Is This Relationship Worth Saving?

By John Rocheleau

Beauty worth saving

Saving your relationship is always worth the effort — if you have a clear enough fix on exactly how to better your relationship.

A few days ago, a reader emailed asking me if I thought there is hope for her relationship. Could she repair the relationship with her boyfriend whom she hoped to marry? Sarita (not her real name) wrote the following, and my response follows:

Hi John,

I really enjoyed your article about trusting and giving space in relationships. I’m so glad I found it, as it is very relevant to me right now. Here are some details about my relationship background:

  • This October my boyfriend and I will be in a relationship for 5 years
  • We had lived together for 2 years, but this January we (primarily he) decided to move apart. He felt the need for more space
  • Since we quit living together as a couple, I feel that this space apart from one another was what we really needed
  • We always seemed to have an issue with communication and having “talks.” This past weekend when we talked though, he still feels like I don’t really give him space, but I felt good because for the first time in a long time we both listened — and he didn’t shut down on me

This is cause for hope, yes? But giving him this space though, is this going to be an ongoing thing, or will he grow out of the feeling of wanting this space? I admit, I lose myself in my relationship. When things are uncertain I feel unstable, like I’m going to lose everything.

Is their hope for my relationship that will lead to marriage? Or are we beating a dead horse?

Hi Sarita,

Five years together in relationship is a long time. It deserves your repect and your emotional sweat. Kudos to you for taking this action to fix your relationship.

The key to how to make your relationship better with your boyfriend is good communication. Genuine communication is essential if you want a real relationship. Talking with each other is not necessarily communicating. Truly communicating, will cement your relationship and deepen your understanding and appreciation of one another.

Sarita, it almost seems too simple, but there is nothing more important than having daily conversations with your partner. Any conversation is better than none, but talking with each other about things that excite or inspire you, deepens your relationship big-time.

Some guys get defensive if a woman suggests that they should open up and have a meaningful conversation. But if you just spend regular time together, over a coffee perhaps, and just connect comfortably in ways that raise your spirit, you will be on the right track. Talk about what is exciting you right now, or what you feel deeply about, something that makes you feel good, that he can connect with also. Ditch the boring chit chat about who annoyed you at work today, or the idiot driver who cut you off yesterday.

Keep your conversations sacred in the sense that they should express things that speak to your individual spirits. Whatever it is about your spirit and his spirit that is essential to your mutual attraction — nurture that in your daily conversations. If you do this, those talks will lead to actions that strengthen your essential connection, and actions are the prime driving force in this world.

You also asked about his need for space. Space is something that every couple should give and receive — always. The space I refer to is not a temporary disconnection. It is an ongoing respect for each other’s individual psyche, emotions, goals, and interests.

Giving space to your boyfriend — and claiming your own space — requires trust in your relationship. At the very least it calls you to trust in yourself; that you are fine no matter what. When a couple is on the same page in this way, they allow one another space to grow as individuals instead of, “as my Girlfriend,” or “as my Boyfriend.”

Part of the joy in relationship is seeing your partner grow stronger and more fulfilled. Seeing your partner become dependent and compliant, or in charge and dominating, is not at all joyful. Sadly though, a large percentage of couples adopt a dominant/submissive pattern where neither of them has any chance of becoming truly fulfilled. They are both completely dependent on the other for their individual roles, and so neither one can have a free spirit.

Have you read my article on mending a marriage? Somewhere in that one I talk about the value of daily conversations. Sarita, I think there is much hope for your relationship, but you must be honest with yourself about how you relate. Ask yourself if you are in love or in need. Big difference between the two. If you are really in love with this man because you deeply connect to his essential nature, then begin to move your communications to a level that support and feed that core connection.

I hope that helps.

John :-)

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#1 David Hamilton | Everlution on 06.02.12 at 1:01 pm

Wow – great stuff. Thanks for sharing Sarita, and wonderful insights John. Giving space and listening are so important for healthy relationships I feel.

#2 John Rocheleau on 06.03.12 at 2:14 pm


Thanks, Yes giving and claiming space is big, especially the small everyday spaces we give and receive, that allows both people psychic and emotional breathing room to explore their potentials and personal sense of things.


