17 Of The Most Common And Harmful Relationship Problems

How often during the week do you find yourself irritated, frustrated, or in outright conflict with that special someone in your life?

Do relationship problems seem to plague you and undermine your calm and happiness?

It seems we can't coexist with our partners without the inevitable misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and disagreements. It's a natural part of the human experience to have relationship struggles.

Most of the time when we have relationship issues, our knee-jerk reaction is to blame the other person. We view our partner as the one responsible for our wounded feelings and reactions. It's his or her bad behavior and thoughtlessness that pushes our buttons and creates drama.

What are common relationship problems? They include:

  • Communication style differences
  • Poor conflict resolution
  • Day-to-day stressors
  • Children and parenting styles
  • Money and finances
  • Power struggles
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Differences in sexual needs

In this article, you'll learn:

Communication is a top relationship problem.

Ask any couple where things begin to fall apart for them, and you'll likely hear that communication is the culprit. This is good place to start when trying to fix your relationship.

Difficulty communicating is often cited as the #1 challenge couples face in their relationship, and if it seems like you and your partner speak two different languages, you’re definitely not alone.

We have a hard time expressing our needs, feelings, insecurities, and frustrations without our conversations devolving into acrimony and accusations.

We fall short when it comes to healthy communication because we get tripped up by our past wounds and the hot buttons that make us clam up, respond defensively, or say things we later regret.

Maybe you and your partner have stopped really communicating altogether. You’re like two ships passing in the night, afraid to talk openly and honestly because you fear an argument. 

When we get stuck in these negative communication patterns, it’s hard to move past the hurt and frustration to see how revitalizing healthy communication is to your relationship and how easily you can learn the skills if you put your mind to it.

Healthy communication skills are essential for resolving conflict and reducing misunderstandings and future problems between you.

So what are healthy communication skills? They include:

Active Listening

With active listening, you are focused on what your partner is saying both verbally and non-verbally.

You aren't distracted or focused on anything else except your partner.

You aren't thinking about your rebuttal or how you want to respond. You are fully focused on what your partner wants to communicate while listening empathically.

Personal Responsibility

You take responsibility for your part in any misunderstanding or miscommunication. “I wasn't listening earlier when you told me you wouldn't be here for dinner. I'm sorry.”

You don't defend or deflect but rather acknowledge where you need to listen or communicate better.

Using “I Feel” Statements

Rather than blaming your partner and shaming them for words or behavior you don't like, you let your partner know how the behavior impacts you.

“I feel embarrassed when you tease me in front of our friends.” “I feel hurt and unloved when you forget our anniversary.”

This allows your partner to empathize without feeling attacked or undermined.

Asking Open-Ended Questions

Invite your partner to fully express how he or she is feeling or thinking by asking questions that require a fuller answer.

You might say something like, “Tell me more about that,” or “How did that make you feel?”

These open-ended questions show that you are engaged and interested in what your partner has to say.

Reflecting Back

Repeat back what you heard your partner say and what you think he or she is trying to communicate to you.

Often what you hear isn't exactly what your partner is wishing to express. Reflecting back gives your partner the opportunity to clarify and shows that you are truly interested in understanding him or her.

sad man sitting on sofa relationship problems

Using Collaborative Language

It may seem like it's just the two of you involved in communicating, but the most important entity in the room is your relationship.

Rather than trying to be the “winner” or the “right” person in a conversation, work together ensure the relationship comes out on top.

Your relationship will suffer if you both are just fighting for yourselves. Always put the relationship first.

How can our relationships flourish in this era of non-stop stress?  Stress can kill your joy, optimism, motivation, and health.  No wonder it can cause relationship problems too! 

Taking Time-Outs When Anger Erupts

If your conversations start to go south, and one or both of you gets defensive, hurt, or angry, take a break to calm down.

Don't undermine healthy communication by allowing negative feelings to simmer and even explode. Revisit the conversation when both of you are in the right frame of mind.

17 Signs of Relationship Problems And How To Fix Them

Check out this list of relationship problems and choose one to begin working on now:

1. Chronic Stress

Symptoms of chronic stress include addiction, angry outbursts, overeating, disturbed sleep, crying, headaches, anxiety, and depression.  None of these make for an intimate relationship, do they?  It’s difficult to foster a loving ambiance when you’re wound up and ready to burst or worn down to the bones.

