Relationships

Common Relationship Issues and How to Address Them

Relationships are complex, with poor communication leading to universal issues. Honesty and clear expectations are key. We are here to help you recognize signs of trouble early and seek help.

Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC By Greg Lozano, LPC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Every relationship has its own dynamics, and what works for one couple may not work for another. But even so, poor communication and other relationship issues will almost always result in mistrust, frustration, or arguments.

Living happily ever after isn’t always possible, however, some problems can be addressed through better communication. The key is to be honest with yourself and your partner, set clear expectations from the beginning, and know when to seek help. 

Why Do Relationships Fail?

Many people break up after years of being together, and the reasons are not always obvious. Sometimes, it happens even to those couples who seem to have it all figured out.

There were 689,308 divorces across the U.S. in 2021 alone. Some couples break up or divorce simply because they fall out of love. Others have more complex reasons for splitting up, such as financial problems, infidelity, or domestic violence. But, many times, it’s the little things added up that eventually ruin a relationship.

Kristina Anzell, a licensed clinical social worker at Grow Therapy, says there are a few main reasons why relationships fail. “One, the partners don’t turn towards each other in micro-moments throughout the day. When your partner says, ‘Oh, my gosh…,’ and you do not respond, that is turning away and is fracturing the relationship little by little,” explains Anzell.

“Another big reason why relationships fail is because of what Dr. Gottman calls the four horsemen. These are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling,” she added.

Other common relationship issues that can result in breakups include:

In some cases, it’s difficult to pinpoint the reason people break up because their relationship issues develop gradually over time. That’s why it’s important to acknowledge and address these problems early on rather than ignore them or hope things will get better. 

How to Address the Most Common Relationship Issues

The most common relationship problems stem from poor communication, notes Tami Zak, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist at Grow Therapy. “When arguments and fights take over a relationship, scar tissue can build up as each person lashes out trying to be understood or to get their needs met. Without repair, this can lead to worse issues in the relationship,” she added.

Unfortunately, addressing these problems isn’t always straightforward.

Let’s say your partner wants to start a business. At first, you’re excited about his initiative and show your support. But, as time goes by, he becomes fully absorbed in his work despite being unsuccessful.

The result? Wasted time and money, constant tension in the relationship, and arguments over the smallest things.

At this point, you want to tell your partner to choose a different path. Perhaps his business skills are lacking, or there’s no marketing for his product. The problem is that you may end up hurting his feelings if you mention any of these things. Sure, you could use a more subtle approach, but he might not get the point.

“The simple answer is to improve communication in the relationship and to stop the four horsemen. You must both be willing to put your weapons down,” says Zak.

Returning to the previous example, you could begin by highlighting something positive about your partner, such as their drive and motivation. This approach sets a supportive tone and helps establish a sense of good-faith.

After that, focus on the specific issue you want to address, offering constructive criticism. Remember to maintain a respectful, non-judgmental tone. End the conversation with a positive remark to encourage your partner to open up and think about what you said

Moving forward, let’s explore the most common underlying issues affecting relationships and how to address them.

Jealousy and Possessiveness

Contrary to popular belief, jealousy is not a sign of love. This feeling often stems from mistrust and possessiveness, taking a toll on relationships. 

While some jealousy is normal, too much of it can lead to unnecessary arguments, stress, and emotional self-sabotage. You can’t expect to have a healthy relationship based on love, trust, and appreciation if you’re constantly suspecting your partner of infidelity. At some point, your emotions may turn against you and distort the way you perceive your loved one.

Sometimes, jealousy may indicate an inferiority complex. For example, you may think you’re not good enough for your partner. As a result, you may suspect that he or she will eventually find happiness with someone else, which can lead to possessiveness.

One way to overcome the problem of jealousy is to focus on building a strong sense of self — and that’s where a therapist can help. Consider going to couples therapy to understand the root of your emotions and build a healthier relationship.

Loss of Physical Intimacy

Good relationships require both physical and sexual intimacy. Just because you have a healthy sex life doesn’t mean you are physically intimate with your partner.

Kissing, cuddling, hugging, and other little gestures are all forms of physical intimacy. Think about those moments when your partner touches your hair or holds your hand while watching a movie. It’s these things that bring people closer together and strengthen their bond.

A simple way to cultivate the intimacy you crave is to touch your partner more often. Cuddle in one another’s arms after dinner, hold hands when crossing the road, or put your hand on his knee while watching TV.

Chances are, your partner will respond in a similar manner — though it may take time to bring back intimacy, especially in long-term relationships.

Past Experiences

Everyone has emotional baggage, but it’s how you handle it that matters most. Your previous relationships, life experiences, and childhood memories all leave a mark.

For example, past sexual trauma can lead to trust issues, codependent behaviors, attachment problems, and a fear of intimacy. Even little things, such as being touched on the shoulder, can trigger flashbacks, making it hard to build a long-term romantic relationship.

Some people have had marriage problems, such as a cheating partner or one who left without explanation. In such cases, they may carry these problems into their new relationships without realizing it. This could mean comparing their present partners to their exes, being unable to commit to a romantic partner, acting defensively, and more.

