There are times when all relationships come under strain and things don’t go as smoothly as hoped. Although we are inundated with Hollywood films and fairy-tales presenting a relationship ideal of happily ever after, in the real world this is not always the case.
Relationships off screen are complicated and often require a great deal of work and compromise between two individuals. Communication is considered vital for strong relationships, but in our busy lives this can easily be lost and as a result other problems begin to emerge.
All couples will experience ups and downs, but if you are really unhappy in your relationship or marriage, it is important to know when to address the issues you are facing and where to get help. If you believe your relationship is worth fighting for, but you have reached a roadblock with your significant other, considering couples counselling could be the best option.
This page will explore relationship issues in more depth, looking into the signs of relationship problems and how couples counselling can help.
Is my relationship in trouble?
It is only natural for relationships to hit rough patches every now and then, and most of the time couples are able to effectively deal with any issues that arise. However sometimes the challenges couples face can be too difficult to overcome, and they begin to take a toll on the relationship as well as the health and well-being of both individuals. If you are experiencing relationship problems that are causing you to feel alienated from your partner, alone and unable to see a resolution, it could be time to get help.
Recognising that your relationship or marriage is in trouble can be harder than it sounds. If you have been with your partner for a long time, you may have resigned yourself to the fact that 'nothing will ever change'. It may be the case that one of you sees problems where the other does not. As time goes on separation may seem the only option, but in many cases relationships can be saved with the right help. Acknowledging that there is a problem is an important first step to resolving it, allowing you and your partner to reconnect and strengthen bonds.
Signs of relationship problems
There are many possible warning signs of relationship problems which indicate that you and your partner may require help. If you are questioning your relationship, take a look at the following to establish whether you need to consider couples counselling:
Abuse is a stark sign that a relationship is unhealthy and occurrences of physical and sexual abuse should be immediately acted upon. Emotional abuse, although not physically hurtful, can be just as serious and can leave someone feeling impoverished by their partner. If spending time with your partner is making you feel worthless, on edge, unattractive or incapable, it may well be worth seeking help.
If you or your partner are deliberately avoiding issues within your relationship rather than discussing them, it could be a sign of more severe problems. Failing to address any conflict or disagreements for the sake of a 'quiet life' can have the opposite effect - especially as unresolved relationship issues can leave both partners feeling angry, disappointed and frustrated.
A codependent relationship is where one partner bases their self-esteem, self-confidence and happiness on the other - relying on them to feel good about themselves and provide a sense of worth. Being too dependent on your partner is unhealthy for you both. It can lead to feelings of frustration and resentment, and will ultimately lead to arguments and conflict down the road.
If you or your partner are hiding things from each other, it is highly likely that the relationship will suffer. Honesty and openness are crucial to a happy relationship so it is important that you both recognise deceit as a problem and as something that needs to be addressed if you want to move forward.
Are you troubled by past experiences which are making it hard for you to trust those close to you - especially your partner? Alternatively, are you feeling increasingly frustrated and hurt by your partner's constant questioning as a result of their inability to trust? Having trust issues can significantly impact a relationship and could lead to further complications in the future if they are not resolved.
Common problems in relationships
While every relationship is different, there tends to be a common set of relationship issues that are addressed in couples counselling. The following areas will give you greater insight into the topics that can be discussed and explored with a counsellor to help resolve problems in relationships.
Addictions - Substance abuse, sex addiction, Internet addiction and gambling addiction can be devastating for a relationship. Addiction typically requires its own approach, but in many cases couples counselling addresses this issue as an underlying cause of relationship issues.
Affairs - An affair is perhaps one of the biggest problems that any couple will have to face, and for some this kind of betrayal cannot be resolved. For those who feel the relationship is worth saving, couples counselling can help them to understand the motivations and underlying issues that led to the betrayal. Counsellors will also focus on rebuilding a sense of trust to help couples move forward.
Communication problems - At the heart of all relationships is communication, so when this falters it can lead to problems. Couples counselling will work on building a good line of communication in a relationship - helping couples to reconnect and improve understanding.
Marriage issues - Whether you are having pre-nuptial concerns, or are considering separation or divorce, these life-changing events can affect you both significantly. Sometimes talking your worries through can help you when making such big decisions.