#3 Sir Richard Lindo on 06.10.12 at 8:29 am

Hi everyone,
Excellent work on your blog Zen moments.
This is my comment to your post. To make any relationship work, it’s very important
to have confidence in yourself and be spontaneous. By being spontaneous, you’ll always be positive, creative, and advancing. This will automatically make your partner attracted to you and your ever increasing of life.

Have a nice day,
God bless

#4 TARUN on 07.09.12 at 6:58 am

hi john,
While surfing net i found your website.Really nice to meet a person who is in my field and of similar mind.I mostly concentrate on Romantic relationships and love.
i am JUST 21,doing my undergraduate in Engg.

Really nice to meet u.

Best wishes,

#5 marie on 08.16.12 at 5:07 pm

John, I feel a little foolish, but I can’t figure out how to comment on your other blog posts, and am unable to send an email to ask!

I’m so grateful for stumbling upon this blog and your willingness to share your insights and provide your gentle guidance.

Kind Regards,

#6 Jeff on 08.20.12 at 7:54 am

Hi John,
I really enjoy this article and am seeking some insight into my current situation. I have been dating my girlfriend for 2 and a half years. Throughout this time, our relationship grew at a very slow pace. We share so many of the same interests and goals, and really became best friends at the same time. The best thing about our relationship is that in addition to being best friends, we also share and maintain an extreme physical attraction. The reason our relationship progressed so slowly was the fact that both of us were very reluctant to let our guard down and open our hearts to one another, and I was significantly more guarded – which really frustrated her. I don’t doubt that I love her with all of my heart, but sometimes I hold back my emotions and leave her feeling insecure in my love for her. I really want to show her how I feel without her having to ask for this reassurance.
This leads to our current situation – she left 6 months ago for a traveling job on the other side of the country. We have been trying a long-distance relationship and things have been mostly good but we have hit a few bumps along the way. We remained very close despite the distance and she had expressed her intense feelings for me more and more. She has told me throughout, that she hopes this distance makes our relationship stronger. We have made a few trips to see each other, and each one was great. It really did feel as though our relationship was getting stronger – but we had difficulty when it came time to say goodbye. We are both relatively young and don’t want to spend this much of our lives missing each other so badly. She is coming back home in a few weeks and we had a long discussion 2 weeks ago: she expressed how badly this distance and missing me has affected her, and she feels as though she has not been enjoying her time traveling as much as she should (she took this job because it is in a very beautiful part of the country). Our conversations had been lacking lately and she had been worrying about us and not making decisions for her self. She says she feels selfish asking for this space, but I told her to please take the time she needs for herself. So she proposed that we “take a step back” in our long-distance relationship. We have gone from talking everyday to speaking MUCH less frequently and this has been very hard for me, to say the least. We agreed to take a few weeks for both of us to figure out what we want and need for ourselves, and from our relationship. I want to give her all the space she needs to enjoy her time away, but I am struggling to do so. The near future is uncertain as well – she plans on being home for 2 months and after that she doesn’t know where she will be. We were talking about the possibility of her moving to my city and living together for a few months, but it may be impossible for her to get a job here. If I wasn’t in grad school I would want to move wherever she was assigned next, but that just isn’t a possibility.
So we are in a very tricky situation. I deeply love this girl, and I know she feels the same about me, but we just don’t know if we can continue a long- distance relationship. Hopefully this time apart will shed some light on what we mean to each other, and who knows – maybe she could find an assignment near me and we could try being in a real relationship for a while. But even so, she wants to travel for another year before she comes home for good. I love the fact that she enjoys traveling and that’s one of the many things we love to do together. I have no idea what will happen when we see each other in a few weeks. I think we both want to be together, but we also want to grow individually. Is it worth having the pain of missing each other for months at a time, to see each other for the short time we have together? We make each other incredibly happy and if we can deal with the distance for another year or so, I think it would be worth the amazing relationship we would have in the future. What do you think about our approach to this relationship?

#7 John Rocheleau on 08.20.12 at 6:41 pm

Hello Marie,

Sorry for the delay in approving your comment. I have been away from the site lately, doing other things. The comments on articles become closed after a certain time has passed. That is why you could not comment on other posts. I am glad you found my site though, and that you have enjoyed it so far.

#8 Marie on 08.20.12 at 9:27 pm

John, Thanks for the response!

