appointments team a call on 01234 356350.

Help for YOU if you’re in debt

One in seven people in debt has hidden the problem from their partner.

And, according to latest figures from the Money Advice Service, 15.8% of adults (aged 18+) in the Bedford borough area and 14% of adults in Central Bedfordshire have a debt problem – that’s 51,630 people. In Luton, 18% of adults are in serious debt, equating to 29,395 people.

Relate’s report, In too deep: an investigation into debt and relationships, sponsored by Provident Financial, reveals strong links between debt and relationship issues. (more…)

When you feel you’ve lost everything…

There’s more than one type of love.

Most of us know of someone who has lost love due to death.

Some of us will feel we’ve lost love at the end of a long relationship – when it’s too late to turn back the hands of time to fix.

Many of us will have loved and had our love rejected.

Then there’s love for children, or pets, or a favourite place… (more…)

When we’re our own worst enemies

Some couples set themselves on a route to relationship break-up – by repeating the same old bad habits time and again.

Here are some of them:

Not listening to what is being said

Communication is the most important part of a relationship. By paying closer attention to how you’re communicating with your partner you can help stop small disagreements turning into bigger problems. (more…)

What you can do if your partner is drinking too much

Feeling your partner drinks too much can create tension and upset in your relationship.

You may feel your partner is ‘being taken away from you’. Perhaps you resent the amount of time they spend out drinking – and feel they’re a completely different person when they’ve been drinking.

Maybe you’re unsure how to broach the topic – or maybe you have, and it’s not gone how you would like. Maybe they’ve accused you of nagging, or they’ve disagreed that there’s a problem at all.

For many couples, this type of issue can bubble beneath the surface for years before becoming a big point of contention.

What can I do?  (more…)