Relationships are a very meaningful part of our lives, and can bring us a great deal of happiness and fulfilment. Strong connections with our loved ones, friends and work colleagues allow us to be at our healthiest and most productive, and for many these relationships offer an important source of advice, guidance, love and support.
It’s the rare couple that doesn’t run into a few bumps in the road. While romantic relationships are often a source of happiness, trust and companionship, they all experience their own problems. And there’s one person who’s seen them all: relationship counsellors.
When you are involved in the relationship it can feel as though an arising issue is exclusive to you and your partner, however, in actual fact, these experts say the same issues often affect the majority of couples – no matter whether they differ in age, seriousness or same-sex or heterosexual.If you recognize ahead of time, though, what those relationship problems might be, you’ll have a much better chance of getting past them.
Why do we need good relationships?
Human beings are naturally very sociable. We enjoy the company of others and crave positive interactions and meaningful friendships. To some extent good relationships are just as important for our survival as food and water, and this can explain why our health and happiness suffers when our relationships go wrong. Therefore, the better our relationships work, the happier and healthier we are going to be.
Extensive research has shown that people with satisfying relationships are likely to have fewer health problems and live longer. In contrast, those who do not have many social connections tend to show signs of depression and cognitive decline. Relationship counselling is focused primarily on making sure relationship issues are dealt with in a way that supports the health and well-being of those involved.
It is a myth that if you are with the right partner you will never have conflict, or not experience problems in a relationship. In reality relationships will have rocky times and even times of doubt about whether you should be in your relationship at all. Couples, when they enter into a relationship, don’t fuse into one person, each becoming the “better half” of the other. They remain individuals who merge lives. This comes with its own problems and pains because it’s not always an easy thing to do: share your life with another day in and day out. All couples will face some (or at least one) major issues. They won’t all look the same but couples who sail through troubled waters do so with good communication and a sense of partnership.
Here’s how to deal with the major dramas that may head your way.
Bad habits from parents. People don’t usually get taught at school how to communicate in relationships. We tend to learn this from our parents which means that if they didn’t talk openly and honestly to each other, we are in danger of making the same mistake ourselves. The first step towards better communication in relationships is recognising how important it is. Then it’s about making the effort to talk to each other and to really listen to one another. This takes effort and this is where many couples fail.
Affairs and betrayals. Betraying your spouse or a close friend can cause a great deal of damage to your relationship, as it destroys all sense of trust. Whether it’s an affair, financial secrets or a hidden addiction, betrayal can be very painful and in some cases leads to the end of the relationship. However, a great number of people will want to work through a betrayal in order to overcome the pain and rebuild the relationship.
You spend more time apart than together. Of course, it comes down to your very personal definition of “enough” time spent together, but the couple who plays together stays together.
Most couples will face the issue of lack of time prioritising one another at some point. It may be due to childrearing and the time away from you both that raising kids can take, or it may be workload, work shifts, travel or other personal and family issues. It may even be an illness that strikes you or your family. Whatever the reason, the approach as a couple is the same: regroup and prioritise one another as your number one partner. Without making your partner feel like you are their primary ally in life, in good and bad times, and them doing the same for you, it’s easy to feel alone. And resentment can build, as can anger and then disruption to your home life, for everyone. The best thing you can do to secure a solid foundation in your life together is to make one another your main priority and balance their needs, and they balance your needs, at all times with anything else going on in life. Without this approach, couples inevitably find themselves growing apart over time.
You spend ALL THE TIME together, leaving no space for your own individual growth. If your partner is your best friend, that’s a wonderful thing to have and share – friendship – but while you may love doing every single thing together, it may not turn out the best scenario for your romantic relationship. People need to maintain their individuality in order to grow and develop, and being in a relationship does definitely not terminate your hobbies, collateral friendships and obligations that are bound to the outside world. Allocate time in your schedule to do some soul searching and invite your partner to do the same. Meditate, take long walks in nature, visit your friends, a museum, a new gallery or cool place you’ve been dying to see – even if you’ll feel inadequate or lonely at first, you will grow fonder of it with time. One of the most creative and empowering exercises is to take yourself on a date, every week, and use those 2 or 3 hours solely to do something that feeds your mind and your personality.
Money problems. Finances are one of the main subjects couples fight about and it also directly affects how people view happiness, stress, and quality of life. How you each approach saving and spending money will directly impact how you live your life together in your relationship. Be on the same page with your financial goals and your values about how best to spend and save money from the outset of your relationship to avoid the pit many couples fall into, clashing time and time again over money spent. And if you haven’t agreed before now, don’t waste another moment. Sit down and decide together how you share money, what you agree you should consult each other on before spending money on and what your shared goals are for saving for the future.
