Being in a ‘distressed’ relationship doesn’t just harm our minds – it’s bad for our bodies too…
Ever found yourself so angry or unhappy with your spouse that you can feel your temples pounding?
Or perhaps you can’t sleep because you’re so unhappy at something your other half did or said, leaving you drained and exhausted the next day.
We all feel unhappy in relationships from time to time but, for some people, being in a chronically unhappy relationship is ruining their health.
According to the relationship charity Relate, 18 per cent of married or co-habiting couples are in ‘distressed’ relationships – meaning that they regularly consider separation, argue a lot or regret being together.
The study found that being in such unhappy relationships increases depression and anxiety, blood pressure and can even lead to an increased risk of heart attacks.
But how do you know if you’re just going through a rough patch or if your relationship is so bad it’s making you ill?
Relate counsellor Denise Knowles says that there are signs to look out for.
She says: ‘If you don’t have a voice in the relationship – if you’re having to ask permission for everyday things, or you’re having to do things or go places you don’t want to, that can be a sign of a relationship in distress.’
Another sign, says Denise, is loneliness.
‘You might eat together, talk together and sleep in the same bedroom, but you might feel lonely in the relationship,’ she says. ‘That might lead to you distancing yourself from your partner further – so you might no longer care what time they come home or where they are, as if you have switched off.’
‘I see lots of people for counselling who say they simply feel they don’t “care” any more and that is a sign of a distressed relationship.’
Being unhappy with your partner can take its toll physically.
‘Often people are carrying a lot of repressed anger,’ says Denise. ‘Or they’re hyper-alert so their adrenaline levels are high and they’re in a perpetual fight or flight state, which can lead to high blood pressure, heart attacks, depression and mental health problems and lethargy.’
So, if you feel you are in a distressed relationship, should you simply leave?
‘Never stay in a relationship if you’re in any danger or if your children are exposed in any way to harm,’ Denise urges.
‘However, if you do feel unhappy but are also unsure, talk about how you feel but remember that friends and family may have their own agendas. So talking to an objective counsellor who isn’t emotionally involved will help you through this time in your life.’
‘Controlling ex ruined my health’
Ten years ago I met a charming man, who completely swept me off my feet. I couldn’t believe my luck and two months later we moved in together.
One day he touched my face and said seriously: ‘I’m going to marry you.’
But as the weeks passed, things changed. He became controlling. He started telling me what to do and where to go.
At the time, I was working four jobs as a yoga teacher, gym instructor, receptionist and cleaner yet he expected me to do everything around the house.
I felt exhausted and unappreciated.
As the months passed, he became more subtly controlling, asking where I was going and putting me down.
He never hit me. But I was so unhappy I felt ill.
I was so exhausted I’d just lie on the sofa.
But even then, he couldn’t look after me or even make me a cup of tea.
He complained that I wasn’t waiting on him.
I realised he was narcissistic and manipulative. I felt constantly on high-alert, nervous and anxious around him.
My doctor ran tests and discovered I had hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid. It can be brought on by extreme stress.
I told my mum and she said: ‘You need to come home.’
A few days later my brother picked me up and I moved back in with my mum. I had radiation treatment for my thyroid and tried to rest and recuperate.
I realised how stressed I’d been living with my ex and trying to conform to his expectations and keep him happy.
Now, ten years on, I am happily single. I’d never be in a relationship like that again and can spot an emotional manipulator a mile away.
I know first-hand that a relationship doesn’t have to be violent or aggressive to make you ill. I’m so glad that I left him!
From Clare Harrison, 38, of Harlow, Essex
Denise’s signs that your relationship is in distress
1. You feel lonely: You may go to parties together, live and eat together but still feel very alone.
2. You’re in a constant state of tension: You feel stressed far more than you ever feel relaxed when you’re with the person.
3. You’re two people: You leave Mrs Happy at the front door and then come in and feel unhappy and miserable in the home with your partner.
4. Sex isn’t happening: If sexual relations have taken a downturn, that can be an indicator of a distressed relationship.
5. You have no voice: You feel you have to ask permission/ seek approval for everything from your partner.
6. You’re hiding things: If you start to hide things or talk to friends more than your partner.
For help in relationships visit Relate at www.relate.org.uk
Edited by Julie Cook