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Relationship problems: A guide for understanding and navigating them properly

Relationship problems: A guide for understanding and navigating them properly

Let’s get straight to the point: Relationships are hard work. Despite how much love there is between two people, conflict can and will arise. The true test is how we navigate these relationship problems with our partners. And whether we come out the other side together.

This guide answers some of the most frequently asked questions about relationship problems, from what the most common relationship problems are to what causes them and how to actually work through them. Feel free to jump to the sections you’re most interested in or read our guide from start to finish for a comprehensive understanding of relationship issues.

What Are Relationship Problems?

Simply put, relationship problems are issues that occur within a relationship. Relationship issues are common — in fact, every couple experiences challenges, ranging from big to small. We don’t always see eye to eye with our partners and that’s okay. However, there are certain relationship issues that might warrant reassessing the overall relationship.

What Are Common Relationship Problems?

Every couple is unique, which means the relationship problems they encounter are unique, too. However, there are common relationship problems that many couples experience:

  1. Poor communication: Couples often struggle to communicate effectively, which can exacerbate every other relationship issue on the list. Poor communication might mean failing to communicate at all or communicating in an angry, impatient, or otherwise unproductive and disrespectful manner.
  2. Sex issues: In most relationships, sex expectations or desires differ between partners. One partner might wish to have sex 4-5 times a week while 1-2 times sounds like plenty to the other. It’s important to talk about sex expectations and issues that might arise with your partner (which is where healthy communication comes in).
  3. Disagreements about money: Money is a tricky subject when it comes to relationships. Depending on whether you’re dating or married, you may or may not be open and honest with each other about finances or spending habits. However, if you’re planning a future together and/or pulling from the same pool of money, you need to get on the same page. It’s when you aren’t on the same page that disagreements about money become more common.
  4. Trust issues: One or both partners might struggle with trust. This can stem from a breach of trust that occurred in the present relationship or a relationship from an individual’s past. There are other factors that can cause or exacerbate trust issues, too. In any case, trust issues can contribute to one or both partners exercising an unhealthy amount of control over the other.
  5. Infidelity: The ultimate betrayal, infidelity can threaten to dismantle a relationship in its entirety. However, many couples are able to work through one or both partners being unfaithful with the help of a couples therapist.
  6. Household responsibilities: Who knew taking out the trash or doing the dishes could bring out the worst in us? Many (if not all) couples argue at some point or another about household responsibilities. Often, there’s one person who pulls most of the weight, which creates negative feelings toward the other. This can be an ongoing battle for many.
  7. Different visions for the future: This is another potential relationship dealbreaker. Many new couples as well as those who are talking about getting more serious have conversations about what the future looks like. And if those visions don’t match up, it can become a problem for the couple. Some couples are able to compromise, while others refuse to budge (such as those who want kids vs. those who don’t) and decide to go their separate ways instead.

What Causes Relationship Problems?

As we mentioned earlier, it’s common for couples to have relationship problems. In fact, it’s more common for couples to have relationship problems than not. That said, there are different causes of relationship issues such as differing opinions, values, personalities, and lifestyles; relationship views and expectations; betrayal; communication styles and openness. These causes vary, as related to the individuals as well as the specific issue they’re encountering.

Relationship problems do not indicate that your relationship is bad or that it’s failing. It’s actually often an indication of a healthy relationship, as you’re both speaking your opinions, sharing your thoughts and feelings, and challenging each other.

When Should You Bring Up Relationship Problems?

You should always be open and honest with your partner about your relationship issues. You don’t have to label them as such if that has a negative effect on your relationship or makes it difficult to discuss the problem at hand. Dive right into what it is, instead. For example: “I’ve noticed that we don’t always communicate well. I feel like you shut down pretty quickly and I know that I have a tendency to dominate the conversation. I think we should work on this together.” 

If you’re struggling to work through a relationship issue, such as poor communication or lack of trust, consider bringing it up to a couples therapist. Couples therapists specialize in helping couples work through their specific challenges and improve their overall relationships.

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What Are the Signs of a Failing Relationship?

Most relationship problems can be resolved or managed if a couple is willing to put in the work. However, there are some problems that many couples can’t come back from and might indicate a relationship is beyond repair:

  1. You’re on and off again: It’s common for couples to break up and get back together, but often, when they do, they’re met with the same issues they experienced the first go-around. And they still aren’t able to work through them. Cue another breakup.
  2. Your feelings are no longer there: It’s completely normal for feelings to wax and wane. But sometimes, those feelings dissipate and don’t come back. This apathy is grounds for going your separate ways. 
  3. You aren’t willing to put in the effort: As we’ve said many times now, relationship problems are completely normal and solvable. However, if you — and by you, we mean you and your partner — aren’t willing to put in that time and effort to solve them, your relationship is likely at its end. 
  4. Your relationship is toxic: If your relationship or your partner is unhealthy at the core, your relationship likely isn’t salvageable. Now, it is possible to improve toxic patterns — which include controlling behaviors, lack of support, and dishonesty — with the help of a therapist. However, it will require both partners to own up to any toxic behaviors and their dedication to creating a healthier relationship. 

How Do You Fix Trust Issues in a Relationship?

