The dilemma I’ve fallen out of love with my boyfriend. I wanted to leave two years ago but, as with many couples stuck in the rental cycle, I had neither the money to walk away from my deposit, nor somewhere else to go. The thought of sharing a cramped apartment with an extremely upset man also didn’t appeal. It was easier to keep the peace, plaster over the doubts and fight for our relationship.

My boyfriend isn’t a bad man – one of the reasons I’ve stayed is because he and his family have been a huge support, especially in comparison with my family who are shakier than the branch of a tree and plagued with mental illness. I’m desperate for stability and to put down roots. This wouldn’t be achievable without another name on the mortgage.

I don’t know what to do. I’m nearing 30 and have no inclination to marry him, which I know is an indicator to leave. He knows it’s bad, too. We argue at least three times a day, but he comes from a culture of “We’re together now, we’re together for always.” And it’s not a bad match. If I pick up the dice to roll a six, will I lose the four I’ve got?

Mariella replies Four to six? You are right to say it’s a gamble. I was all set to come over and show him the door myself until you mentioned your dice roll. Maybe my expectations are uncommonly low – an inbox of other people’s problems will do that to you. Halfway to a full house seems a tolerable position to be in, while a full two-thirds is edging on honeymoon bliss in my book.

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Few marriages would rate as tolerably, which begs the question: what’s awry? Either you’ve given me a bad steer or you’re chasing down perfection, neither of which is helpful here. “I’ve fallen out of love with my boyfriend” isn’t particularly informative, but let’s start as you did, with your unhappy cohabitation.

Living together in misery may be bearable – and don’t think I don’t appreciate the fiscal repercussions of flight – but it’s not sustainable. Despite the fact that one in two marriages now ends in divorce, there remains a tendency to treat relationships without contract or children as in some way lesser. But what if we take the demise of your union as seriously as we would the untangling of a long-term liaison? My first step would be to identify the cause of your dissatisfaction, then seek help to find a resolution before you shut the door for good. I’m not sure whether, in adulthood, being “out of love” is reason enough for separation. After all, what does that mean when you’re a grown-up and not in the first flush of passion?

That’s not to say you should stay together out of duty. As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s a big wide world out there full of alternative possibilities, some good, some bad and all different. Neither am I setting myself up as some stoic of the last century, girded for a life of struggle and disappointment come what may, and advising others to accept a similar fate. If your heart stops fluttering when you see the phone number on your screen, is that the end of love or the beginning of something potentially equally satisfying? The answer is subjective. I can’t judge the depth of your feelings for this man, or the level of his goodness, but there seem to be more glimmers of hope than reasons to flee.

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Maybe I’m being over magnanimous – the season of goodwill can have that effect – but I’d be tempted to take the sustainable course first. That means attempting to mend what you’ve got rather than just binning him and looking for a replacement. These days we’re all about limiting waste and investing long-term, intentions we would do equally well to apply to our relationships. The rush of adrenalin, the thrill of the chase and the searing heat of initial passion are like fossil fuels – they run out eventually. Based on what you say, and taking your unstable family into account, it’s possible you’ve already landed safely. Love has many dimensions and losing one aspect doesn’t leave you empty-handed.

I appreciate the financial difficulties of setting forth alone and as someone who, until my 40s, was on that challenging path, I hope you’ll accept that I have form. Understanding that it’s a valid consideration is not the same as condoning the compromise if all you are focused on is climbing on to the first rung of the property ladder. I can assure you that losing a home you’ve bought together is as painful as staying coupled up simply to pay the bills.

Only you can judge whether you’re settling for fear of the alternative, or failing to appreciate what you’ve got. Either way you need to summon up the courage of your convictions, and make a choice based on what your heart, having truly examined it, dictates.

Finally, taking a more global viewpoint, compromising emotional wellbeing for a roof over your head was the fate forced on women for millennia. We do our predecessors a great disservice if today, with freedom of choice and equal opportunity for financial independence, we continue to behave as if we have neither.

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If you have a dilemma, send a brief email to mariella.frostrup@observer.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter @mariellaf1





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