Cultural issues - Cross cultural relationships can entail a unique set of difficulties, ranging from a difference in religion to language barriers. Coming together to discuss this openly, without judgement or bias can be a useful exercise.
Family issues - These refer to all things family - whether you and your partner differ in parenting styles, or there is conflict between yourself and another family member. The way we relate to our family can also be influential in the way we relate within relationships. These patterns can be explored further in couples counselling.
Work-life balance - It is common for the strains of everyday life to affect a relationship. Failing to maintain a healthy work-life balance can be a source of contention between couples, especially when children are involved. While it can be difficult to keep everyone happy, discussing your concerns with each other is a great start to resolving such issues.
Causes of relationship issues
There are many reasons why problems in relationships develop. Certain patterns and situations can impact the way couples communicate with each other, such as stress, past experiences and life changes. Below we explore some of the most common causes of relationship problems:
Personal issues, work pressures, and demands of parenting can leave less time for nurturing our close relationships. For relationships and marriage to remain strong and go the distance, couples need to regularly spend time together doing things, talking about shared interests, while making plans for the future. Research shows relationships thrive when couples have a genuine friendship, therefore if this connection is neglected - for whatever reason - the relationship or marriage is likely to suffer.
Conflict is a key relationship issue that tends to occur when one partner feels misunderstood, misjudged, or criticised for how they behave, or because of their particular needs and wants. In many cases conflict begins early on in the relationship when couples are aware of their differences but assume one or the other will change as time goes on. This is rarely the case and as the relationship progresses this conflict can become more challenging - making it difficult for couples to enjoy being together and causing a lot of pain, resentment, frustration and anger.
Significant life transformations such as having a baby, children leaving home or going through the menopause can disrupt the balance in any relationship. Although these are milestones the majority of couples will experience, many are unprepared for the challenges that come with them and find it hard to adjust. Likewise, times of crisis such as redundancy, miscarriage, death or infertility can put couples under a lot of strain, but while some grow stronger as they discover new respect for each other during difficult times, others may become distant - unable to cope with the changes.
A diagnosis of a serious illness such as multiple sclerosis, depression or dementia can greatly impact a relationship - especially if the partner who's sick requires full time care. As well as a dramatic change in relationship structure, feelings towards each other may also be affected. The partner with the illness may no longer feel the way he or she did before the illness and their partner may not know how to handle or cope with these changes. Even the strongest of relationships can come under strain as both partners feel out of control, helpless and trapped by a life changing diagnosis.
Trauma, unhealthy past relationships and problems from childhood can lead to relationship issues as the emotional pain and memories will affect how a person behaves and thinks in the present. Someone with such experiences will be particularly hypersensitive to any situation that reminds them of what they have been through. For example, being sexually abused can lead to intimacy issues later on, while being cheated on in a previous relationship can lead to trust issues and insecurities in a new one.
When is the right time to seek relationship help?
Generally only you can determine when your relationship may need outside help and support. If you have noticed signs of relationship problems and have tried and failed to address them as a couple, then couples counselling may be a useful step. You may have reached a stage where divorce or separation seem like the only option, or perhaps you are finding it difficult to move on from a betrayal which is eating away at your ability to be intimate with your partner.
Other factors which could suggest it’s the right time to seek relationship help include:
- Talking causes confusion or unbearable anger and frustration.
- Arguments occur daily and bickering is endless.
- Desire has gone or sex is no longer enjoyable.
- You or your partner are physically abusive.
How can couples counselling help?
As briefly aforementioned, couples counselling involves discussing relationship issues and helping couples to understand the reasons for these and how to work together to resolve them and move forward. The term 'couples counselling' suggests both partners attend a session with a counsellor, but it can be undertaken separately if that feels more comfortable.
Ultimately couples counselling provides a safe and supportive space for couples to come together to be open about their personal values and beliefs and explore each others' differences. Listening to each other allows for deeper understanding and renewed connection.
To find out more about this type of therapy, please visit our couples counselling fact-sheet.
What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?
Whilst there are no official rules and regulations in position that stipulate what level of training and experience a counsellor dealing with couples issues needs, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in relationship counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.