Relationships are an important part of all our lives. Whether romantic or platonic, our connections with our nearest and dearest can bring us joy, meaning, and bonds like nothing else.
But in part because they mean so much to us, relationships can be stressful.
Some level of conflict in a friendship or romantic relationship is normal; it can even be a healthy way to grow and connect by developing good communication skills and build trust. Common relationship problems can also lead to symptoms of mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. In some cases, relationship dynamics can escalate into emotional and/or physical abuse. When relationship problems become extreme or frequent, they often interfere with healthy behavior and everyday life.
How prevalent are relationship issues? Are they common?
Because relationship issues vary so widely and are deeply personal, it’s difficult to know exactly how common they are. However, recent research suggests that general relationship issues are quite common, especially around romantic relationships.
- A recent study in the United Kingdom found that only 57% of survey respondents reported being mostly or completely content with their romantic partners, while 13% of respondents said that they had no close friends.
Intimate partner violence, which can include physical and/or emotional abuse, is also relatively common in the US.
- The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that over 10 million people in the US experience intimate partner violence each year.
- Women are more likely than men to be victims of intimate partner violence, with 1 in 4 women experiencing severe abuse as opposed to 1 in 9 men.
What are the symptoms of relationship issues? How can you tell if something is off in your relationships?
Relationship issues are different for everyone, and people vary widely in their emotional and psychological responses to these issues. That said, some of the most common symptoms include:
- Anxiety or worry: You may be frequently preoccupied with concerns about your romantic relationship and struggle to focus on other things.
- Sadness or depression: Relationship problems can lead to feeling sad, hopeless, or exhausted.
- General stress: You may have trouble sleeping or experience physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and digestive troubles.
- Conflicts with other loved ones: If your connection with one person is upsetting you, you might find that issues also come up with other friends, family, or loved ones, sometimes because your loved ones are concerned about your stressful relationship.
- Low self-esteem: Feeling insecure or threatened within a close relationship can make you doubt yourself and your worth.
What are the different types of relationship issues?
Though relationship issues come in countless forms, below are some examples of the most common kinds. Most of these could occur in both romantic and platonic relationships:
- Trust issues: You might wonder whether your partner is telling you the truth about your relationship or other aspects of life.
- Issues around attention and priorities: Relationship conflict often comes up around attention and priorities: how you spend your time, what’s on your mind, and, crucially, where the other person fits into all of that.
- Household issues: Issues around chores and use of shared space are common.
- Communication issues: You don’t feel heard; you wonder whether the other person understands you; you struggle to say what you mean. These are all forms of communication issues, a common setback in many relationships.
- Money issues: Some studies list arguments about finances as the top source of stress in intimate relationships.
- Issues relating to major life changes: Whether you’re moving, changing jobs, having a new baby, or making any other big life change, major life transitions could lead to relationship stress.
- Issues around sex and intimacy: Differing sex drives and questions around attraction and sexual satisfaction are just a few of the factors that might lead to relationship issues.
- Violence, abuse, and gaslighting: When any relationship issue turns into emotional or physical violence or intimidation from one or both partners, the relationship can be considered abusive. Abuse is usually far more dangerous and stressful than the other relationship issues described here.
What do you do if you’re experiencing trouble in your relationships?
Meaningful connections with a romantic partner or even a friend can take a long time and a conscious effort to build. The first stages of most relationships start with shared interests and common ground. Once the honeymoon phase is over, life goals, changing priorities, and unrealistic expectations by one partner, or both, can introduce communication problems or other forms of discord within the relationship. Fostering shared life experiences and honest communication are tactics that healthy couples use to stay on the same page and avoid the same fights when life throws them a curveball.
If you’re experiencing any form of stress, conflict, or danger in a relationship, you have several options to try to overcome challenges and fix relationship problems. Good relationships take work to address problems and find solutions that both you and your partner or friend. Some of them include:
- Therapy: Find a therapist who can help you address your relationship issues and work toward resolving them. You might work with a therapist on your own, or you and your partner might choose to attend couples’ therapy together. (See more tips below on selecting a therapist.) This can be a major step in figuring out if marriage problems or other relationships issues are rooted in irreconcilable differences or with effective communication, you can refocus on your core values and create a happy and healthy relationship anew.
- Hotlines and safety resources: If you think you may be experiencing intimate partner violence, contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or www.TheHotline.org. If you’re having thoughts of suicide or need immediate support, you can always call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. If you or your partner are experiencing substance abuse problems, SAMHSA is available at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- Meditation or mindfulness practices. Making space for quiet reflection can help you gain perspective on your previous relationships and current issues and give you a way to approach them calmly.
- Journaling. Keeping a written record of your thoughts and feelings around your relationship challenges may help you clarify your perspective on your relationship or uncover underlying issues and their role in your life.
- Connect with other friends and loved ones. When one relationship is stressful, it can be helpful to rely on the other important people in your life. They may be able to help you understand your troubling relationship and can also reduce the pressure on that one relationship by reminding you of the other people you love and rely on
How do you find a therapist for relationship issues?
Therapists differ in their approaches to treating relationship issues. Common therapy approaches include:
- Couples Therapy - A good couples counselor should be able to help move the relationship forward by giving couples a safe and open space to talk and tackle problems that they may be reluctant to address.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) - CBT is based on the understanding that our emotional experiences are directly related to our thoughts, beliefs, and actions – and therefore, it is possible to change our emotional experiences by examining and altering our thoughts and behaviors.
- Mindfulness Practices - Mindfulness practices are intended to help you learn to observe yourself and the world around you in an open, nonjudgmental way.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) - This kind of therapy involves learning to accept unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or experiences without viewing them as problems. Instead, the goal is to define your own personal values and find ways you can take action that you believe in, even without changing the negative parts of your experience.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT) - Interpersonal therapy is an approach to treating mental health problems that emphasizes helping clients improve their social skills and personal relationships. In IPT, therapists work with patients to help them understand how they react to others and learn new ways to communicate effectively.
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.