Relationships are complex. They can be utterly wonderful, truly awful and everything in-between. It doesn’t matter how much you love your partner, no relationship will work without effort from both sides. In fact, you may have put so much effort into your relationship that if it hits stormy waters, neither party wants to admit it.
It is very common for couples to simply ignore relationship problems when the first signs appear, and this is done for a number of reasons. Perhaps it is easier to sweep the issue under the carpet and hope it will simply disappear. Maybe you know that the issue marks the beginning of the end of your relationship, and that is too painful. Many couples will ignore relationship problems to keep up appearances. Whether it be for your family, friends, work colleagues, or most importantly, your children.
Sometimes the warning signs of a relationship in trouble are simply missed because life is too busy for you to stop and recognise them. That is, until they get to a point where they are bigger and much harder to resolve.
Whatever the reason, for a happy, healthy relationship you need to know the warning signs that things are not right. Then, of course, you need to take-action to resolve them and move forward as a couple or a family.
In this article we will run you through some warning signs to look out for that may suggest your relationship needs some attention.
SIGNS THAT YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS NOT WORKING
Keep up the communication
Communication breakdowns are one of the top reasons couples divorce, so keeping the conversation with your partner healthy and flowing is vitally important. There are lots of signs that suggest your communication style is detrimental to your relationship. Directive language such as ‘you should’ and ‘you are’ points the finger and instigates defence and arguments. Sweeping or universal statements using words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’ can be offensive and negative. Opening a conversation on a positive note, giving everyone time to get their point across and showing you have listened to them will allow respect to enter the arena and keep your communication on-track.
Don’t cover old ground
Every relationship has issues that need to be worked through. No two people can agree on everything. Without give and take in a relationship it is unlikely you will not make it past the first year. What you need to watch for is that you are not disagreeing about the same issues repetitively. Firstly, this means that you have been unable to resolve the issue. Secondly, it each time you bring the problem up you are manifesting it i.e. making it bigger. Consider if there is a theme to your disagreements and chat to your partner about finding a solution. Resolving old ground will allow space for peace and happiness in your relationship.
Do a criticism check
If you are observing a couple with relationship difficulties, you will often see one or both people put the other down, often in a cruel manner. This can happen so regularly that they are actually unaware they are doing it! It is often the symptom of an asymmetric relationship where the couple does not feel they are equal to one another. One person may have low self-esteem and feel their partner is better than them so they critisize them to equal the balance. Or it may work the other way i.e. one person feels they are better than their partner and tries to show it with repetitive disapproval. Being in a relationship means being on the same team and you should be encouraging and supporting one another.
Focusing on your children
All too often children can be unintentionally used as a scapegoat in a failing marriage. Some couples grow so far apart but manage to mask it by their one shared interest .. the kids. Consider your recent conversations with your partner. Do you talk about each other or shared interests, or do you discuss your children? At meal times do you focus on one another or do you make your children the centre of attention? Recognising this warning sign early means you can break the habit you are unwittingly creating and you can pivot your relationship back towards one another.
Watch the body language
Body language will tell you a lot about the state of your relationship. Even if you have moved-on from the ‘touchy-feely’ honeymoon stage, all relationships should still have some physical closeness. Think about how you say hello and goodbye to one another and whether you are affectionate. Just surveying a simple conversation with you partner will reveal a lot. Do you look and listen to one another respectfully or do you feel ignored? Negative body language can include a furrowed brow, crossed arms, clenched fists or eye-rolling. Such actions are acceptable, but if they become regular it is not conducive to marital bliss.
Lack of physical affection
Similar to body language, lack of physical affection in a relationship is a clear warning sign that something is wrong. Humans crave the touch of another human and expect it from the partner we have chosen. Physical intimacy brings couples closers and allows them to bond better. It is a way of showing that you love one another. Plus, it can bring you back together after a disagreement or the general stresses of life. Lack of physical affection is an elephant in the room for some couples and can be the sole cause of a relationship breakdown.
Is there emotional abuse?
Physical abuse is something we can see but emotional abuse is silent tormentor. Emotional abuse is the control of situations by verbally and psychologically mistreating someone. It can precede violence, is common in both sexes and the abuser is often not aware they are doing it. Actions such as threats, jealously, judging, invalidating feelings and name-calling are some of the signs of emotional abuse. Even something as simple as the ‘silent treatment’ is considered emotional abuse. We use words, sentiment and intuition on a daily basis to get what we want, but consider whether it has entered your relationship in an unhealthy way.
Self-medication is never the way
One of the easiest ways for people to mask emotional pain is with self-medication of alcohol or drugs. Often people who self-medicate are trying to manage depression, anxiety or resentment. In a failing a relationship, self-medication is a typical way to keep up the pretense that all is well, when clearly it is not. Whether it is you or your partner, the signs are the new or increased use of drugs or alcohol, prescription drugs included. It is important to recognise that self-medication is simply masking the problem, it is a short-term solution that will likely have a long-term negative effect for both in your relationship and for health. If you or your partner is self-medicating we suggest visiting your GP to help manage the issue. Once your head is clearer you will be more focused and more able to deal with relationship difficulties.