You would probably be surprised at the number of couples I work with where one or both partners feel their problems “Came out of nowhere” or “Happened overnight.” There are also those couples where one person doesn’t feel that anything’s really wrong and is just attending counseling to appease the other.
I can tell you with certainty that nothing causing problems in a relationship happened overnight or came out of nowhere, and if one partner thinks there are problems, then there really are and counseling is a good choice. Many couples go for too long with blinders on, ignoring the signs there are problems in the relationship. By the time the issues are too big to ignore they’re also often too big to be dealt with alone and require professional help.
If you want to keep your relationship strong, healthy, and happy, it’s much better to tackle issues as they arise and while they are still small. If you don’t, it’s like a snowball. Before you know it the small thing that may have been worked through with a thoughtful conversation or two is now tangled up in all the other issues it caused and requires counseling to sort out and fix the damage caused.
So, if you want to save yourself a lot of frustration, pain, and complications, there are some common signs to watch out for that can indicate you’re moving to shaky ground.
Communication is crucial to a happy relationship and not just the communication that allows you to work out problems. Couples need to be able to talk like friends and laugh together, even over silly, non-crucial things.
So much focus is given to the communication skills that relate to conflict resolution that we often forget that couples also need to be able to just chat, laugh, and enjoy each other. If you’ve noticed that you and your partner no longer do this regularly, consider it a warning sign there are problems looming and fix it.
Maybe they’re not big secrets and don’t seem like a big deal. You bought something and don’t want to deal with the conversation about spending, or you grabbed a drink with a friend after work and it doesn’t feel worth discussing. It’s not the specific thing that is a problem in most cases, it’s the fact that you purposely didn’t tell your partner.
Secrets, even the small, stupid ones, cause problems. And the little ones inevitably lead to bigger ones – don’t doubt me on this. I’m not suggesting that you each need to detail every little thing you’ve done every single day, but if you feel even slightly inclined to not tell your partner something then it’s a pretty sure bet you should.
This doesn’t mean you have to suspect them of having an affair or leading a double life, but more likely that you have a nagging “curiosity” regarding certain things that seem odd or unclear about their behavior. Maybe it’s a, “I wonder who that text was from,” or “Is there more to the story that you’re not telling me?”
These minor cracks in trust are a problem even if they’re unfounded. Your partner (or you) may be doing nothing wrong, but the fact that one of you is concerned means that something needs to be done to fix the trust problem before it gets larger and potentially destroys your relationship.
If your reaction to, “Let’s go to dinner, movie, for a walk, bowling, etc.” is, “Meh, no thanks” it’s a problem. Just like you need to be able chat and laugh together, you also need to be able to do stuff together and enjoy each other’s company.
If the end to an argument is, “Fine, whatever,” it hasn’t been resolved. Unresolved arguments are like tooth decay, they will eat away at your relationship and eventually cause a painful cavity. If, as a couple, you are finding it harder and harder to resolve your disagreements there’s a bigger problem and it’s time to fix things. This doesn’t get better without intervention, it gets worse.
The intensity of intimacy in a relationship will ebb and flow, that’s completely normal. But when the desire leaves entirely it’s a red flag. Intimacy is crucial to maintaining a healthy relationship, it’s part of what keeps you bonded and satisfied with each other. So, if one or both of you seem to have lost interest entirely it’s time to figure out why and fix it.
This is a big one and hard for some people to understand, but as a couple you need to really hear each other. Many times, one partner will say things like, “I tried to tell you,” or “I’ve said it over and over” and the other (often the man) will be oblivious. There is also an element of nonverbal communication that can be difficult for people to get, but is worth trying to understand. One partner may communicate through their actions how they’re feeling more than their words. While this isn’t an advisable way to communicate, if you’re worried that your relationship is starting to have problems, it’s worth paying attention to.
If any of these sound familiar it’s time to act. Doing so now can prevent larger problems and keep your relationship on solid footing. Know that encountering these issues in a long-term relationship is very common and doesn’t spell doom for the two of you, nor does it mean you have to go to counseling. Catching these things early may just mean you will be able to resolve them more quickly and happily than if you wait too long.
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.