Save yourself the heartache of ‘if-onlys’ and ‘what-ifs’ by spotting the signs your relationship is in trouble
– before it’s too late. By Rebekah Kendal
While you may sometimes know if a break-up is looming, other times you can feel totally blindsided. In hindsight, though, there were probably signs. All relationships have their ups and downs or sticky patches, but yours may need some serious TLC if any of the following have become familiar.
A failure to communicate
You’ve stopped talking to your partner about the things that matter in your life. Sure, you talk about the practical, regular stuff, but not about the stuff that interests or excites you. And definitely not about your feelings. Psychologist Andrew Burnard points out that most of the couples he sees have problems in the way that they communicate with one another.
‘Good communication is a vital part of an intimate relationship. A common relationship myth is that if someone loves you, they should automatically understand your feelings and needs. Not true! Neither of you are mind-readers, so say what you need and listen to what your partner is saying.
‘I often use the analogy of the news headlines to help people keep in touch with each other: at any given time, you should know the top few things your partner is going through in their lives. What is stressing them out? What is keeping them busy? What are they up to? If you can’t answer that, then take the time to go and find out.’
You fight dirty
You’ve had this argument a thousand times. You know, the one about the co-worker, Instagram or dishes. But every time you have it, things get a little nastier. You throw old grudges on the table, you speak
to each other in ways (and volumes) you never dreamed you would, and call each other names.
‘Conflict and disagreement are very natural and inevitable parts of any relationship,’ says Andrew. ‘Healthy couples manage conflict by listening to each other and trying to grasp the issue from the other person’s point of view. Unhealthy couples tend to try to talk over each other to be heard, leading to lots of shouting and little perception.’
You hold contempt
According to John Gottman, a relationship researcher from the University of Washington, one of the biggest predictors of divorce is if one partner (or both) feels contempt for the other. What does contempt look like? Any disrespect, from name-calling or belittling to sarcasm and criticism.
‘I believe that contempt arises from feeling chronically misunderstood and unsupported in a relationship,’ says Andrew. ‘Contempt manifests in various ways, but the hallmarks are no longer being able to see your partner’s good qualities, blaming your partner for the faults in the relationship, and a difficulty in seeing things from the other person’s point of view. When these things occur, people start to demonise each other and see themselves as blameless.’
Couples tend to have shared plans or dreams. If you’re not planning anything beyond what you’ll have for dinner, it may be a sign that neither of you actually picture a future together. Can you see yourself with this person in 10 years? What does life together look like? Does the thought make you happy or fill you with dread?
Furthermore, if you are spending an increasing amount of time apart – each focused on your individual interests and friends – you may be disengaging from the relationship unconsciously. While
it is important to maintain your identity in a relationship, you also need to have shared interests, friends and activities.
Sex is a problem
A lack of sex is not necessarily a sign of a relationship in trouble, as no person or relationship is the same. However, if sex – or a lack thereof – is causing trouble in your relationship, you want to look at how it’s being handled.
‘Again, good communication about what you want really helps,’ suggests Andrew. ‘I think the research on sex is summarised quite nicely in a quote from one of Sir Terry Pratchett’s books: “He’d noticed that sex bore some resemblance to cookery: it fascinated people, they sometimes bought books full of compli-
cated recipes and interesting pictures, and sometimes when they were really hungry they created vast banquets in their imagination – but at the end of the day they’d settle quite happily for egg and chips. If it was well done and maybe had a slice of tomato”.’
These signs don’t mean your relationship is beyond repair.
If you want to make it work, Andrew suggests this:
• Take the time to prioritise each other and get to know each other again.
• Take an interest in your partner’s life and ask them questions about it.
• Listen more than you speak.
• Practise resolving conflicts as they arise. Find common ground when you disagree.
• Stop the criticism. Instead, focus on nurturing fondness and admiration.
• Remember that affection (even a hug or hand-holding)can bolster intimacy.
•If you feel there are things you can’t work through, speak to a relationship counsellor.