All relationships have conflict and regularly go through a flux of ups and downs. Things change significantly between your first date and your fifth anniversary.
The stress and conflict in your relationship become a serious problem when they’re constant and detract from the quality of your life.
Here are the 10 most common relationship problems and how to navigate them:
Communication skills are vital for managing marital conflict.
Talking constructively about what you’re feeling and what you need is necessary for a healthy relationship. Be open and honest with your partner, with a focus on hearing the other person out, listening actively, and working together to support each other and find solutions to the challenges you’re experiencing.
Good communication must be continually developed and maintained. This can be challenging when emotions or stresses are high between partners. The Gottman Institute developed a metaphor for communication styles called the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse that depict warning signs for serious communication problems in your relationship.
The Four Horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling and are key signs of poor communication. Here are some tips on how to avoid them:
Instead of attacking the core of your partner’s character, use “I statements” to talk about how their behaviour makes you feel.
Remember that you and your partner are equals. Neither is in a position of superiority over the other partner. Be respectful and leave tactics like mockery, mimicry, and put-downs out of your arguments.
Accusations can hurt, especially when they feel unjust or come from someone we expect to be on our side. The critical step is not to use these negative feelings to turn yourself into the victim of the conversation. Make sure you listen and hear your partner’s concerns and take responsibility for your own feelings and actions.
Stonewalling is when one partner shuts down and withdraws from the conversation. It often looks like “the silent treatment” using body language and a lack of response to evade the issue. Remember that problems are never solved by NOT talking about them. Communicate with your partner openly to resolve your concerns.
If both you and your partner have consistent communication problems, professional counsellors can help you build effective communication patterns into your fights to help you resolve conflict more easily.
Affairs have a devastating impact on marital relationships and often indicate other relationship problems. However, they’re not innate indicators of the end of a marriage. Affair recovery is possible.
Couples therapy is an integral part of the affair recovery process. Learning to trust each other again and repair the relationship requires commitment and a concerted effort from both partners.
Healing from infidelity is a long and difficult process, but when done successfully, the relationship grows into a deeper and stronger connection than before.
3. Lack of appreciation
We all like to feel appreciated, but what makes us feel appreciated varies from person to person. Good relationships are built on an understanding of what one’s partner needs, as well as your own needs.
Knowing and understanding the way your partner expresses love is critical when showing them your appreciation. If you feel appreciated when your partner shares words of encouragement and affirmation with you, you may feel inclined to reciprocate the same way. However, that might not be meaningful to your partner if they express appreciation through physical affection.
This misalignment doesn’t mean that you don’t love or appreciate your partner. However, it’s important to know how your partner experiences appreciation to make sure that they receive your gratitude in a meaningful way.
Share your appreciation often. Don’t assume your love and gratitude ‘goes without saying’ to your partner. Lack of appreciation in your relationship can cause one or both partners to feel uncared for or lonely. Make a point of expressing it regularly in ways that will be heard and felt by them.
4. Emotional intimacy issues
Emotional bonding and feelings of connectedness are a significant part of what makes a romantic relationship feel good. When you start to lose that sense of intimacy, it can feel distressing and lonely.
An important part of emotional intimacy is being vulnerable with your partner and sharing deeply about yourself. These acts require trust, supportive communication, and meaningful conversation between partners.
Couples struggling to maintain or build emotional intimacy can work with a therapist to create comfortable environments for sharing deeply and communication skills that will help ensure these conversations and moments of vulnerability feel safe.
5. Sexual problems
Just like any other part of a relationship, your sex life will ebb and flow throughout your relationship.
If you lack intimacy in your relationship and want to reconnect with your partner and revive your passion, the first step is to reprioritize your relationship.
A lack of desire, exhaustion, and feeling disconnected from your partner is often reported as sexual problems in an otherwise good relationship. Making the time for your relationship again and creating the positive context for that sexual intimacy you’ve been craving helps cultivate that dormant spark.
Setting dedicated time aside for you and your partner – no phones, no kids, no chores or external stressors – allows you to focus on what you like about one another and how good you make each other feel.
If you feel a little awkward at first, try something simple like a low-key date. This can help you build that intimacy up throughout the evening. If you want to focus on your physical connection, giving and receiving massages might be an easy way to step back into this part of your life.
Intentional time and energy are crucial steps to make your sexual relationship work. Just like any other part of your relationship, you have to maintain it.
6. Growing apart
In the early stages of your relationship, you probably felt excited to see each other all the time. You couldn’t wait to tell your partner about things in your day. Over time, those little things can get pushed aside, and it can feel like you’re drifting apart from each other.
To bridge that gap you feel growing between you:
- Intentionally make time to spend together.
- Take the time to talk about the things that matter to you.
- If you’re worried or concerned about the distance in your relationship, bring it up.
When life gets busy, it’s easy to deprioritize your relationship and spend time together without spending time together – or have entire conversations without sharing the things that are important to you.
Have conversations you’re passionate about to talk and share. Go back to old habits or activities that made you feel close to one another, or do something new together.
7. Substance abuse
When excessive use of alcohol or drugs is present in the life of one or both partners, this can harm your relationship.
Excessive substance use takes time away from the couple or family, leading to emotional distance growing between you. Although brought on by substance abuse, these issues become problems in their own right that then need to be addressed and resolved separately.
