Effective communication is key to any healthy relationship. It boggles my mind sometimes when couples come to me for relationship counselling and they inform me that they rarely see each other or talk with each other yet they cannot understand why they are having relationship problems. To this couple I ask “If you rarely see or talk to each other, how can you possibly communicate with each other about what is going on”? In most cases though, communication has shut down completely because the couple have so much anger and resentment towards each other that every attempt at talking blows up into a big fight. These couples need a relationship professional to act as a ‘referee’ until they learn how to communicate with each other effectively.
Couples may come to me and say “Our sex life is great and we do a lot of activities together but we still fight and argue so much”. I ask these couples “So during all of this great sex and fun activities, how often are the topics you talk about actually related to yourselves and your relationship”? The vast majority of couples DO NOT make time for intentional, productive conversations. Conversations like “How do you like to be supported”? “Do you feel supported by me”? “How do you feel when I do or say this and that”? Without these intentional and productive conversations, couples rely way too much on presumptions and assumptions.
Lack of trust;
A lack of trust in a relationship may stem from personal insecurities (past traumas, emotional ‘baggage’, attachment styles, etc) or from legitimate betrayals (affairs, dishonesty, etc.). When couples lack trust, they inevitably feel less safe and secure and so they are much more hypervigilant and less able to relax which are the incendiaries necessary to spark very big fights and arguments. Gaining or rebuilding trust is not always easy and one or both members of the relationship may require personal counselling/therapy in addition to the couple’s counselling/therapy.
This is related to a variety of problems from a lack of sexual compatibility, physical problems like erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation or pain during intercourse to less sex simply because there is too much built up anger, resentment and hostility between the couple. Sex and sexual intimacy are not the most important aspects of a relationship but for many couples they are extremely important. Sex helps couples to bond together and if we think of sex in terms of reinforcement, each orgasm reinforces the positivity of the experience and the person who helped bring about the orgasm.
Lack of emotional intimacy;
Just like sexual intimacy is important, so to is emotional intimacy. Emotional intimacy is about the candid, honest and authentic sharing of personal thoughts and feelings. It involves being able to tell each other your deepest fears, dreams, disappointments, and most complicated emotions, as well as feeling seen and understood when you do. Emotional intimacy is the craving for deep acceptance and occurs when couples can share their true selves which are uninfluenced and unaffected by social indoctrination, societal roles and expectations (masculinity, religious beliefs, values, etc), narcissistic defences and so on. To feel safe in vulnerability is to be first exposed and then accepted/loved after the exposure.
This can range from who earns how much to who spends how much. It is typical for couples to fight about other financial aspects relating to bills, mortgages, car repayments etc. I personally believe that if both people in the relationship are earning an income, then they are entitled to keep a portion of that income to fund their own personal endeavours, pursuits, interests, etc. How much they keep for themselves is a discussion. For single income relationships, there needs to be a civil discussion and agreement on the distribution and expenditure of the funds.
Mental health challenges and/or addictions;
When we are suffering from our own mental health challenges or addiction, it can be hard to focus on the needs of others. It can also be hard for our partners to understand our feelings, thoughts and behaviours. If you are suffering from depression for example, your partner may fail to understand why you cannot get out of bed or why you may not have the energy or motivation to go to work. Likewise, addictions can destroy relationships. Addiction is not limited to alcohol, drugs or gambling. Addiction can involve overspending and shopping or even a technology addiction. Personal and relationship therapy can help to resolve these issues.
Differences in parenting styles and dealing with in-laws;
Relationships can become unhealthy once children and in-laws get involved. Most couples will complain that they signed up for their partner but they didn’t sign up for their in-laws. Relationship problems centred around family and in-laws are very challenging as you cannot expect your partner to abandon their family just to make you feel better and vice versa. Likewise, couples may get along well until a child is born and they both realise that they have different parenting styles or expectations. It could be issues from how much love and attention to give the child or what schooling they should get. Seeking couples therapy and help the couple to unite and so tackle problems and challenging together.
As people mature, their perspective about life changes and their expectations for their future may also change. Couples are not immune to this. Some couples grow apart yet they fight to retain what is already lost. If you started a relationship agreeing with your partner that you don’t want children for example, and then 10 years later you have decided that you want children but your partner still does not, then you both need to discuss the future direction of the relationship. Growing apart is quite natural yet it often becomes bitterly personal and leads to feelings of rejection, betrayal or of being unloved or unwanted.