For most people relationships are the most complicated, but desirable things experienced in life. Relationships can be serious, causal, or polygamous, amongst many other types of relationships. Most relationships are a serious investment of time, energy, emotions, and in many cases–lots of money.
That said, people in relationships can develop very complex problems, which to an untrained eye, can seem relatively simple, but to a good therapist, the problem(s) may be indicative of more deeply rooted issues.
Every couple experiences problems, it’s inevitably part of romantic relationships. In my experience as a therapist, some issues are much more common than others.
Below are some of the most common relationship problems (in no particular order) and how to solve them:
Lack of communication– Often when problems arise, instead of talking about whatever the problem may be, couples tend to bottle up their thoughts and emotions. And in doing so, partners begin to behave in ambiguous ways which leave each other confused and end up leading to arguments about situations and/or points that neither partner is trying to make.
How to fix it: couples must be upfront about whatever is on their mind. Nobody can read your mind. And if you don’t talk about the issues at hand, how can you reasonably expect them to be resolved? I know it isn’t easy for everyone to express themselves, but that is the only way to let your partner know how you feel. Be upfront (and respectful) and your partner will respond to your needs.
Ineffective communication–sometimes lack of communication isn’t the problem, it’s the way that couples communicate which causes the issues in the relationship. There are two categories of emotions: primary emotions and secondary emotions.
Primary emotions are those deep inner emotions that people rarely ever share with their significant other such as feelings of fear, inadequacy, rejection, or jealousy. Secondary emotions are the emotions we use to avoid expressing the deeper, more vulnerable emotions like anger, contempt, and yes, even happiness can sometimes be used as a decoy for a person’s real emotional experiences.
How to fix it: be honest with your partner (and yourself) about how you feel, because I’m pretty sure the petty arguments you’ve been having with your significant other haven’t made you feel any better. Overexpression of secondary emotions lead to confusion and cause couples to distance themselves from each other.
Extreme pettiness–everyone is petty at times, it’s human nature. It’s because we all have certain expectations in relationships, and when our significant other doesn’t behave in accordance with our expectations, it feels as if a personal rule has been broken. And naturally, when our personal rules are broken, we think we need to get even.
The problem is that our personal rules are often unspoken, and aren’t always reasonable which causes them to present themselves as pettiness to our partner. For instance, you may have an unspoken personal rule that if I cook, he has to wash the dishes. So, when he doesn’t wash dishes after you cooked, you just don’t cook for an entire month all because he broke that personal rule you had. This is classic pettiness and can be very harmful in relationships.
How to fix it: relinquish your need to prove yourself or stick to your guns, and ask yourself is the situation really worth the conflict or is it all about principle? Now, I’m not suggesting that you put up what whatever your partner does to avoid confrontation. However, the eye-for-an-eye method is not always the best way to solve issues. Sometimes a mature, levelheaded conversation will do the trick.
Not looking at things from their perspective– when you are in a committed relationship, you are basically fusing lives with someone else. But that doesn’t mean they have to look at every situation the same way you see it. When we don’t allow our partner to think for themselves, we increase the likelihood of fights and tension within the relationship. It is virtually impossible to agree with anyone on everything; therefore, it is foolish to expect your significant other to be the exception.
How to fix it: be open to disagreements, and resist the urge to view differences as a personal attack or disloyalty. Just because someone is in a relationship with you doesn’t mean that they’re no longer entitled to their own opinion. Try to see where the other person is coming from first and if that doesn’t work, attempt to come to a compromise, or if possible, drop the issue altogether.
Infidelity— If this list were in ranked order, infidelity would be at the top of the list. Infidelity is probably the most damaging and common serious relationship issue. For many people, infidelity is absolutely unforgivable. In my experience as a therapist, it isn’t so much the act of having sex with another person that causes the most pain; after all, it’s likely your partner wasn’t a virgin before you came along. It’s more so the breach of trust that makes cheating so unforgivable. Often people cheat to have their needs fulfilled in ways in which their part does not (or can not).
How to fix it: for starters, if you’re having an affair, you need to end it immediately. Next, decide what it is that you’re getting out of the affair that is worth risking your relationship. If it is something that your partner cannot provide, be honest with them and let them decide whether they want to take you back after the affair. At the end of the day, you must be honest about what happened and put the ball in their court to decide whether they want to continue the relationship. And if you’re contemplating having an affair, weigh the pros and cons of cheating on your partner, and the pros and cons of not cheating. If the pros of cheating outweigh the cons, you must respect your partner enough to end the relationship. If the cons of cheating prevail, be honest with your mate and ask them to accommodate your wishes. Doing so puts the ball in their court on whether the relationship should continue.
Double standards–this relationship problem could probably go under each of the problems I already listed. But double standards are truly a problem of its own. Double standards are inequalities in relationship behaviors and expectations. In other words, I can do it but you can’t, or it’s worse if you do something than if I were to. Double standards often leave partners feeling cheated–both literally and figuratively. I once treated a client that thought it was fair for her to spend frivolously, while her husband had to follow a strict budget to save money for bills. I have also had clients habitually cheat on their partner, who were completely distraught by the very thought of their partner doing the same, yet they never stopped cheating!
How to fix it: As a marriage and family therapist, one of the most fundamental concepts that I reinforce with my clients is that empathy is a major key to happiness in relationships. You have really have to be able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes, and be honest with yourself (and your partner) and treat them fairly. It is not enough to treat people as you would want to be treated, you actually have to put yourself in their position, and ask yourself if I were in their position what would I think is fair. And if you get lost in doing that, here’s a hint: most likely they’ll tell you what they think is fair if you ask.