In order to make improvements in our relationships, it’s necessary to figure out what’s not working well… and in order to figure out what’s not working well, we first have to recognize the signs of trouble (the symptoms that suggest there is an underlying issue).
There are certain more obvious cues that suggest something is wrong in a relationship, such as abuse, or emotional and/or sexual affairs. But it’s often a combination of less obvious issues that can eat away at a relationship.
Here are six signs that your relationship may be in trouble:
1) You or your partner regularly opts to be with friends or family even when you both have free time. The key word here is “regularly.” Occasional alone time, or time with friends and family, is important to have. But if this becomes the regular option when you both have free time, it may be a sign that the relationship is in the mental and emotional backseat. This includes regularly taking the kids and leaving you out (unless this is a previously agreed arrangement for other reasons — e.g. one partner takes the kids out for the partner to work; or for an arranged self-care break. This would actually be a healthy sign of working together and being supportive).
2) Little or no sex. Some couples are able to function without sex, and may be perfectly willing to do so. However, when one or both partners wants to have sex, but not with each other, or with each other but it’s just not happening (whether due to friction, emotional blocks, or lack of time or energy), lack of sex can lead to significant frustration and resentment in the overall relationship.
3) Lots of negativity. We all experience a negative thought or emotion towards our partners from time to time. But constant negativity is often a sign of general dissatisfaction and frustration, which can lead to urges to criticize and be judgmental. Sometimes couples thrive on relating and sharing in negativity. But more often than not, the longer a relationship maintains this type of dynamic, the more likely it becomes that the negativity eventually turns toward each other. (See “7 Tips to Help Your Relationship Get Over a Bad Day” for ways to create more positivity in your relationship).
4) Complaining about your partner to others. There are different levels to this one. People often have a close friend that they’ll go to when they need to talk about frustrations in a relationship. This can be a decent outlet at times (though ideally, being open with your partner and discussing issues together is encouraged ahead of this). However, if you’re complaining about your partner to a new friend, or a less close acquaintance, and doing this often, there may be some significant anger and resentment from your relationship. Also, if you’re complaining about your partner and confiding in someone you’re attracted to, this is also a sign that something needs to be addressed in your relationship. Individual or relationship counseling would be a recommended place to go for help.
5) Lack of Respect. Disrespect, lack of appreciation, lack of support, and others in this general category are the foundation for resentment and dissatisfaction. People often believe that because they are together that they no longer need to be conscious of showing respect when they speak to each other, or no longer need to express appreciation, or be supportive of their partner. While it can be comforting to be able to let go of all cares when we find somebody we connect with, neglecting to uphold these foundations of a healthy relationship can be catastrophic for a long-term relationship.
6) Lack of Trust. If you don’t trust your partner — if you find yourself checking their emails, following them, checking up on what they do and where they go, who they talk to, or even just wondering if they’re being faithful, etc. — there may be underlying concerns that need to be addressed.
If you’re noticing several of these coming up in your relationship, or if one specifically has caused significant tension between you and your partner, and there’s a general sense that your relationship is struggling, couples counseling could be a worthwhile consideration for help. Couples counseling is there to help couples figure out what the underlying issues are, and what’s leading to the issues, while also creating a plan to repair and move forward. It’s possible to get a struggling relationship re-balanced and back on track.
Unhappy couple photo available from Shutterstock