Every couple experiences relationship problems. And sometimes when you’re going through a rough patch it can be difficult to work out exactly what the problem is.
Here are six statements that you will have heard or said about relationship problems, and some new perspective on them that might help things feel a little less stuck.
“My husband/wife/partner is just too difficult.”
No one is perfect. We all have our issues. Successful relationships don’t happen when two perfect people with nothing annoying about them find each other. They happen when normal (read: complicated) people find a way to make it work.
One person’s irrational moments can’t ruin a relationship on their own. What matters is how you approach them. If you and your partner can handle each other’s foibles with affection, respect and care, your relationship can thrive.
“We don’t have anything in common (any more).”
The most successful couples are not codependent but interdependent. This means that there is space within the relationship for each of you to have your own lives while you co-create your shared life. Doing everything together is not healthy, and will soon leave you with nothing to talk about.
There is one thing that it really matters for you to have in common: mutual respect. Would you rather do something together and spend the day sniping at each another, or do different activities and come back together later, both interested to hear about the other’s day?
It matters less what you do with your time and more how you feel about it. And when you’re getting on well, you might actually find that the list of things you do want to do together grows.
“My partner doesn’t do as much for me as I do for him/her.”
Marriage is literally a contract. But it is also underpinned by an often unspoken deal. All long-term relationships are. You probably expect similar levels of attention and affection from your partner to those you extend to them. And you most likely expect your partner to pull their weight around the house and with any kids and other responsibilities too.
When this agreement breaks down, people get angry. If you’re doing the cooking and cleaning up afterwards too, you’re bound to build up resentment.
Sometimes communication is the answer to this one. An impartial third party like a couples counsellor can help you to come to some agreements about who does what. Relationship therapy can provide calmer atmosphere than the one that might kick off at home when you try to talk about this stuff.
But often the relationship problems run deeper than the chores. Happy couples tend to both just get on with what needs doing, because they generally feel content with their partner and their relationship. If you find yourself keeping score, there is most likely some unresolved tension involved. Getting to the bottom of that will have a better, more lasting impact than just working out the division of labour.
“We’re always fighting.”
Some couples avoid fights at all costs. Others fight a lot. Some even find a way to talk about their differences and compromise without ever raising their voices. (Yes, really!)
No single way of dealing with conflict is necessarily better than the others. What matters is that it works for both of you.
Every relationship is different and what works for other couples – or what either of you imagines to be “normal” – is largely irrelevant.
If you have been fighting a lot, you might find some of the following helpful:
- How To Raise Difficult Issues With Your Partner
- How To Resolve Arguments Constructively
- Beyond Conflict Resolution
However, Gottman’s research has found that frequent conflict is cited in only 40% of divorces*. (And even then the cause might be defined as what the couple was fighting about, rather than the fights themselves.) It is more common for relationships to end because the partners have been trying so hard to avoid arguing that they turn away from each other. They lose their sense of connection, and begin to feel lonely.
“My partner/I had an affair.”
Affairs can be devastating. They are considered by most people to be one of the most serious relationship problems. To make sense of what happened and find a way forwards, it’s important to recognise that the affair is a symptom, not the cause of the problem in the relationship.
Gigy and Kelly of the Divorce Mediation Project report that 80% of divorced people said that their marriage broke up because they gradually grew apart and lost a sense of closeness, or because they didn’t feel loved and appreciated. Only 20-27% of couples said an affair was even partly to blame*.
Affairs are usually less about sex and more about friendship, support, understanding, respect, attention, caring and concern – i.e. looking outside of the marriage for the things you want to find within it.
If either or both of you has had or considered an affair, you will need to find it within yourselves to listen to one another and process what you have both been through. And you will need to work out what was going on in the relationship before it happened, possibly long before. That way you can hope to find a way back to each other and look together to a new future.
“I just don’t understand men/women.”
If you are in an opposite-sex relationship you might have found yourself feeling like giving up on trying to make sense of, or make it work with, a member of the opposite sex.
Perhaps you were brought up with the idea that all men are cheaters. Or that women are irrational and impossible to please.
In actual fact, Lawson has found that young women are now just as likely to have affairs as young men*.
And Gottman’s research has shown that it is the quality of a couple’s friendship that determines a woman’s level of satisfaction with the sex, romance and passion in her relationship… and the same is true of men*.
So we’re not so different after all.
It takes courage, determination and resilience to make a long-term relationship last, whatever your gender.
Relationship Problems: So what’s the secret to improving your relationship?
Happy marriages are based on deep friendship. They are about mutual respect, and enjoyment of each other’s company. Happy couples know each other well. They know each other’s likes and dislikes, personality quirks, hopes and dreams. They are fond of each other. And they let each other know that they are in both big and small ways, every single day.
Does this sound a bit… basic?
If you have fantasies of a big romance, you might be thinking this doesn’t sound very exciting. Well don’t worry, because the friendship is just the foundation.
Couples who stay connected through the everyday stuff actually report feeling far more passionate towards their partners than those who go on romantic holidays and buy each other big presents but don’t feel connected day to day*.
Friendship is the foundation on which romance is built. This is because it gives you the best protection against adversarial feelings towards your partner.
All couples have disagreements and negative feelings towards each other. But if your relationship is rooted in a deep friendship, your positive feelings are likely to overtake your negative ones.
This means you will feel optimistic about your future together. You will make positive assumptions about your lives together. You will tend to give each other the benefit of the doubt.
When you feel like this, you work as a team. You keep your sense of humour. And the relationship problems that every couple haves, to you, feel manageable.
Relationship problems can cause a huge amount of stress and misery for everyone involved. If you want some help to improve your relationship, you can give me a call on 07428 396671 or use the online form to get in touch.
You can also join my mailing list here.
*From The Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work by John Gottman and Nan Silver.