I’m curious: I would say that I’m “in need” in my relationship (we’re no longer living together) with the father of my children. I would also say that I’m “in love”, though I understand that the two are mutually exclusive, hence the reason, perhaps, that we are not together right now.

I’m starting this journey of looking inward, though I find my path like trying to swim the English Channel. My partner is more of a “Helen” , a lovely lady who commented on one of your previous posts about her relationship with a younger man. I am more of a “knock down the front door” sort of person, and it’s all but destroyed what we have.

How do I begin to distinguish the need from the love, and if I can distinguish it, what then?

#9 John Rocheleau on 08.21.12 at 11:17 am

Hi Marie,

Yeah, I hear what you are saying about being “in need,” and feeling you are also “in love.” Maybe you just need to ease up on yourself. You can be “in need” and “in love” at the same time because there are degrees of everything. I get the sense you are not completely in need, so that allows you be in love to the degree that you are not in need. You seem to be very aware and concise. That’s a good thing. It enables you to SEE yourself in relationship. Whatever you can SEE, you can change.

You asked how to distinguish between need and love. You are taking the best step towards this by deciding to be self-aware. It’s personal to each of us, but maybe there are litmus tests that you will find and apply to yourself. For instance, when we truly love nature, we find ourselves understanding it. That understanding allows us to be at ease, even with events in nature that are destructive and that might interfere with our perspective. Because we love and understand nature, we feel supportive of whatever path its sense of balance dictates. And in relationship it can be similar.

When we really love a person, we develop a sensitive understanding of that person, and because we understand and love them — we accept them. We feel less need to change them to suit our preferences. Instead, we feel a desire to grow with them, spiraling up together, but with an all-important space between us. That space is the place where we respect and celebrate each other’s individuality. So, just like when we love nature, when we love another person we are at ease with developments that move our partner forward — especially when those developments increase our partner’s independence of spirit. They have less need of us. They are stronger and more fulfilled. That is what we want. And that is what will make a perfect relationship; like plants that grow symbiotically together, each nourishing the other by its difference.

Those are just some random thoughts about need and love. There are also other, more personal/physical ways to know yourself in these regards. You might feel an uncomfortable pull on your solar plexus when you experience need. Love on the other hand might produce a definite feeling of expansive ease higher up in the body, more in the heart, the upper chest, and throat regions. Your body has untapped wisdom. It will speak to you if you listen gently.

Then what? then everything will make sense, and you will have decisions to make. Just remember that awareness is a wonderful experience, but it makes an even better tool — one that you use to change your life to match your spirit.


#10 John Rocheleau on 08.21.12 at 12:19 pm

Hello Jeff,

The way I hear it here is:

  • You both have strong feelings for one another
  • You Jeff, were/are less demonstrative of your feelings than she, and that troubled her
  • She decided to move away on extended travel to prioritize her career path over her relationship
  • She loves you still and you love her, but conversations at a distance have been less then stellar lately
  • She suggested a further step back from each other (her second step back in your relationship)

Jeff, you can see the pattern in the above points. I know there is a lot more to it than that, but your comment is telling the above story. If you love this woman, and I think you do, let her go. There may or may not be an exclusive romantic relationship between you in the future. If there is, that’s great. But if there isn’t, all is not lost Jeff. You love this woman and she loves you. Love is never lost unless you deny it out of anger or jealously. Move forward in your life Jeff, and allow her to move forward in hers. Even more than that — celebrate each other’s achievements.

The way most people approach relationships is insane, in the sense that, the most meaningful people in their lives become non-existent when romance ends. What a waste of all that has been shared. We can choose differently though. We can instead show the courage to embrace the truth; that when romance ends, the deepest connection of spirit and true friendship remains forever.

Obviously I am not in full knowledge of your relationship. I comment based on my impression from what you write, and I usually read quite a bit between the lines. My between the lines reading may be flawed — or not. I do hope there is something in this of value for you Jeff. I wish you both well in your continued independent journeys through life.


#11 Marie on 08.25.12 at 3:27 pm

John, Thank you for your encouraging response. I have spent so much time searching, reading and agonizing over something that “fixes” the problems I have with this person I love so much, yet cannot seem to find happiness with.