Some indicators that substance use is hurting your relationship include:
- arguments about the substance use or things related to/caused by the substance use
- “covering” for one person who cannot be present because of substance use
- substance use to reduce tension or stress related to arguments about substance use
- substance use is the only or one of very few things you like to do together
- a lot of (extreme) conflict when one or both partners are under the influence of a substance
- a cycle where substance use creates conflict, the conflict generates stress which leads to more substance use, and the cycle repeats and escalates over time
Any one of these signs can indicate it’s time to re-evaluate your relationship. If left unresolved, these problems can grow to jeopardize your future relationship.
What can you do:
Individual counselling or couples therapy are great tools to help you or your partner work through substance use issues. Group counselling and self-help support meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous can be beneficial as well.
Substance abuse in a relationship is a complex issue that requires looking at what is causing the substance use and resolving the problems caused by the substance use.
8. Parenting issues
Parental conflict is challenging because it affects more than just you and your partner. Marital and family therapy is often a crucial step with these issues to ensure that your kids are also getting the support they need to process and deal with the conflict in the family unit.
As parents, it can be hard to balance the needs and responsibilities of a family. Exhaustion, overwhelm, feelings of an unfair distribution of tasks and responsibilities between partners, disagreements about discipline, and parenting styles all contribute to conflict in the family sphere.
Parenting is a little bit like managing a sports team. As co-coaches, you and your partner need to be on the same page about your parenting methods, and the division of parental responsibilities needs to feel fair.
If you disagree about handling something, that’s okay, but it’s crucial to come to an agreement and solve problems together. Presenting a united front when addressing issues with your children is the best way to maintain stability and consistency within your family.
If your differences of opinion on how to deal with a situation prevent you from coming to a solution together, consider deferring to the parent who feels more strongly about the issue – and whatever agreement you come to, stick to it!
Don’t undermine your partner because you disagree with their stance on an issue. Your kids will pick up on that disconnect. It’s critical to present unity in your decision.
Relationships when you have kids
It’s easy to let the needs of your kids become the only important thing in your life, but it’s crucial to maintain a strong sense of self and partnership as well. Putting time into yourself and your relationship is still vital to maintaining a balanced and happy life.
Maintaining social connections as an individual and a couple helps reinforce that your identity is more than just mom or dad. Making time for yourself and things outside of the family sphere is a significant part of self-care.
A support network is equally important. Not only does this give you people to lean on emotionally when parenting seems like way too much, but it will often provide a group of people you can reach out to and ask for help or watch your kids.
This assistance can be a load off to give you a break, but it can also be a way to have some time for just you and your partner. You still need to maintain your romantic relationship, and spending time together without the kids is an integral part of that.
9. Step-family issues
Being in a family with bonus or step-parents is a stressful situation. There are suddenly more moving parts to your family equation than when all parents and children lived under one roof.
Becoming a new parent in a new family dynamic can be difficult, as it’s a big change that takes time to adjust to – for both parents and children. As a parent, your role is less about being liked by your partner’s kids and more about finding a balance between a positive relationship with them and parenting them well.
Another challenge in blended families can be the dynamic between the ex-partner and the current partner. As a family, the important factor in maintaining the welfare of the children, but that doesn’t always make it easy to know that your partner has constant or regular contact with their ex.
You may feel that your partner’s ex is a threat to your relationship with your partner, but remember that your partner chose to step-parent with you. They decided to build their present and future with you – respect that choice and choose them back. Work with them to build a blended family together.
10. Management of money
Couples who fight about the mismanagement of money often have problems because they haven’t had an open conversation about how each partner views financial decisions or what is financially prioritized.
You need to agree on where money is going in your life. If you disagree on how to utilize your financial resources, look for financial goals to agree on. You can decide to save for retirement and to have a specific lump sum each set aside by the time you’re 65 without using the same methods to get there.
Financial difficulties aren’t always about a lack of funds. The financial pressures to send your kids to college, retire on time, or have a certain standard of house or car can add extra stress to your relationship if you don’t talk about it.
7 ways to immediately improve your relationship
- Prioritize your relationship and each other, making a point to spend personal time focusing on each other, having fun, and connecting.
- Talk about what’s important to you, your challenges and successes – not just the logistics of your busy life.
- Ask questions and listen to each other – both in discussions about dreams and ideas and when resolving conflict.
- Remain open-minded, affectionate, playful, and curious.
- Remain on each other’s side and solution-focused when conflict arises, don’t forget to be compassionate and take care of each other’s emotions too.
- Find ways and areas to reduce or eliminate stress in your life – it might be straining your relationship.
- Remind each other of the things you have in common – shared values and goals. Keep those things at the forefront of your relationship.
Relationships are messy and are full of regular ups and downs. Don’t let complacency in your relationship outweigh the time and energy you put into maintaining a healthy relationship.
Chronic discord in your relationship can significantly impact your well-being, including your mental health and self-esteem. If you’re struggling in your relationship, working with a professional relationship therapist can help.
Do you need relationship help?
Since 2003, Clinton Power has helped thousands of couples and individuals as a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Sydney and online in Australia. Clinton regularly comments in the media on issues of relationships and has appeared on Channel 7, The Sydney Morning Herald, and ABC Radio. Clinton’s eBook, 31 Days to Build a Better Relationship is available through his website or Amazon. Click here to take Clinton’s relationship checkup quiz to find out how well you know your partner.