Common Relationship Problems and How to Deal With Them
Everyone who chooses to be in a relationship will experience problems in their relationship from time to time. Whether big or small, we can learn how to deal with relationship problems through healthy communication, mutual respect, and compromise.
It’s good for partners to learn how to discuss relationship problems without fighting, and to try to resolve relationship problems without breaking up. However, there may be times when differences or unresolved issues lead to a breakup. It is important to understand how to deal with relationship problems—and when it may be time to leave.
How to Deal with Common Relationship Problems
Some of the most common issues that cause conflict within a relationship are:
Money is one of the most common issues that cause conflict in a relationship. Whether it’s having different financial resources, different views about the importance of money, or different spending habits, money issues can cause tension in a relationship. This is especially true if there is an imbalance of power—for example, when one partner has more financial resources and the other feels like they “owe” their partner financially.
Here are some ways to resolve potential conflicts about finances:
- Be honest about your financial situation. Be up front about what you can and can’t afford in terms of dates and gifts.
- Do not use money as leverage or “ammunition” during fights or disagreements that are not about money.
- If you live together and decide to join finances, compromise about spending and saving habits in a way that is fair to both people.
- Have separate financial accounts from one another. This not only keeps things fair, but it can be an important part of an effective safety plan if the relationship ends.
Sex and intimacy is another issue that many couples struggle with. Partners may have different needs and desires around physical intimacy. One person may want sex more often than the other, or may be more open to different kids of sex or having sex with more than one person, such as in open or polyamorous relationships. Sometimes there are mismatches in comfort levels with public displays of affection—one partner may not want to be physically affectionate in public while the other does. And these preferences may change over time as the relationship progresses. Ongoing and honest sharing about intimacy needs and preferences is a core part of keeping a relationship healthy.
It’s important to remember that consent is the most important thing in a sexual relationship. Consent must be:
- Enthusiastic: You and your partner should express that you want to be engaging in sexual activity.
- Voluntary: You should not feel pressured in any way to engage in sexual activity.
- Informed: Understand what the sexual activity involves, and what any potential consequences are.
- Specific: Consent can be given for one sexual activity but not others. Before you try different activities, check in about how your partner is feeling.
- Ongoing: Saying yes to sex one time does not mean you have agreed to every sexual encounter. Check in before each time you want to be physically intimate.
To get closer to your partner and to create an environment for enthusiastic consent in your relationship, consider scheduling “date nights,” or private time where you get out of your usual routines and do something you enjoy together.
You should not feel pressured into sex or any sexual activity to maintain your relationship. Feeling coerced, pressured, or guilted into sex is not consent. If you feel that your consent has been violated and are seeking help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to speak with a trained staff member at any time.
Difference in time management is another issue that can cause conflict in a relationship, particularly when it comes to making time for each other. Balancing alone time, time with your partner, time with friends, and time for other responsibilities can be challenging, and expectations may change over time as the relationship gets more serious. Having a clear sense of what you need and sharing that with a partner, especially as what your need or want changes, is an important part of a healthy relationship.
If your partner does not make time for you, you may struggle with feelings of resentment or jealousy. Similarly, if your partner wants you to constantly be together, you may start to feel like you’re not paying enough attention to other important parts of your life individually.
Here are some ways to resolve potential conflicts around making time for the relationship:
- Communicate openly about how much time you want to spend together and what your other priorities are.
- Where possible, find ways to sync your schedules so you can spend time together. Try making a schedule that includes time with your partner.
- Spend time together trying new experiences, like trying a new hobby you’re both interested in.
- Be honest about when you need time away from your partner.
Trust and Jealousy
Feeling insecure, jealous, or distrustful in a relationship can lead to a number of problems very quickly—especially if there are clear reasons for the distrust.
Sometimes, these feelings arise when there is no clear reason. Many of us feel insecure in a relationship because we do not have much relationship experience, have areas of low self-worth that affect how we feel about ourselves in a relationship, or because we have unresolved issues from a previous relationship. If you recognize that your feelings of insecurity are coming from inside yourself, consider talking it through with your partner or seeking help from a therapist who can help you get to the root of the issue.
In other instances, your partner’s actions or words can cause feelings of insecurity, either on purpose or inadvertently. If you feel this way, check in with your partner. Having honest conversations about hard topics like this are inevitable in healthy relationships and can be powerful opportunities to grow as a couple and as individuals. However, if your partner repeatedly dismisses your concerns, minimizes their hurtful behavior, or leaves you feeling worse rather than reassured after you talk, it may be time to leave the relationship.
