What to do when your partner springs an unwelcome surprise
Sometimes a relationship can feel more like Tales of the Unexpected than Happily Ever After. The occasional piece of surprise news is to be expected, unless you live with the most predictable bore on the planet, but some shocks are harder to handle than others.
For example, perhaps your partner suddenly decides that the time is right to announce that they have an eight-year-old child with their ex. (This will be easier to hear if you and your partner have been together less than eight years. Otherwise, you’re about to have one hell of a conversation.) Or perhaps they come home one day with the news that they’ve lost their job, or wrecked the car, or have decided to jack it all in and travel round the world… alone.
Often your head and heart will respond in different, conflicting, ways. Your head might be saying “life’s short, it’s not a problem, onward and upward” while your heart wants to punch the wall and scream like a child. Given that, it can be hard to work out how you really feel when your partner drops a relationship shocker, and to respond in a balanced way.
Read on for our advice on how to react to five common relationship newsflashes.
1. I have a child
Your partner should tell you about this when your relationship is still new. Welcome their honesty, and don’t let it be a deal-breaker. Adults have kids in relationships, and often those relationships don’t work out.
Reassure your partner that you’re not threatened, and that you want to encourage the best relationship between them and their child. Accept that they will need to maintain contact with their ex – your partner will welcome your maturity.
It’s far trickier if you’ve been with your partner for some time before they reveal that they’re a parent. You may be shattered by the loss of trust, and you’ll feel feeling very insecure. Explain your feelings to your partner, and try to understand why they couldn’t tell you about the child sooner. They may have valid reasons for keeping quiet. If you are both committed to the relationship but find this bombshell difficult to handle, talk to a counsellor.
2. I never want kids
As with the “I have a child” shocker, this shouldn’t cause problems if it’s addressed at the start of a relationship. If it’s a deal-breaker for you, better that you know after a couple of dates than after a couple of years.
It’s a different matter if your long-term partner announces that they don’t want kids, especially if you’d been longing (and indeed trying) for a family. Don’t react furiously – hear them out. Ask for their reasons and say that you want to listen. They may be fed up with the perpetual frustration of trying for children, and they may want to refocus your relationship on the two of you. Respect those feelings, but be honest about your own.
3. I never want to get married
Take this with a pinch of salt if it’s uttered during the first months of a relationship. People say all sorts of things in the spirit of rebellion or bravado, or through not wanting to be seen as clingy.
But if you’re told this after being together for a year or more, that’s another matter. Are they saying that they don’t want to marry you or that they don’t want to commit to you? Ask them what they really mean, and listen respectfully.
Maybe your partner has a point. Many happy couples never marry – and many unhappy couples do. Perhaps their family history of marriage hasn’t been a happy one, or maybe they object to weddings themselves as big on cost and low on taste.
Welcome your partner’s honesty, then ask them to hear your own point of view. If their objection to marriage makes you feel insecure, say so.
4. I’ve lost my job
This is something to help your partner through, not be angry with them for. Your role here is to provide emotional support by reminding them that they’re not useless – because you can bet that that’s how they’re feeling.
You may also need to provide financial support. If you want your relationship to work in the long term, be prepared to be the breadwinner for a time. Don’t let it become a long-term situation unless your partner has another role such as caring for your children. You need to encourage and help them back to work, not mollycoddle them so much that they decide it’s easier to stay at home and live off you.
5. I want to travel the world
Partners should be able to go on trips separately. It’s healthy to maintain separate interests and friends, and the occasional stag weekend or solo walking weekend offers valuable breathing space from each other.
But that’s not what we’re talking about here. A boyfriend or girlfriend who wants to go away on their own, for months, is not a committed partner. Either they’re completely deluded (you’ll wait a year for them to return from their jolly? Not likely) or they’re trying to break up with you in a way that’s both subtle and rather dramatic. This relationship is over. Wish them well, thank them for the good times, and don’t bother driving them to the airport.