Relationships require a number of skills, including being able to understand yourself, understand your partner, fight in a healthy and productive manner, problem solve, and negotiate differences.
Everyone who is in a serious relationship experiences difficulties, but some couples reach the point that one or both partners are disappointed and upset about their relationship and may even consider leaving their partner. At this point a couple can feel overwhelmed, even though therapists suggest therapy before relationship difficulties reach crisis levels, addressing the issue is better than no action at all.1
Signs that you may need help:1,2
- feeling fundamentally dissatisfied with the relationship
- disappointment in the relationship is constant
- fighting often, but no resolution is found, and you just feel worn out
- feel completely disconnected
- lack of communication
- loss of sex and vitality
- loss of good feelings and friendship
- feeling sadness, worry, tension, or depression
What causes Relationship Difficulties?1,3,4,5
Relationship difficulties can be brought on by deficits in relationship skills and/or external events like serious illness, loss of a loved one, or arrival of a new child. Sometimes patterns from childhood relationships we learn and are comfortable with aren’t effective, but carry over to our adult relationship in a harmful way. Each partner in a relationship brings with them a pattern of conflict, which is how you fight during a conflict with your partner. A common unhealthy and damaging pattern of conflict is called “demand-withdraw”, where one partner airs a complaint or issue, and the other withdraws by becoming silent or avoiding their partner. A therapist can help you identify your conflict patterns.
Relationship trouble can be spurred by any number of topics; common topics include children (how to raise them, etc), money and spending, demands related to work and jobs, communication and listening, sexual issues, and annoying habits and chores.
What can be done to treat Relationship Difficulties?6,7
Research has shown it doesn’t matter which theoretical model your therapist may use, as long as treatment follows these five underlying principles:
- Changing the views of the relationship: helping a couple to see each other and their interactions in a more objective and adaptive way.
- Modifying dysfunctional behavior: changing the way a couple behaves with each other.
- Decreasing emotional avoidance: helping a couple to express their private feelings they may fear showing their partner in a way that brings the couple closer.
- Improving communication: helping partners to communicate more effectively, speaking to each other in a supportive and understanding way and listening actively and empathetically.
- Promoting strengths: pointing out the strengths in the relationship that bring the couple enjoyment.
Starting couples therapy can be difficult, you’ll be sharing with a person you don’t know about relationship difficulties, and it can be discouraging when arguing in front of a therapist. If your partner isn’t willing to join you in therapy it can still be beneficial to seek help and learn about things you can start doing now. While it’s true the end of a relationship is possible, a therapist can guide you through working to strengthen your relationship or help you move on to a future healthy relationship.1
1 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy
2 American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy: Children and divorce
3 American Psychological Association
4 Which conflicts consume couples the most?
5 Dick Jones Communications. “What the ‘silent treatment’ says about your relationship.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2014.
6 Psychology Today
7 Behavior Therapy