Our fight turned physical. Is there hope for our relationship?

Tell Me About It: After five years together I got close to another woman and my partner attacked me

PROBLEM: I have been in a relationship for five years now. We met in university and started living together after graduation.The relationship had been good until last year – in November – when we had a fight, which turned into a physical fight. She smashed my stuff in the house and attempted to hit me on the head with a blunt object. I triggered her reactions because we had been emotionally disconnected because I had been talking to a female friend about almost everything. Unfortunately, I was drawn to this female friend and I had lost focus in my relationship. So, this fight affected me the most.

I haven’t found peace with myself and the events that took place during the fight. We have tried falling in love again, she is willing to have a beautiful relationship again but some part of me cannot come to terms with a close, intimate relationship after the fight. We are still living together. This is taking a toll on me and it seems like I want to keep hold of her.

I have mixed feelings. Ask her back or just let her leave?

ADVICE: Being in a relationship requires maturity, commitment, kindness and endurance. Most people manage the early part of a relationship without much bother as this is the part that is full of infatuation, passion and delight.

However, how you get over the difficulties, how you disagree, and how you turn up for each other is the real substance of a relationship and you both seem to have failed each other in these areas. That you are still living together suggests either that you cannot afford to move away or that you are not prepared to leave each other. The real danger is that you continue the pattern of dismissing the other and then not quite leaving each other but as this has resulted in violence, any further connection has to be carefully orchestrated.

There is no doubt that should you embark on renewing the relationship, you will need a couple’s therapist to assist you to address the pattern – not just because it hurts both of you but also in order to protect any future children you may have.

You sound as though you are more interested in your ex-girlfriend than in your emotional affair with your friend and this suggests that you perhaps embarked on this in order to get the attention of your girlfriend – this cannot happen again and if you feel you are disconnected, you must take responsibility for creating that connection in an up-front and honest manner. Developing a sense of self-awareness and having the courage to admit that you feel unloved is an essential skill of any deep and lasting relationship. Without vulnerability it is unlikely we can truly know and connect with another. However, this does not mean you become a doormat – the couple should support the developmental needs of both people.

A decision needs to be made as to what you are doing

Your ex-girlfriend seems to have lost control over her reactions, and if she is ever to be successful in her relationships, she will need to understand the causes of this and learn how to create behavioural change so that she does not generate chaos and damage. Again, it is unlikely she will do this without support and there are many anger management programmes as well as self-awareness programmes available both online and in-person. (See aware.ie for a place to start.) Given that many of our reactions in intimate relationships stem from our families of origin, it may be worth investing in some family therapy and some of this is available at low cost if you are willing to work with their training programmes.

You are now at a crossroads: you have been together for five years and a decision needs to be made as to what you are doing. You did not take responsibility previously when you embarked on the emotional affair and this had dire consequences; this time make your decision and put into place the actions that might make the decision successful. If you chose not to stay in the relationship, you need to separate and give yourself the opportunity to meet someone else and if you chose the relationship, you must instigate the plan for its success as soon as you can.

If you do not do this, your old relationship pattern will simply slot into place and another crisis will crop up down the road and it will be even more difficult to rectify with the pattern deepening with each passing month.