Only recently I realized the happiness I couldn’t find was always about me. I still wish for some “manual” that makes things right with him, yet deep, deep down in my soul, I know he is giving me the best gift right now by refusing a relationship with me. If he was willing to entertain a relationship with me, right now, I would abort this inward journey before I’ve made lasting changes in my heart and mind.

But can you suggest some way to keep the connection from withering, so that when I hopefully cross my “English Channel”, there is a foundation for us to work from, as I wish so deeply for my family to be whole again. Right now, we speak regularly, as our children are just toddlers, but I find it hard to connect with him in the manner you’ve suggested in the article above and the one about “saving your marriage”. He is open to speak with me, but he generally avoids being with me alone and only wants to spend a limited amount of family time together.

My deepest gratitude for your earlier response.
I read it daily as a reminder to be more sensitive to what my body is telling me, and translating those signals into need or love.


#12 John Rocheleau on 08.26.12 at 1:31 pm

Hi Marie,

Well, I feel that you’re going in exactly the right direction. The most important thing is to keep within integrity. Know your direction and follow it with focus. I’ve learned from personal experience from that trying to walk two paths at once eventually unbalances you. So just be honest with yourself at every turn and do what you know is the right thing to do.

You asked for my thoughts on how to keep your connection from withering. That’s a tough one to answer. The only thing I know for certain, is that people respond favorably to someone who is dealing with them in a genuine manner. No games or deception. Perhaps he will see and accept more of who you really are as you go down the time line and discover it for yourself. Changes like that become obvious in time. You can’t manipulate it to happen. There is a saying, “Don’t push the river; it flows by itself.” :-)

Best to you,

#13 Lena on 09.03.12 at 11:31 am

Hi There,
I am so glad I found your site. I feel like i am going crazy. My ex boyfriend of just over a year broke up with me a couple of weeks ago. We are in a long distance relationship and I struggled with this. But for reasons I won’t go into I had to return to my home country and he stayed in his. He suffers from depression and says he doesn’t want a relationship right now, but doesn’t want to lose me. I’ve tried the whole no contact thing but it hasn’t worked, as we seem to be connected by something much stronger. The thing is I don’t want to get my hopes up in case he doesn’t change his mind. He says he would consider getting back together when he feels like his old self but he can’t say yes for sure. I don’t know what to do, sometimes this relationship or whatever it is feels doomed other times I feel like I can’t let go. I really don’t want to let go but have no idea how to approach things. Please help :)

Thank You

#14 John Rocheleau on 09.05.12 at 11:28 am

Hi Lena,

That’s a tough one Lena. Having a distance romance is hard enough, but trying to build or save that relationship when your partner is suffering from depression is doubly difficult. The thing is, your boyfriend will have trouble connecting in your relationship if his depression is moderate to severe, and/or long term. Depression robs a person of their power and vision. In their place it substitutes hopelessness and despair.

The strange thing about depression is: it causes a person to withdraw from the good and beautiful in life. A lovely sunny day in idyllic surroundings feels so alien to a seriously depressed person, that they will consciously avoid these situations. They pull back into their comfort zone; a place that is not at all comfortable, but it is familiar — it requires nothing of them. A place of beauty however, reaches into our heart and asks for our inner beauty in return. But a depressed person cannot freely access their heart. If depression were a conscious entity it would consider the heart and all things bright and beautiful as a threat to be avoided.

Lena, do you see the correlation here? You and he together represent the bright and the beautiful. His depression is urging him to pull away. Your boyfriend seems to understand this, so there is hope for your future relationship. But you asked about how to approach things to ensure a future together. I don’t have the answer. I am keying in on your boyfriend’s depression because I know how powerfully depression can influence a person — and a relationship. But there is more going on here than his depression. You know what I mean by that. Look carefully within yourself, without colored glasses, and you will find other aspects of why this has happened.

Own your part in this drama Lena, and help your ex boyfriend see his part, then maybe this can work out. But you must be completely honest with yourself. Self deception may feel good, but it will stop you dead in your tracks in a relationship. And if your boyfriend does suffer from serious depression, it will greatly help if he speaks with his doctor or a therapist. Moving forward is impossible if depression is blocking the way. Clear the depression and you will both have a chance to work on whatever else needs your attention in your relationship. I wrote a piece on depression: When Depression Comes Where Does the Light Go?. It may give you more understanding

I wish you both well, and I especially hope that your boyfriends seeks help with his depression.