Each of these situations requires a different approach. Honest communication can help but won’t necessarily reveal the root cause of the problem. If that’s the case, you may want to seek couples counseling and see a family therapist.

Lack of Respect

A lack of respect is one of the most common yet overlooked relationship issues. Even little things, such as name-calling and questioning your partner’s choices, are a sign of disrespect, according to the University of Alabama. Here are some other warning signs:

For example, if your partner is rude to your loved ones, that’s a sign of disrespect. The same goes when someone embarrasses you in public, gives you the silent treatment, or criticizes your appearance.

These problems are not always obvious in the early stages of a relationship. If, say, your partner is late on date nights, you may think it’s not a big deal. However, someone who is constantly late can make their partner feel unimportant or undervalued in the long run.

The best thing you can do is discuss these aspects with your partner. Be clear about what’s bothering you about his behavior and listen to what he has to say. They may not realize the impact of their actions, and simply bringing it up could make a difference.

Codependency

In a romantic relationship, it’s normal to rely on your partner, but that’s not the same as feeling as if you can’t live without their support. The latter behavior is called codependency, or relationship addition.

Codependency goes both ways, as each person involved in the relationship is reliant on the other. This behavior can take different forms, such as:

These traits are more common in individuals with low self-esteem and those coming from dysfunctional families. They usually stem from childhood experiences or past behavioral patterns, but may also develop in response to substance use disorders.

In these circumstances, it’s essential to focus on your well-being and find fulfillment outside of the relationship. For example, you could start a new hobby or spend more time with friends.

The best course of action depends on what caused this problem in the first place. If your codependency is rooted in childhood or past trauma, you may benefit from individual or group therapy.

A Difference in Priorities

Sometimes people outgrow each other or take different paths in life. Their core values may change, too, which can further impact their relationship. 

Let’s say you met your current partner while in school. Back then, both of you were on the same page regarding your life together, your careers, and other aspects. A few years later, one of you decides to focus on his career, move to a different country, or buy a house, but the other one has different priorities.

In such cases, it’s important to discuss openly with your partner so you can understand his point of view. Good communication won’t necessarily solve these issues entirely, but it may help prevent conflict and bring some clarity to the situation.

For example, a person focused on career growth may have different intimacy needs than one with a more laid-back lifestyle. That person may be too tired or too busy to engage in sexual activity, making his partner feel neglected. This behavior could easily be mistaken for cheating or disinterest.

Again, effective communication is crucial. If something seems off about your partner’s behavior, tell them about it or turn to a couples therapist for relationship advice.

What a Healthy Relationship Might Look Like 

As far as healthy relationships go, make sure your expectations are realistic, and that you have a sound understanding of the necessary relationship building blocks.

“There are seven principles that all stable, healthy relationships have. If you don’t have all seven, that’s OK! These are skills that anyone can learn. The seven principles are building love maps, shared fondness and admiration, turning towards, having a positive perspective, managing conflict, making life dreams come true, and creating a shared meaning,” says Anzell

For example, you could improve your relationship simply by showing empathy and support toward your partner. “When your partner says, ‘Oh, my gosh…,’ you should say, ‘What? What happened?’ This tells your partner, I am here, I am listening, and I care to hear what you have to say. In these micro-moments, you are building trust, which is one of the most important pieces in a healthy, stable relationship,” explains Anzell.

On a similar note, according to the University of Colorado Boulder, healthy relationships have the following in common:

As you can see, disagreements are an integral component of any relationship. You can’t expect to be on the same page with your partner at all times, and that’s perfectly fine. What matters most is to focus on problem-solving so you can reach a mutually beneficial outcome.

Setting boundaries is just as important, as it allows you to find your identity outside of the relationship and avoid codependency.

For example, it’s OK to ask your partner to give you space. Also, it’s perfectly fine to say “no” when you’re not comfortable with one thing or another.

If, say, you don’t want to share your email account with your partner, just tell him about it. Your passwords and other sensitive information are not meant to be shared with others unless you want to.

Final Thoughts 

Some relationship issues are unavoidable, but it’s how you approach them that matters. In a healthy relationship, you should feel comfortable talking with your partner and expressing your concerns.

“A healthy relationship is a place where both people are allowed to have their own feelings and thoughts and are curious about their partner’s feelings and thoughts,” explains Zak. “Growth and individual pursuits are welcome, too,” she added.

As far as conflict goes, strong communication skills will allow you to express your needs and understand your partner’s point of view. But first, you must establish a strong foundation based on trust, honesty, and respect.

With that in mind, look for a therapist specializing in couples counseling, family conflict, or women’s issues. An expert can help you see things from a different perspective and address any relationship issues before it’s too late.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
Grow Therapy therapist Gregorio (Greg) Lozano III LPC Greg Lozano, LPC

Greg Lozano is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with individuals with severe mental illnesses such as depressive, bipolar, schizophrenia, and substance abuse conditions.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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