How to Know When to Stay and When to Leave a Relationship
Healthy relationships are based on equality, kindness, compassion, and support. Unhealthy relationships, meanwhile, often have dynamics that breed negative feelings—such as criticism, selfishness, resentment, trouble with compromise, or an imbalance of power or control.
Most relationships will face conflict or challenges from time to time. If these issues are constant, or if you often feel worse after dealing with them, it can help to check in with yourself and see whether the relationship is healthy enough to find a resolution or whether it may be time to leave.
When to Stay in a Relationship
- You feel fulfilled and satisfied: If both you and your partner feel satisfied emotionally, socially, and physically, and you trust that you will be cared for and listened to.
- Your relationship is integrated with other parts of your life: If your partner is welcomed by your friends and family, and you feel welcomed by their loved ones. If you feel proud to introduce them, at ease with them in social situations, and not embarrassed or humiliated by their behavior.
- You know you can tell your partner anything: If there is conflict, bad news, or big changes in your life, your partner is there for you and will work with you to find solutions and move forward.
- You and your partner feel secure: If you and your partner respect one another’s alone time, their past and present relationships, and handle feelings of insecurity or jealousy in healthy ways. If you can handle negative feelings with kindness and maturity.
- You are on the same page: If you share similar core beliefs, and have the same goals for your future together, and agree on what you want out of a relationship.
- You feel excited about the future: If you feel excited about your partner and what you can accomplish together.
- You ask for change and you see change: If when you have a conflict and ask for compromise, your partner does their part to make the change you want to see. If they respond with kindness and compassion, and not anger or defensiveness, when asked to compromise.
When to leave a relationship
- Your needs are not being met: If you have communicated your emotional, social, or physical needs and your partner is not meeting them.
- Your primary relationship needs are being met by other people: If you are seeking validation, support or intimacy from others, including friends and family, specifically because your partner does not provide them for you.
- You know you can’t ask for more: If you are unhappy with your relationship, and your needs have been repeatedly ignored. If you don’t feel you can ask more of your partner because you know they will not take your request seriously.
- You or your partner are consistently jealous: If you or your partner are consistently jealous, with or without reason, and there are no actions taken to rebuild trust.
- You have irreconcilable differences: If you have differences in your core values and beliefs, and your beliefs and goals for the future, and no one is willing to compromise.
- Your friends and family don’t support your relationship: If you trust that your loved ones have your best interest at heart, and yet feel that you are constantly defending your relationship to them. If you are afraid to bring up relationship issues with friends and family because it causes conflict with them.
- You feel stuck or obligated: If you are unhappy but you feel you have to keep going because you have already invested so much time and energy into the relationship. If you feel guilty about leaving the relationship because you feel pressure to keep investing in it.
- You just can’t seem to “make it work”: If you’ve been unhappy for a long time and make promises to improve the relationship, but there is no follow-through. If you have been trying to “make it work” for months or years with no improvement.
- You feel resentment toward your partner: If you feel that the issues in your relationship affect your ability to view your partner positively. If you feel ignored, resentful or are holding grudges against your partner.
- You just don’t feel loved: If you have incompatible ways of expressing and receiving affection, or your partner does not want to show you affection the way you want them to. If you simply don’t feel loved, or don’t know how to make your partner feel loved.
If a Relationship is Abusive
If you are in an unhealthy relationship, there are warning signs to look out for to tell if the relationship is becoming abusive. Signs of relationship abuse include:
- Emotional or verbal: One partner threatens, intimidates, or humiliates the other, isolates them from friends or family, or manipulates their partner into acting or thinking a certain way.
- Financial: One partner controls access to money or information about finances, controls household spending, or does not allow the other partner to be financially independent.
- Electronic: One partner uses electronic means such as email, text messages, social media, GPS tracking, or other digital devices to harass, control, or embarrass the other.
- Physical: One partner hits, shoves, kicks, bites, or chokes the other, damages their personal property, harms pets, or withholds necessities including food or medication.
- Sexual: One partner forces the other to perform sexual activity against their will or guilts or pressures their partner into sex, brags about cheating, refuses to use birth control, or withholds affection as an act of coercion.
Any sign of abuse is a reason to leave a relationship. If you are worried that your relationship is showing signs of abuse, or if you need help creating a safety plan to leave an abusive relationship, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788.