As we mentioned earlier, trust issues often stem from betrayal, either in the present relationship or in a past relationship. In either case, here are a few tips that can help you mend trust issues in your relationship:

  1. Have an open conversation. If you haven’t already, you and your partner need to dive deep into the cause of your trust issues. Talk about the betrayal that took place: Did your ex cheat on you? Did your parents struggle to trust each other? Was your partner betrayed by another important person in their life? Whatever it is, talk to each other about it, sharing all thoughts and feelings openly.
  2. Open up even further. Build that trust back up by telling each other something you’ve never shared before. This could be a deep-seated fear, a far-fetched dream, or even an embarrassing moment from your childhood. 
  3. Offer reassurance… when it’s warranted. It’s okay to offer each other reassurance every now and then. For example, say your partner’s trust issues stem from their ex cheating on them at a work party. If you have a work party coming up, reassure them that they have nothing to worry about and that they can trust you.

If you are struggling to build trust in your relationship, consider working with a couples therapist. Often, an unbiased third party can provide a helpful perspective.

How Do You Fix Intimacy Issues in a Relationship?

Many people categorize intimacy into physicality — but there are actually several different realms of intimacy that can prove important to a relationship: physical intimacy, emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, experiential intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. Here are a few quick tips for fixing intimacy issues in each realm:

  • Physical intimacy issues: Yes, physical intimacy includes sex, but it’s also the hugging, kissing, holding hands, and cuddling on the couch. If you’re struggling with physical intimacy, focus on finding out why. If you feel like your partner has pulled away, bring it to their attention. If you’ve pulled away, look within to determine what’s really going on — sometimes a traumatic experience can later cause physical intimacy issues without us even realizing it. In other instances, stress, anxiety, and other mental health problems are to blame. 
  • Emotional intimacy issues: Emotional intimacy is about opening up to each other. Being able to share all of your feelings, including those deep desires and fears that you rarely let surface. If you’re suddenly having emotional intimacy issues, there might be feelings of resentment, a betrayal, or another problem just beneath the surface that has halted your willingness to confide in each other. 
  • Intellectual intimacy issues: To be intellectually intimate means to share ideas and have important conversations with each other. You might discuss favorite books, movies, TV shows, or podcasts. If you’re struggling on this level, you might simply have different interests. Try showing interest in your partner’s interests, even if they don’t appeal to you, and vice versa. 
  • Experiential intimacy issues: Experiential intimacy is about, well, sharing different experiences. If you’re struggling in this area, engage in new activities and visit new places together. This could be as simple as going out for dinner if you typically stay in. Or, it might mean taking up a new hobby together like making pottery or camping.
  • Spiritual intimacy issues: For some couples, being spiritually intimate is all about exploring religion and worshipping together. But for others, it’s more about connecting over their personal values and missions or even their love for something like nature or traveling. If you’re lacking intimacy on this front, find a spiritual area to bond over. Think about your shared passions and goals. 

How Do You Deal with Money Issues in a Relationship?

Money issues are common and the second leading cause of divorce. However, money issues don’t have to wreck your relationship. Here are a few tips for dealing with money issues: 

  1. Open the floor for conversation. As with most problems, the key to resolving (or even preventing) money issues is talking openly. Ideally, you aren’t waiting until your S.O. splurges on a too-expensive vacation using the money in your joint account to have these conversations. But if you are, there’s never been a better time to get into it. Discuss financial boundaries, budgets, and goals. 
  2. Track your spending and goal progression. There are plenty of apps that will help you track your spending and how they measure up to your financial goals as a couple. You don’t have to hyper-fixate on how much money is being spent and where — in fact, please don’t do that — but it is smart to keep tabs on your banking account, discuss any troubling areas, and celebrate achievements. 
  3. Celebrate your differences. Sometimes, it’s good to have different financial backgrounds and approaches. For example, one person might be super frugal, while the other might be a little more go-with-the-flow. A happy in-between is the sweet spot. 

How Do You Fix Communication Issues in a Relationship?

Poor communication was at the top of our list of common relationship problems. As mentioned previously, this problem has the potential to exacerbate other issues as well, making it especially important to resolve. 

So, how do you fix communication issues? The right formula will depend on your current communication style, but here are a few quick tips for communicating well:

  • Use universal statements. I-statements lead to better outcomes than you-outcomes.
  • Practice empathy and understanding. Don’t get too hyperfocused on how you’re feeling, listen to your partner and their feelings.
  • Validate each other’s feelings. Do not make fun of, criticize, or judge each other’s feelings.
  • Be honest. Honesty is, indeed, the best policy. Sometimes it’s hard, but be brave!
  • Choose the right time and place. Dinner with the in-laws probably isn’t the best time to bring up your husband’s bad memory and carelessness (as you perceive it, anyway).
  • Use humor to your benefit. If you find yourselves arguing about something ridiculous, don’t be afraid to laugh it off. Or, if you realize that you’re being silly, come right out and say it — laugh at yourself.
  • Be respectful. And, of course, always be respectful of each other. There is no place for insults, low blows, or manipulation in a healthy conversation.
  • Writer
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Taylor BennettSenior Content Strategist

Taylor Bennett is the Head of Content at Thriveworks. She received her BA in multimedia journalism with minors in professional writing and leadership from Virginia Tech. She is a co-author of “Leaving Depression Behind: An Interactive, Choose Your Path Book.”

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