Relationship anxiety - do you have doubts?

1. You feel you don’t talk anymore
2. You feel your partner doesn’t understand you
3. You feel resentful that responsibilities aren’t shared equally
4. Your sex life is unsatisfactory
5. You feel mistrustful or let down
6. You feel there’s a problem but aren’t sure what it is
7. You feel you can’t be honest

Is your relationship in trouble? Sometimes it’s obvious, for example in the case of an affair or betrayal. Sometimes, however, it’s less obvious. Maybe you’re not quite sure what’s wrong. Perhaps you have a niggling doubt? How could you tell if it’s a real problem?

7 signs your relationship may be in trouble

If you resonate with at least two of the above, I suggest you take early action to address your relationship.

Why early action can avoid a breakdown

Road bumps are common when driving. We encounter the odd one or two potholes along the road, and continue our journey. No harm is done, but if we continue along the same rocky road, eventually we damage the chassis, the under-frame on which everything else sits. In time, we’re looking at a wrecked car.

It’s the same with a relationship. All partnerships go through ups and downs. Modern life is testing. Work pressure can be unrelenting. Children can bring stress as well as joy. There is pressure to comply with an idealised version of coupledom. So, it's normal to worry - 'am I in the right relationship, am I getting the support I need?'. However, if the frequency of these questions provokes the feeling of being on the rocky road then early action to prevent things getting worse is only sensible. If it was our car, we'd want it looked at by a competent mechanic.

It's not a failure to seek help. With the right support, it's possible to get back on track. As a therapist specialising in relationships, my observation is that the sooner a perceived problem is addressed, the easier it is to fix.

How to find the right help

So how do you find someone to help? Since you're reading this, you already know about directory listings. Your next challenge is to find a counsellor's profile that you like. It might sound obvious, but my advice would be to take your relationship issue to someone who specialises in relationships. If I had a heart problem, I'd want to see a cardiologist. Similarly, if it was a skin problem, I'd want to see a dermatologist. Secondly, I suggest you set aside gender as a basis for choice; it's the individual fit that's important. As evidenced by numerous research studies, the most important thing in all therapy is the relationship between the client and the therapist. Having found a therapist whose qualifications and style you like, arrange an introductory session. In a nutshell, take early action and find someone professionally qualified who you think you connect with.

What can you do now?

Meanwhile, here are the three main things to focus on while you find your relationship therapist - communication, communication, and communication! Importantly, we all need to understand that communication isn't straightforward. The message transmitted and the message received are often very different; not surprisingly so, since they’re filtered through context, personal beliefs and meanings, history, and cultural associations.

Jack and Meg were driving home when the conversation went:

Meg: Are you hungry?

Jack: No.

Meg: You’re so selfish!

Jack: Oh, do you want to stop?

Meg: You never listen to me.

You can probably guess how the rest of the conversation went. If we were working with theory, we could then deconstruct the dialogue, examining the specific words said, the episode, the context in their relationship, and possible cultural associations such as men's and women's associations with food. On a more practical level, when communicating take time to calmly explore, question, clarify, and understand. If Jack's first response had been, 'Why, are you hungry?', the drive would have been a lot more pleasant. Don't challenge and defend. Set time aside to talk. When relationships stall it’s usually because there's an unmet need. Remember it can't be met unless it's known.

Important things to think about

While waiting for your first meeting with your prospective counsellor, it would be helpful to think through some of the 'warning signs' at the beginning of this article.

Why don't you talk anymore? Is it the case that the openness or frequency of talking has decreased, or has it never been as you would like it? Perhaps one of you is more communicative and more at ease in expressing emotion. Perhaps one party perceives the other as somewhat needy, and the other is seen as more distant. This is quite often the case in relationship difficulties, leading to rows characterised by 'flee and pursue', with one person wanting to get away while the other wants to thrash things out. Recognising these styles and where they come from can have a dramatic effect.

If your partner doesn't understand you, why do think that's the case? Are they simply less emotionally attuned or do you feel they don't want to make the effort? There's a big difference. As importantly, do you make the effort to understand your partner? How do they experience you? Could they see you as a bit 'clingy' or a bit 'detached'? How self-aware are you? When Tony and Jacqui came to therapy, he said she was 'a bit needy'. She said she was only needy when her needs weren't met!

The distribution of household chores is a common fault line. Sad to say, it's generally we men who don't pick up a fair share of the burden. There's no excuse for that. If it's an issue, it needs to be raised. If it isn't, resentment will only build.

Physical intimacy allows the expression of emotional intimacy. This can be especially meaningful where words don't come easily. If physical intimacy is an issue, it needs to be addressed. If it's a problem, can you have an open discussion about it? If not, my suggestion is that you definitely should seek help. Sex promotes closeness – feelings of connectedness and well-being. Its absence can have the opposite effect.

Feelings of mistrust often figure in creaking relationships. In the case of an affair, it can take a long time to regain trust, but it is possible to rebuild it. For that to happen, two issues need to be addressed. First, affairs always happen for a reason. Establishing 'why' is key. Second, the 'abandoning partner' needs to fully understand the emotional impact on the 'injured partner' and express genuine contrition. The process can take time.

Sometimes there is doubt and uncertainty which is non-specific. Some people struggle with committing to a relationship because it closes off the possibility of other avenues. How do I know this is the right path compared with an undetermined number of potential other ones? They struggle with the existential issue that all choices involve a loss. Getting a better handle on what is the doubt is the starting-point - working out whether it's something real and, if so, whether it's important.

To question oneself on any of the above issues is a challenge. It requires honesty. It requires self-awareness. Can you be honest? Do you really know what's wrong, but it's too painful to go there? A good place to begin is to ask yourself what you want from going to see a relationship counsellor. What would be a good outcome and what could you do to achieve it? What ownership can you take? Almost certainly, you'll be asked that question in your first counselling session. So, beginning to think about it will accelerate the process. If your partner can begin to address the same question, so much the better – with the added bonus of getting communication on a better footing. Somehow, we always come back to communication.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Written by Brian Appleby, MA (Relationship Therapy), MA (Econ), MLitt (Econ), MBACP
London W1G & W4

Brian has a private practice in Harley Street, providing individual and couple counselling. He trained with Relate and has an MA with Distinction in Relationship Therapy. Before becoming a therapist he worked in change management in international corporations. He believes the client-therapist relationship is fundamental to successful outcomes.

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