#15 Lena on 09.06.12 at 12:07 pm

Hi John,

Thank you so much for your reply. I know there are other things going on in this “relationship” besides my ex’s depression. I can become obsessive and have low self esteem so continually asked for reassurance through out our short relationship.
So he does say that this has caused issue along with my jealousness on top of his depression. the thing is I am not sure if he is just using me now or really wants me around. He says that he hopes that when he feels well he hopes we get back together. but can’t promise me anything. Sometimes he says he loves me and other times he says he loves me like a friend , but not in the same way as he loves his other friends. So that makes me even more confused. We are going to meet up (hopefully) in Oct. This has been our longest time apart. The purpose of this meeting is to see how we feel . I take this as a good sign as previously he said he didn’t want to see me at all.
Before I had no doubts about us being together and seeing my future with him. But now I am afraid my feelings have changed and so have his and if /when we get back together it won’t work out or it will but won’t be the same. There is an age gap of 5 years too, which makes me more ready to settle down than him. Although he did talk about settling down before he got depressed.

Sorry for the waffle, hope it all makes sense :)

Thank You Again


#16 John Rocheleau on 09.07.12 at 10:07 am

Hi Lena,

Well, one thing is certain, and that is: you cannot guarantee an outcome. As you said, his feelings may have changed, and how you feel seems to be changing also. Maybe it is time to let go a bit more than you have. Jealousy is a relationship killer, because jealousy implies possession, and you cannot possess your partner and have a true relationship. So he needs to deal with his depression, and you need to discover who you are. Use the time alone to discover your inner power and beauty. If you can do that, you won’t be looking for confirmation from your partner, and you will be able to rise above the jealousy.

This way, a good relationship is far more likely. Will it be with your ex boyfriend? Who knows, It might work out if you both take those steps, but it really doesn’t matter. This relationship may be just a learning experience for you both, enabling you to see some things, take some action, discover yourself, and move on to a higher level relationship.

Try not to become enmeshed in the drama of all this. Just find the lessons in it, and use that knowledge to change and grow.

#17 Lena on 09.09.12 at 5:54 am

Thank you so much for all your kind words and help. Hopefully it all works out but I guess only time will tell

#18 Robyn Smith on 09.16.12 at 7:02 am

Hi John,
Im so happy I found your articles. My BF and I are going through the motions right now communication is off. We can barely talk it’s so tough. He broke up with me a couple days ago. I will admit I’m not the easiest. I tried giving him space by not calling. I know he won’t call me first so it’s hard for me right now. I know he loves me and he has mixed emotions about being with me. How do I save my relationship of two years. I know we have the potential to be great . He doesnt trust me. How do I regain his trust? I want to save my relationship can you help.

#19 John Rocheleau on 09.17.12 at 8:17 am

Hi Robin,

I’m sorry I was busy with other things and didn’t get your comment approved right away. Now the comments are closed on the article, but I wanted to reply to your question.

I hope that in the interim things have improved for you. It’s tough to know what to do when a breakup is fresh and the emotions are high. Our emotions can lead to desperate acts which do nothing to further our cause. Sometimes all a person can do is take a deep breath and try to disentangle yourself from the mixed emotions that breakups generate.

You know what they say… “The truth will set you free.” But we each have our own truth. You may not be able to sway your boyfriend over to your beliefs about the relationship and type of feelings. We really can’t change another person’s emotions.

You can however open a door and inspire him perhaps. If you call and try and convince him of the value of the relationship, it becomes a confrontation of sorts. But if you speak to him without the high emotions and drama, just to say what is true for you. Just open that door to him so that he clearly sees how you feel, then leave it at that, without talking to him about how you think he feels, or anything at all about getting together again. Just a simple well put and genuine statement about what is true for you.

That may inspire him to more clearly see what is true for him. A brief, calm, and genuinely loving statement of truth, is far more effective than all the long emotional conversations aimed at convincing him to change his mind. It is better to inspire him to become clear, by seeing how you clearly see yourself.

Does that make any sense? It’s what I feel as I read your eMail.

Best wishes to you,

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