When you first enter into a romantic relationship it can feel wonderful and exciting, full of fun as you go on dates together, getting to know each other and feeling hopeful as you grow to like each other more and more. As the relationship progresses it may lead to further commitment such as moving in together, getting engaged, married, having children etc. However, gradually as time goes on and you spend more and more of your life with each other you can’t help but notice some things about your partner that you don’t quite like – some of these things may be small issues that you’re willing to tolerate because you know that nobody’s perfect, but there may be other issues which you’re struggling to ignore. If these other issues aren’t addressed then it can grow into resentment and bitterness towards your partner which can eat away at the loving feelings you have for them, to the point where you might question whether you want to be with them anymore. Sound familiar? For a lot of couples this is very familiar – some research published by Relate (a charity specialising in helping people with their relationships) shows almost one in five married or cohabiting couples are in distressed relationships: that’s 2.87 million people across the UK.
The truth is that, just like life, relationships have their ups and downs. After all, you’re two different people, with different strengths and weaknesses, maybe from different backgrounds, possibly with differing personalities, and with varying interests and outlooks on life. And here you are wanting to live amicably side-by-side in a warm and caring relationship, but the issues that are cropping up are highlighting your differences and causing you to pull in two different directions. The good news is this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not meant to be together, it just means that you’ve both got some work to do to learn to communicate well and grow to understand each other better and commit to finding compromises that are fair to you both. The relationship stands a very good chance if both of you are committed to trying to work on it.
There are lots of reasons why couples struggle, and I’ve tried to highlight a few of these here, but please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, just a pointer at some of the common issues that can arise in the course of a relationship:
- Finances – and it’s not necessarily that you don’t have enough money, it may be because you have different attitudes towards money, one might like to spend, whilst the other is a saver. One might like to budget, whilst the other is used to not having any money for the last week before pay day.
- Children – there could be differences of opinion about having children at all, or when the children come along, you differ on how they should be brought up, how much to discipline them, how much to spend on them, how much time you both give them. Things can be even harder in blended families – where stepchildren are being brought up between two households and contact with ex’s is necessary.
- Infidelity – this is extremely damaging to a relationship, causing a lot of hurt and a breakdown in trust. but affairs don’t usually occur out of the blue, they are often a significant sign that there have been problems in the relationship that haven’t been addressed. It is possible to talk about and work on these issues and find a way forward together, but you may need the guidance of a counsellor to help you do this.
- Lack of communication – being in a relationship is like being in a team, in order to make it work there needs to enough communication flowing between you that you understand each other well and are giving each other enough information and support to carry out the business of life together. If you don’t talk (or feel that you can’t talk) and be open and honest with each other enough then you could find that incorrect assumptions are made, you disappoint one another, you make wrong choices based on lack of information about what the other person would want or like etc.
- Handling conflict – people handle conflict in different ways; some are like hedgehogs that tend to avoid confrontation, retreating into themselves, but being spikey – to prevent others from hurting them. Whilst others are like rhinos – determined to face the problem head on and fight to the end until the whole thing is sorted out. If you’re both hedgehogs this can end up in hours, days or even weeks of not talking but simmering with resentment, if you’re both rhinos it can end up in a nasty fight that damages you both, and if you’re one of each it can end up looking like the rhino’s being aggressive and the hedgehog’s being uncooperative, creating even more frustration! So it’s up to the two of you to agree on a way of handling conflict. This would ideally involve committing to addressing issues at an early stage rather than allowing problems to build up, trying to talk to each other calmly and in a constructive way (because attacking each other only raises the defences), and agreeing to careful listening, not interrupting each other and working to find a healthy compromise.
- Time – the busyness of life, jobs, children, housework etc. can often mean that quality time spent together is put to the bottom of the priority list, but this can be a recipe for a deterioration in the quality of the relationship. In order for you both to connect and demonstrate love towards each other you have to spend some time together, a good start might be deciding on a date night where you deliberately reserve one evening a week where you do something together just the two of you.
- Different expectations – each person in the relationship is likely to have differing views on things to some degree. This is because each person is shaped by their experiences, their childhood, the parenting they received, the schooling they had, the experiences they’ve been through, previous relationships, jobs, religions or cultures, inherent personality traits etc. and as a result of these differences, you may have different values, morals, opinions on how things should be done and what’s expected of a partner, what roles each person should take. So it’s inevitable that there will be the occasional clash of opinions on how to approach or respond to a situation, what decisions to make and how things should be done, but when these clashes become frequent or are repetitive arguments about the same issue, then this will need some attention, requiring you both to communicate openly to build a greater understanding of each other and why you both think and feel the way you do. If this is difficult and you can’t find some common ground or a way forward, then counselling can help.
- Intimacy – intimate affection is an important aspect of the relationship but there are lots of things that can get in the way of this such as physical or mental health problems, stress, lack of energy, past sexual abuse, ongoing arguments causing a rift in the bedroom, or one or both partners being away for extended periods of time due to work commitments. If this is the case then it’s important to try to address these causes, as lack of intimacy can often communicate lack of love and affection.
There are many more reasons why relationships can have problems, such as lack of equality, intrusive in-laws, lack of common interests etc. and other issues that are unique to your relationship and circumstances, but the important thing to remember is that just because there are things going wrong, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not meant for each other, and with some time and some help you can both overcome the problems, if you’re both committed to resolving them.
If you’d like to talk about the relationship issues you’re going through then feel free to get in contact. Even if your partner doesn’t wish to go to counselling, it doesn’t mean that you can’t access counselling yourself and talk through the problems in a safe, supportive and non-judgmental space.