Worldwide divorce rates are soaring, ranging between 39% and 68% in countries with the highest number of final separations.  There’s no question that stress is a factor in pulling couples apart.

2. Criticism

Do you constantly criticize your partner, or does he or she constantly criticize you? Criticism can erode the closeness between a couple and cause one partner to feel contempt for or fear of the other.

Harsh criticism has no place in a healthy love relationship. You can learn to express frustrations or request behavior changes without slinging hurtful remarks.

3. Contempt

Contempt is one of the biggest predictors of divorce according to marriage expert, Dr. John Gottman.

Contempt shows a lack of respect for your partner and communicates that you think your partner isn't worthy.

If you notice contempt sneaking into your words or expressions (or those of your partner), you need to address this issue before it does serious damage to your relationship.

4. Unrealistic Expectations

Most of us enter a romantic relationship with fairytale visions of a “happily ever after” life.

We think our partners are perfect and will meet all of our emotional, physical, and psychological needs.

If you want to be happy in your relationship, you must manage your expectations of your partner and accept that he or she is human and flawed.

Related: 15 Signs of Emotional Detachment In A Relationship

5. Financial Differences

If one of you is a spender and the other a saver, you can reach an impasse when it comes to your financial life together.

Or if one partner tries to control the finances or doesn't include the other in financial decisions, it creates an inequity that will chip away at trust and respect.

6. Child-Rearing Differences

Having children can completely change the dynamic of an otherwise happy relationship. Children add stress to a marriage in the best circumstances.

If you and your partner aren't on the same page about child-rearing and discipline, the stress might get overwhelming and start to pull you apart.

7. Jealousy

If one of you is constantly jealous of the other — whether it relates to the opposite sex, your careers, or time spent with friends — it can cause a lot of tension and unhappiness.

Jealousy reflects insecurity and selfishness and has no place in a loving, supportive relationship.

8. Sexual Incompatibility

Your sexual relationship plays a huge part in your overall relationship satisfaction.

If you are sexually incompatible, and you can't find a way to compromise and satisfy one another, your emotional intimacy will suffer as a result.

9. Lack of Trust

Can you trust your partner to be dependable, honest, and forthright? Do you worry your partner might cheat on you or flirt with other people?

You must be able to trust one another completely in all areas of your life together. Secrets, dishonesty, and lack of reliability put your relationship on rocky ground.

10. Lack of Emotional Intimacy

Being able to talk openly and honestly with your partner and confide in him or her without fear are signs of emotional intimacy. So are affection, playfulness, acceptance and mutual sharing.

Without this intimacy, your relationship lacks the bond and close connection necessary for it to thrive.

couple walking street relationship problems

11. Constant Arguing

Do you and your partner fight far too often? Does it seem like you never resolve one argument before the next one begins?

This constant negative tension erodes the closeness between you and causes anxiety for everyone in your household.

12. Withdrawal

Is your partner regularly pulling away to be on his or her own? Or do you find yourself withdrawing so you don't have to spend much time with your partner?

Putting this distance between you reflects a deeper problem that needs to be resolved. You can't have a good relationship if you don't spend time together.

13. Not Prioritizing the Relationship

If you and your partner are more focused on your own needs and priorities above the health of the relationship, you are weakening the foundation of your connection.

The health of the relationship must be your first priority. You both must put “we” before “me.”

14. Emotional Abuse

There are many signs of emotional abuse that you need to be aware of so that it doesn't infect your relationship.

When one partner is controlling, manipulative, verbally abusive, passive-aggressive, and threatening, the relationship will never flourish.

These unhealthy patterns must be addressed and stopped before they destroy the love you have for each other.

15. Addiction

If you are your partner struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, or if one of you is addicted to work, sex, gambling or shopping, this problem will dominate your lives together.

You can't have a healthy, happy connection when addiction is in the mix.

16. Power Struggles

Having power struggles makes it feel as though you and your partner are constantly at odds, trying to defend your own turf and get your own needs met. Your egos are getting in the way of the health of your relationship.

These power struggles over money, time, freedom, space, or anything else reflect that you aren't prioritizing the relationship.

17. Boredom

Boredom can sometimes be a sign that one or both of you has stopped trying. You've lost interest in each other and in your lives together.

