Are you here because you’ve been having relationship problems? Sometimes, when we’re going through a rough patch, it can be hard to work out exactly what the problem is.
These are some of the most common relationship problems, and some new perspective on each of them. I hope this might help you to feel a little less stuck.
“My husband/wife/partner is just too difficult.”
It can be really stressful when you feel like your partner is just being difficult. So how can you look at this differently?
Well firstly, no one’s perfect. We all have our issues. For a successful relationship you don’t need to find (or be!) a perfect person with nothing annoying about them. Relationships are successful when normal (i.e. 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).”
Successful couples are not codependent but interdependent. This means there’s space within the relationship for each of you to have your own lives while you co-create your shared life. Doing everything together isn’t healthy, and might leave you with little 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 your own thing then come together later, both interested to hear about each 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’s also underpinned by a number of deals, which are often unspoken – all long-term relationships are. For example, couples usually expect similar levels of attention and affection from each other. And you most likely expect your partner to pull their weight around the house and with the kids and your 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.
But often the relationship problems run deeper than the chores. When couples are happy together, they usually find it easier 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 could be some unresolved tension involved. Getting to the bottom of that will have a more lasting impact… and help you to work out the division of labour too.
If you’ve been battling over who does what, communication might have become a struggle. An impartial third party like a couples counsellor can help you to come to some agreements about your shared responsibilities. Relationship therapy can provide calmer atmosphere than the one that might kick off at home when you try to talk about this stuff.
“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’ve 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
If you’re worried about fighting, it might help to know that the Gottmans’ 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’s more common for relationships to end because the partners have been trying so hard to avoid arguing that they turn away from each other. When you lose your sense of connection, a relationship can feel like the loneliest place to be.
“My partner/I had an affair.”
Affairs can be devastating. Most of us see them as 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 problems in the relationship.
Gigy and Kelly of the Divorce Mediation Project asked divorced people why their marriages had broken up. 80% of them said it was because they had gradually grown apart and lost their 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’ll need to find ways to listen to each another and process what you’ve both been through. And you’ll 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 a straight relationship, you might sometimes feel like giving up trying to make sense of – or even make it work with – a member of the opposite sex.
Maybe you were brought up with ideas like “all men are cheaters” or “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 the Gottmans’ research has shown that it’s 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.
So what’s the secret to improving your relationship?
The secret ingredient is… friendship!
Successful marriages are based on deep friendship. They’re 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’re 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 were hoping for a big romance, you might be thinking this doesn’t sound very exciting. Hold on, though, 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*.
How friendship protects the relationship
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 will crowd out your negative ones.
So you’ll feel optimistic about your future together. You’ll make positive assumptions about your lives together. You’ll find it easier 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 has feel manageable to you.
Relationship coaching and therapy can help you to rebuild your friendship with your partner and get your inevitable problems back in perspective. 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.