A major conflict that has one of you thinking about leaving. It’s not uncommon to have a huge conflict in which you question your relationship. Most people take their vows very seriously when they marry, and their promises equally so, when they move in together, even without a legal union. But even with the gravity of those vows and promises, when a couple experiences a deep conflict, one or both partners may question for the first time whether they can weather the storm, whether they are in the right relationship, and if their values align enough to move forward happily and healthily. First, know it’s normal to be a little scared about big conflict, but the best way through it is to talk it out, rather than hide from it. Nothing good comes from running from problems so better to face your feelings and fears head on. Don’t be too afraid to say, this is making me worry you might leave over it. As a result you’ll learn terrific, solid, reassuring conflict resolution skills and be able to face smaller problems in the future with ease – and without questioning your future together.
Family issues. Extended family or blended family issues are another top problem many couples will face. Whether a couple has children from a previous relationship to blend into their current relationship, or highly involved and/or dysfunctional in-laws, family issues come with the territory of relating with one another and sharing life together. You don’t just commit to your partner, you accept them and all their loved ones along with the package. That doesn’t mean you need to accept everything about them without negotiation. It is fair to say your partner is your first and foremost allegiance. Their family, and yours, come second to that. When you both recognise this value and act accordingly, your partnership strengthens and you give each other the security of knowing you have each other’s back and no one, not even family, can threaten your relationship. From there, you’re much better able to extend yourself to other people in need, and their dramas, including even your in-laws.
You or they feel misunderstood. Communication is a two way road, and for those of you who feel lost in limbo whenever you have to talk to your partner about something personal, there’s more than one way to navigate on warmer waters. You’re probably vocal about how misunderstood you feel. This reaction usually triggers detachment in the other, leaving you even more hopeless and consumed. Instead, tell your partner how you feel. Use metaphors if you must, talk to them as casually as possible and don’t stress too much about what will happen later. Learn to express yourself – the rest will follow.
Your partner pushes you away. We all have attachment styles that affect our behavior in relationships. If you feel comfortable being close and intimate, but your partner has an avoidant and dismissive attachment style, it’s going to be difficult for you to bridge that gap.
You feel you’re giving away too much (and getting back too little). There’s no easy way to say this, but you will have to pull yourself back on ground zero. If you can have an open conversation with your partner about the amount of time they invest in your relationship, remember to address the common effort that has to be made to keep any union going. If it feels unhealthy and you are stuck in a rut, consider the alternate, and ultimately leave the relationship. There are people out there who would kill for someone as intuitive as you.
Lack of intimacy. Once someone starts to feel their relationship is no longer intimate, a great deal of the joy leaves it. People enter into a romantic relationship for many reasons: love, passion, sex, companionship, to start a family, and more. People choose to continue in a romantic relationship because their expectations are mostly met and they assess that they are happier inside the relationship than they would be without it. As well, they commit to their partner, and life together, and believe that a shared life is a happy life. But without that sense of sharing, with at least some of the rapport, chemistry and intimate alone time, spent sensually, emotionally and intellectually, couples will disintegrate into a joyless state in which life together feels like a chore rather than something special to cherish. So recognise how important sex and sensuality is in your relationship. Sometimes when all else fails, sex is the glue that keeps you feeling like a committed couple. Don’t neglect touch in your relationship. Ask for it, initiate it, always maintain the kisses, hand holding, snuggles and yes the sex.
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You don’t feel comfortable about their sexual preferences. Are they too horny? Or too kinky? Do they simply like some stuff you’re not okay with, or is it more than that? Do you feel obliged to deliver their fantasies or are they being disrespectful? Once you determine the root of the issue, sit back and tell your partner what you like in bed and, kindly, what you’re not really up for. Intercourse doesn’t have to be boring, but it sure does have to be consensual and respectful.
You can’t open up to each other. You need to feel comfortable laying bare your problems and frustrations with your partner. If you’re not expressing your feelings, you may start to feel anxious or disappointed in the relationship. You don’t want to end up distancing yourself from your partner, giving up on them prematurely, or feeling straight up depressed about the state of the relationship. That’s exactly how you’ll feel if one or both of you don’t express what you’re feeling.
You don’t like their friends. There’s always going to be someone you don’t dig or who doesn’t dig you, and those people might turn out to be your partner’s buddies. How big is this issue for you and your partner? Do you constantly feel pushed or unwanted when all of you get together? If it’s affecting your relationship, your partner must become aware of the unhealthy dynamic and make ends meet. This doesn’t mean they have to cut the chord with their friends or choose between you and them, but they should stand up for you, protect you and make it clear you are a couple now. If you simply don’t get along with their friends, you don’t have to push yourself over the edge or invite the opportunity for scandal or a bad mood each time they get together. Let your spouse meet their friends separately and do something for yourself instead, so that everyone enjoys their own experiences fully.
Your partner is truly a narcissist. If your partner truly has narcissistic personality disorder (as opposed to someone with narcissistic traits), maintaining your relationship is going to be an uphill battle. It is not uncommon for the narcissistic partner to sometimes throw a bone here and there, giving the other partner hope that they’re finally beginning to evolve in a way that will save the relationship.
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