We all strive to have a healthy relationship with our partner, whether that means compromising, being honst, or doing small things like taking out the trash. But sometimes, couples find themselves arguing with one another, unsure of how to communicate properly and fix the issues.
No matter how solid you think you and your partner are, you will experience relationship problems. Disagreements and conflict are simply facts of life, and are certain to arise. Here are 5 of the most common sources of relationship troubles, so you can identify what’s going on and get yourselves back on track.
1. Having expectations of how you should be loved
There is a natural human desire for love and acceptance. When this desire turns into an expectation, it often leads to disappointment and demands.
Truth is, no one can love you as you want to be loved, because no other person can be you. We each love another person based on how we perceive and understand love. So your partner loves you the best they know how, given their current understanding and belief about love.
If you have expectations for how you want to be loved and feel frustrated your partner isn’t “getting it,” you are suggesting the person should know you the way you do. This is unrealistic, and a setup for the relationship to remain challenging and unfulfilling for both of you.
2. Letting your past experiences shape your ongoing beliefs about love
Both you and your partner come from different life experiences. You didn’t share the same parents, childhood experiences, or living space, so it’s natural that both of you will have different perspectives and belief systems around the way relationships “should be.”
Based on each of your unique experiences, perspectives and beliefs, you are both right and living your own truth regarding expressing loving and being in relationship. Somewhere in the middle of both of your perspectives and truths is the actual truth of how the two of you can best give and receive love and be in relationship.
To find that mid-point, you must both be willing to accept the other’s point of view and, from there, work at finding common ground. Relationships become more challenging and taxing when we resist and refuse to accept the other’s perspectives and ways.
3. Allowing your need to be right become more important than your need to be happy
One of the biggest relationship problems of all is the need to be right. This need causes power struggles, mistrust, and conflict in relationships. This need to be right has a negative impact on communication, setting and achieving relationship goals, cooperation with financial issues, and intimacy and sexual struggles.
If you need to be right above all else, your partner will feel judged, unimportant, insignificant, unloved and under-valued for who they are. What makes relationships work is when both partners align with the relationship, not themselves.
Your challenge is to see the value in your partners views and beliefs and to consider their points of view. This helps broaden your perspective of your partner’s experience, and deepens the meaning of the relationship. Doing this promotes inner happiness, and shows your partner you care about them, value their perspective, and value your relationship with them.
4. Sweeping important issues under the rug
Many relationship concerns and issues get ignored, overlooked, and buried because of the daily rush around work, raising kids and meeting other needs and obligations. These demands leave little to no time or energy for partner-to-partner discussion.
Maybe one or both of you dread confrontation and conflict, or maybe you just don’t make the time to talk things out and work through issues together.
Sweeping problems under the rug is avoidance, which only leads to bigger challenges and problems arising later on. You can only avoid an issue for so long before it shows its ugly self in the way of resentment, tension, arguments, and mistrust. As the saying goes, “What you resist will persist.”
Learn to accept and deal with issues and conflict as they happen to avoid greater conflict and hurt in the future. Use constructive problem-solving skills and seek to be proactive rather than reactive within the issue and the discussion around problem-solving it.
5. Putting your children’s needs first
As more single and divorced adults are raising children on their own, they continue to seek a suitable life partner. While dating and blending families as a couple can be a wonderful experience, it can also be challenging and difficult, full of frustration, misunderstanding, tension and resentment.
Researcher E. Mavis Hetherington, PhD found that the the divorce rate for second marriages “to be 50 percent higher in remarriages with stepchildren.” Not all blended families have the same level of complexity, and in “simple stepfamilies” (where only one partner brought a child or children to the new marriage) the overall divorce rate is 65 percent, whereas when both partners have children from previous relationships (“complex stepfamilies”) the divorce rate is slightly more than 70 percent.
There is often much resistance and struggle from the children, and a major adjustment for them. Children may feel powerless, because the blending is not their choice. This can cause greater resistance and defiance to one or both partners/parents in the relationship.
Recognizing the struggle and resistance to change in the dynamics of blending a family is vital and on-going. It’s crucial to accept the fact that each person impacted by this change, will move through it in a different way and pace. The importance of being aware of the potential of favoring your child in the relationship over your partner and his or her child is essential.
Couples should find the common ground with ways of parenting, perhaps consulting with a therapist or relationship coach, so that both children and parents feel valued and respected within the transition of blending families.
Challenges and conflict can trigger our past relationship wounds and negative beliefs about ourselves and relationship. They impact effective communication, goal-setting, creating and achieving common relationship goals, and this creates resentment, mistrust and guardedness.
Challenges and conflict are indicators that something in the relationship needs to be addressed. They aren’t bad — they are opportunities for learning and growth, both individually and as a couple. We learn and grow through engaging in our challenges and difficult times, not by avoiding them.
As you face relationship challenges, here are some important concepts to consider:
- Rather than spend all your energy and time getting your partner to understand you, seek first to understand your partner as best you can, putting yourself in their perspective and shoes.
- Listening is the most important part of healthy communication and problem-solving. Ask questions, mirror back to them what you hear, to gain greater understanding and clarity of their view. This shows you value and care about that person and their point of view.
- Seek win-win outcomes.
- Be assertive (speaking your truth with words of peace) in addressing concerns without blame.
- Identify the problem you’re having, your feelings and beliefs around it. Using “I” statements, express to your partner the problem you have and your feelings because of this, and make a request (not a demand) for what you need or don’t need to address the problem.
- Within each situation, be honest, open and willing to find the common ground between each other.
To accept and engage in our relationship challenges and conflicts is to open the door to greater possibilities, both to live and to grow.
David Schroeder, LMSW, CPC from Grand Rapids, MI., is a licensed social worker, certified life coach, and author of “Just Be Love: Messages on the Spiritual and Human Journey.” His practice, Transition Pathways, helps people find healthy pathways to love, greater awareness and higher potential.