Related: 49 Hobbies For Couples Who Want To Have Fun

Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix if you are motivated to repair the relationship. You can find many ways to make your lives together more interesting and exciting.

Other Common Relationship Problems

Every relationship is different, and the problems you experience as a couple often reflect your childhood experiences, past relationships, and internal struggles.

We tend to work through our emotional baggage within our love relationships, and they can become the learning laboratory for personal growth and self-awareness for those willing to view them that way.

Here are a few additional problems you might recognize that can impact your connection:

  • Issues with in-laws and extended family
  • Mental health struggles like depression and anxiety
  • Co-dependency
  • Lack of boundaries
  • Irritation with personal habits or behaviors
  • Religious differences
  • Disliking the other's friends
  • Neediness
  • Trying to change the other
  • Too much time spent with digital devices

Steps to Solve Relationship Problems

Step 1.  Identify Your Stress Triggers

When you identify and acknowledge your stress triggers, you start to regain control over your life.  Once you know your stress triggers, you can examine them one at a time and decide to: 

Change yourself;

Change the situation;

Or, perceive the situation differently.

You’ll have individual stress triggers — like a challenging boss or financial concerns — as well as triggers that set you off as a couple.  

Choose a quiet time when you’ll be free from distraction.  Sit down together and individually make a list of your top five stressors.  Then individually make a list of your top five relationship stressors.  

sad woman relationship problems

When you’re done, share some or all of them with each other in an honest, caring, and authentic way.  Brainstorm ways you can help each other respond differently or change a situation that’s triggering stress.

Making modifications will take time.  So go easy.  Decide on one thing you want to change and just start there.  When you accomplish the first one, move on to the next.

This level of honest communication can be scary at first, but I think you’ll find it’s so worth it.  

Step 2.  Be Honest with Yourself

You can’t be authentic with another human being if you aren’t already honest with yourself.  Often, we live in a state of reaction and don’t take time to look at our own feelings, wishes, and needs.  So much stress arises when we’re not in tune with and true to ourselves.

Take the time you need to get to know yourself.  This might involve journaling, drawing, meditation, walking in nature, talking with a good friend, or taking a course on your own.  Allow your partner time for self-reflection so she can really come to know her true self too.  

Feeling like you have to hide your real feelings and wishes only create distrust and unease and will eventually wear away your relationshipAuthenticity is the only true foundation for a healthy relationship.

Step 3. Engage in Mini Check-Ins

Don’t be like trains passing at high speed.  Say a real “hello” to your partner every day.  

Otherwise, unexpressed feelings and concerns tend to brew within and then pop out in unhealthy ways – like irritation, withdrawal, or insecurity. 

It’s can be easy to pick up on the energy of the unspoken and unconsciously react in terse or unkind ways.  That can then spiral into more inter-personal distress.

So find your own best ways to ask your partner:

  • How are you doing?
  • How are you feeling?
  • How was your day?

Then listen.  It’s easier to be supportive when you know where your partner is at.

You don’t have to fix your partner’s problems. Listening itself can be a significant healing force.  

Opening the door to communication with these gentle questions will let the steam out before stress and pressure build to frightening proportions. 

Step 4.  Regular Planning Sessions

Hold regular sessions to plan out your life together.   These are valuable times to confer with each other. 

You can discuss your personal and collective visions – the big picture – as well as all the practical things that need to be coordinated from house repairs to phone calls to shopping lists.

Schedule a planning session at least once a month, but twice a month is even better.  Regular planning sessions will keep you on the same page, shield you from unexpected surprises, and ensure that resentments don’t build up.

Step 5.  Express Gratitude

Too often we focus on what we don’t like in our relationship instead of celebrating all the goodness that’s there.  It’s easy to get nit-picky and bicker about the small things, isn’t it? 

Gratitude, on the other hand, is a powerful way to keep your relationship steady and bright.  Research has shown that cultivating gratitude can lead to greater happiness, more optimism, a reduction in physical symptoms, and lower levels of depression and stress.  

Don’t let a day go by without expressing appreciation to your partner.  Let her know how much you enjoy being together and express gratitude for all the small things that often go unnoticed.  Try out these phrases to get started.

“I appreciate you.”

“I’m so grateful we’re together.”

“Thank you for doing the dishes.”

“Thank you for getting the car fixed.”

