Last week, I wrote about life after the death of a spouse. Since then, I’ve had various conversations with unhappy people whose partners are still very much alive.

One woman (I’m going to call her Edna) said that while reading my column, she had felt surprisingly envious of bereaved people and their freedom to join choirs, travel, build a new social life and so on.

She was not in any way trying to dismiss the pain of grief, but pointed out to me that many older folk, herself included, were locked into marriages that had never been particularly special, and which now felt redundant.  

Edna has seriously considered divorce but has never had a conversation about it with her husband. She asked me if I thought she would be happier outside the marriage than in it.

This is not a question it’s wise to answer. No-one knows what the future may hold, and the harsh truth is that when we make substantial changes to our lifestyle, there are no guarantees they’ll work well.

Obviously, if someone is in a verbally or physically abusive relationship, they almost certainly will feel better for leaving. And probably be safer too.

But ending a union that is dull rather than dreadful is a big decision to take.

For one thing, in later life we have a lot of ties. And when a couple break up, this shakes the foundations of the entire family.

Furthermore, you can’t assume that your relatives will approve of your actions. Many adult children don’t want added hassle, and worry they’ll be lumbered with looking after one or other of you if you become less mobile or ill. So, unless your family have been encouraging you to quit the relationship while you’re still fit and young enough, you can’t rely on them being pleased about it.

So, what can you do if you feel like Edna?

A good first step is to clarify your feelings by asking yourself some questions.

Does your partner look after you? Love you? Do you love him or her? Do you still do activities together? Laugh together? Are you tactile and intimate with each other?

The answers may make you realise you are better off than you imagined. If not, the next stage would be to give some thought to your partner’s view of the relationship.

Do you get a sense that they are as unhappy as you? If you don’t know, probably now is the time to find out.  

May I suggest though that you don’t begin any conversation with the words: “We need to talk.” For many adults, that’s the most terrifying phrase in the English language, and often results in a rapid departure to walk the dog, or go to the pub.  

Try instead broaching the subject of having a holiday together. Or a special dinner in a favourite restaurant. If this is met with agreement, it could be a step forward, because such events often lead to helpful discussion.  

If your partner dismisses your suggestion, it’s likely the unease in your relationship is mutual and you’re going to have to find another way to communicate.

But do avoid opening a dialogue on your future during a row. Conversations that begin angrily with phrases like: “The trouble with you is…” rarely end productively.

Instead, find a quiet moment when you are getting along OK, and rather than launch into a list of everything that’s upsetting you, say something like: “I don’t feel you’re happy with me anymore, would you like to tell me what’s wrong?” This gentle, non-aggressive approach often results in genuinely thoughtful comments which may help you both.  

I know a couple who were brave enough to have a discussion of this kind early last year, when their relationship felt so dire, they were on the verge of parting.

They began by examining what still worked for them and agreed they both loved their house and didn’t want to leave it. Also, that they enjoyed the company of local friends and that they still liked eating together and cooking for each other.

So, they decided it made sense to continue living where they were but to operate more independently. This involved them sleeping in separate bedrooms as she always wanted to read late, and he didn’t; and going on holidays alone, or with friends, because they liked very different destinations and activities.

They both also embarked on new hobbies that they had long wanted to try. Soon, their lives began to feel more stimulating and fulfilling and piece by piece the jigsaw of a new existence fitted together.   

For them, staying in their house and salvaging some companionship was the right choice. They were also pleased to have avoided the costly upheaval of divorce and to have prioritised the needs of their children.

It’s not a perfect marriage but is more convivial than it was.

Might it be a solution for Edna and her husband? You never know…