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Relationship difficulties (couples therapy)

Good relationships are like a smooth-running car

Good relationships can be compared to the analogy of a smooth-running car. You don’t have to constantly worry about it or any potentially damaged parts, nor do you need to keep repairing it. Similarly, like a smooth-running car, good relationships enable you to enjoy your life, work and other activities beyond the relationship.

You may still have disagreements and get angry in good relationships, but you still have goodwill toward one another and resolve any conflicts at hand by talking things over, returning to a loving, enjoyable state.

Returning to the car analogy; cars require maintenance, just like relationships. It can take time and effort to maintain an intimate connection.

Warning signs

If your relationship is in trouble, it doesn’t mean that it’s not salvageable and that you can’t get the love connection back. It does, however, mean that you both need to have honest communication and may require couples counselling to help you through these difficulties.

The following list contains warning signs that your relationship may be in trouble. Each relationship issue can apply to either you or your partner. Additionally, these are common signs of co-dependent relationships; co-dependency may be the underlying issue.

  1. Inflexibility or repeated unwillingness to compromise on decisions, such as social activities, chores, moving, and having children.

  2. Selfishness or self-involvement with your own feelings and needs, without concern and support for those of your partner.

  3. Meddling by parents.

  4. Repeated deference to a friend or relative over your partner’s objection.

  5. Repeated instances of critical, undermining, blaming, sarcastic, disrespectful, or manipulative comments. This is verbal abuse.

  6. A pattern of withholding communication, affection, or sex. This is often a sign of veiled anger.

  7. Arguments or problems that don’t get resolved.

  8. Raging or name-calling.

  9. Keeping secrets.

  10. Passive-aggressive or aggressive behaviour, including shoving or breaking objects.

  11. Controlling behaviour, including giving unwanted advice, ordering, or withholding money for affordable expenses in order to control.

  12. A secret romantic relationship or pattern of flirting.

  13. Use of drugs or alcohol that impacts the relationship or work.

  14. Too much time apart if it causes your partner dissatisfaction.

  15. Persistent resentments, judgments, or disappointments.

  16. Lack of open communication generally, or communication that lacks personal content. Note that this may not be a problem for some couples with low intimacy needs, where their relationship functions well like a business partnership.

  17. Breakdown of trust. This can be caused by numerous things, such as dishonesty, using personal information against your partner, unreliability, broken promises or agreements violating personal boundaries, or infidelity.

  18. You need constant attention, validation, or reassurance – whatever’s given is never fulfilling for very long.

  19. There are subjects that are off-limits or you’re afraid to talk about.

  20. Violating personal boundaries, such as disrespecting your request to not be called at work, to not have confidential information repeated to others, to not be criticized about something, or to not read your mail.

(Lancer, 2019)

The purpose of this checklist is not to score your relationship or your partner.

It is intended to help raise issues that you may need to address personally and talk openly about with them. Many of these relationship problems revolve around lack of healthy, assertive communication — communication that is open, direct, respectful, honest, and personal.

Why do couples get into problems?

Couples typically get into problems when they are afraid to be honest.

This is usually because they think the truth will upset their partner and might jeopardise the relationship. They don’t express their hurt or to ask for the love or support they want, or they do so in a way that is critical or blaming.

People learn to communicate and problem-solve with others in their family growing up. Without good role models, some never learned how to be assertive.

Assertiveness can be learned but takes practice.

In other cases, relationship issues can be caused by an imbalance of power, where one partner attempts to dominate the other through aggression, control, or emotional or verbal abuse (Lancer, 2019).

This can be highly damaging to the relationship as well as the self-esteem of the other partner. This sort of behaviour may be more likely in a relationship with an addict or narcissist.

One partner may control the other through neediness, demands for attention or validation, or playing the victim, with the expectation that the other person makes them happy.

Fixing the issues

Having couples counselling is one of the most effective ways of figuring out how both parties can work together to rectify the issues that are damaging the relationship.

Because relationships are dynamic systems, when one partner behaves in a manner mentioned in the aforementioned list, it damages the relationship. Studies (Erol & Orth, 2014) show that if you improve your self-esteem and communication skills, the relationship improves, and the improved self-esteem of one partner increases relationship satisfaction for both.


Lancer, D., 2020. Signs of Serious Relationship Problems. [online] Available at:

Erol, R. Y. & Orth, U., 2014. “Development of self-esteem and relationship satisfaction in couples: Two longitudinal studies.” Developmental Psychology Vol. 50, No. 9, 2291-2303