Expressing your gratitude is a simple, but exceptionally powerful way to help each other feel deeply accepted, which itself alleviates the stress of uncertainty.

Step 6.  Laugh Together

Laughter is a fun and effective way to reduce stress.  A good laugh has the added benefits of improving your physical and mental health as well.  Research shows extended periods of laughter can:

  • Reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine.
  • Increase blood flow to the heart.
  • Boost your immune system.
  • Strengthen and tone your abdominal muscles.
  • Deliver more oxygen to your tissues.
  • Relax your muscles.
  • Reduce pain.
  • Improve your mood and outlook.

Find ways to laugh together often and you’ll safeguard your relationship from stress.

Step 7.  Invoke the Relaxation Response Together

The relaxation response is the physiological antidote to the stress response discovered by Dr. Herbert Benson more than 30 years ago. 

According to Benson, you can invoke the relaxation response through the repetition of a sound, phrase, or movement while setting aside intruding thoughts by returning to the practice at hand. 

Here are some easy ways you can invoke the relaxation response: 

  • Abdominal (belly) breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Prayer
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Jogging

Choose one of these stress-busting activities, and practice it together. 

Step 8. Seek Professional Support

Some of the more difficult relationship challenges require the intervention of a professional relationship counselor.

Unfortunately, most couples wait until the critical stage before they visit a counselor. This makes it less likely that the closeness and trust between the couple can be healed and restored.

If you see any signs of chronic difficulties between you and your partner, or you aren't able to navigate your issues on your own, go to a counselor right away.

Don't wait until your issues become so overwhelming that you've lost the desire to work on them. Put your relationship first by taking this necessary step.

10 Quotes about Relationship Problems

Need a little inspiration to address your challenges with your spouse or partner? Check out these quotes:

1. Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved. – Barbara Johnson

2. Assumptions are the termites of relationships.Henry Winkler

3. A lovers' quarrel is always about every quarrel you ever had. – Robert Brault

4. We have to recognize that there cannot be relationships unless there is commitment, unless there is loyalty, unless there is love, patience, persistence. – Cornel West

5. In a relationship, it is demeaning to seek your partner’s approval constantly. In such relationships, real caring, depth or even love is missing.” – Daisaku Ikeda

6. If your love for another person doesn’t include loving yourself then your love is incomplete. – Shannon L. Alder

7. A relationship is like a house. When a light bulb burns out you do not go and buy a new house, you fix the light bulb. – Bernajoy Vaal

8. The extent to which two people in a relationship can bring up and resolve issues is a critical marker of the soundness of a relationship. – Henry Cloud

9. Problems in relationship occur because each person is focusing on what is missing in the other person. – Wayne Dyer

10. Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational. -Hugh Mackay

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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 12 comments
  • Wise Up

    Thanks for sharing such good ideas. I liked the article very much.

    Reply
      Sandra Pawula

      You’re welcome, Wise Up. I’ happy you liked the article and hope the ideas help you reduce stress in your life and your relationship. Be well!

      Reply
  • Pat

    Great ideas! I’m going to focus on gratitude and laughter as two positive things to bring to my relationship with my husband this weekend. Thanks for the helpful post.

    Reply
      Sandra Pawula

      Hi Pat,

      That sounds like fun! I hope you both enjoy yourselves fully. I’m glad you found the post helpful. Thanks for letting me know and sharing your less stress strategy.

      Reply
  • Kelvin

    Awesome post! Very thorough and practical. Love the gratitude and laughing together tips. Your writing is always very inspiring…Thank you Sandra!

    Reply
      Sandra Pawula

      You’re welcome, Kevin! It seems like laughing and gratitude will win the prize for best stress antidotes. I understand, they are easy and fun and almost all of us could benefit from more lightness in our life. Thanks for sharing, Kelvin.

      Reply
      Kelvin

      Well, laughter and gratitude have my vote!

      Reply
      Sandra Pawula

      I’m with you, Kelvin!

      Reply
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    Reply
  • lynne

    Thanks for the great tips. It is very helpful and I’m definite that your readers will agree that gratitude is one of our greatest virtues. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
      Sandra Pawula

      You’re welcome, Lynne. Yes, I think most people will agree that gratitude is an extraordinary virtue above and beyond its stress-relieving qualities.

      Reply
  • Sherill

    I just loved your post.I think you have it all covered in keeping stress away from the relationship. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
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