All close relationships can experience arguments and disagreements, as this is a normal part of interacting with others who may have different ideas, beliefs, values and expectations. However, chronic levels of stress and conflict within a relationship can result in a range of difficulties including poor mental and physical health, as well as impact upon other areas of our lives including other relationships and our general ability to function. Those around us, particularly children, may also suffer when exposed to high levels of conflict at home.
Learning to utilise more effective and respectful ways to communicate with others is a helpful strategy for improving our relationships, as well as having a benefit for our own wellbeing.
What are the causes of relationship problems?
There is no single factor that causes relationship difficulties, but a number of issues can be seen as contributing to general relationship problems.
- Past experience – A person’s previous experience of relationships shapes the way they interact with others, as well as shaping their future expectations
- Life transitions and stress – major changes and life transitions (such as having a baby, moving in together, or retiring) can put an increased strain on relationships, leading to feelings of disconnection. Increased stress can also lead to poor communication and withdrawal, as well as increased difficulty being positive and forgiving towards a partner.
- Patterns of thinking – general patterns of thinking will also impact upon how we see ourselves, our partner and our relationships, influencing our behaviour and attitudes. Couples who experience difficulties may start to become more blaming of each other, and view behaviours as selfish and malicious.
- Behavioural factors – There are some specific behaviours that can be important signs that a relationship is at risk. This includes being disrespectful, defensive and overly critical.
Habits of a Healthy
Some positive habits to strive for include:
- learning to negotiate major life changes together
- regular communication that is open and honest, but also respectful
- developing the ability to listen to and understand your pattern’s point of view and their emotional experience
- having the capacity to forgive
- practicing feeling grateful for the positive elements within a relationship
- developing strong coping strategies as a couple
Relationship difficulties are a common reason that individuals might seek out help from a mental health professional. Generally, therapeutic approaches aim to focus on a range of strategies aimed to improve communication and increase understanding between a couple. Additional goals might also focus on learning to express thoughts and feelings openly.
Many relationship difficulties are resolved over time, however when problems become a pattern and seem to be difficult to change, it may be helpful to seek professional help. Clinical Psychologists are highly trained and qualified professional who are skilled in providing effective interventions for a range of concerns, including providing support for relationship difficulties. A Clinical Psychologist may be able to help you identify and address factors that might be contributing to your relationships issues, and the help you uncover the most effective way to address these.
Any individual who is experiencing domestic violence (including threats to physical and/or psychological safety) should seek help immediately.
The Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria (dvrcv.org.au) provides a list of support services that can provide assistance.