Have rules for rows, such as taking time out, not swearing and sticking to the point. Make a time to talk about any issues before they build up. Ask yourself what you’re really unhappy about. Arguments about whose turn it was to load the dishwasher are often about deeper issues you haven’t been able to express, such as anger or sadness.
Some couples have different communication styles, such as talkers versus non-talkers, or people who deal with things via talking versus people who like to get on with things. Other couples used to communicate well but have stopped listening to each other; instead they try to fill in the blanks and mind-read. Sometimes every conversation becomes a battle.
All of these problems can be overcome if the couple is willing to identify what goes wrong and make some changes. You can even do this by yourself if your partner won’t talk to you about it. Ask yourself: “What happens when I want to talk about something important?” “When did I last try hard to really listen and understand my partner?”
Think through what you want to say first. Choose your time and place. Practice “talk time”, where you each have three minutes to say what you need to say uninterrupted and then your partner responds. Use email or write a letter if you have something important to say that you can’t find the words for. Try to use “I” statements and avoid blaming the other person; when people get defensive it’s hard to listen well.
3. Growing apart
“Some couples change together, but it can be difficult when one of you seems to do most of the changing”
It’s normal to change over time. Some couples change together, but it can be difficult when one of you seems to do most of the changing. It’s important to think about how you can have a successful relationship with this “new” person and not spend your energy grieving over the person they were. This has the potential to be exciting, as you can discover new ways of being together. If you talk to each other and really feel you want different things as individuals, your relationship can still work, as long as you have enough that keeps you connected as a couple.
Relationships can be rebuilt after affairs, but it takes honesty and a willingness to respond to the wounds that are left. Affairs don’t usually happen out of the blue, so it’s worth spending time trying to learn lessons, such as were you both happy before, were you talking, did you feel you had lost intimacy? Sometimes these conversations are hard and you may find talking with a neutral third party such as a counsellor helpful.
Life events and external pressures can have an impact on your relationship. Some people cope by pulling together, but it’s just as common to find that events pull you apart. Try not to clam up and battle on alone. Let your partner know how you feel. For example, they may not realise that you’re awake at night worrying about your dad’s health and that’s why you’re grumpy in the morning. Try to see life stressors as something you face together as “team us”. But remember that in a long-term relationships, other things take priority at times and that’s OK.
You can end up feeling unappreciated or neglected when one partner isn’t giving enough time to the relationship, by working long hours or prioritising children, for example. Discuss this. What do you both offer to the relationship? How does the division of labour work for you? Sometimes it’s about communication – for example, your partner values what you do for them but doesn’t say it. Help yourselves feel appreciated by noticing and telling each other.
Some sexual problems may need specialist medical help, either via a conversation with your GP or through seeing a trained sex therapist (find our more here). Sometimes how much sex you want or what you want your sex life to be like can become a problem. It’s worth considering how you communicate with your partner about sex and how you might be able to talk more openly. Also ask yourself whether the sexual issue is a symptom of other difficulties in your relationship or whether you are getting on really well apart from this one thing. If this is the case, talk about what you want and don’t want, and be kind and respectful to your partner’s wants and desires.
“One in 10 people argue with their partner about money, debt or finances at least once a fortnight”
Financial pressures can be a burden for many, according to Relate’s recent report, “In Too Deep”, which found that one in 10 people argue with their partner about money, debt or finances at least once a fortnight. However, keeping issues such as debt from your partner can also cause problems such as mistrust. There is no right or wrong attitude towards money, and some people are more naturally savers or spenders. If your attitudes are similar, there’s unlikely to be a problem. But if they’re different, it could be a source of tension in your relationship. Many couples find it helpful to have some shared money for their shared expenses as well as some financial independence.
Most long-term partners go through phases of feeling stuck in a rut or where you love each other but do not feel “in love”, and it’s natural that your relationship changes over time. Companionship, compatibility, shared history and knowing someone inside-out are often the things people value in long-term relationships, yet sometimes these get taken for granted. If these things don’t feel enough for you and you want to create more excitement, try to think about what needs to happen, then talk to your partner. Try to be part of the solution to getting out of the rut rather than complaining about your partner’s role in getting you stuck.
It’s very easy for parents to become polarised, with one being the good cop and the other the bad. Co-parenting doesn’t always feel co-operative when you have different styles. Often this happens as we have firm ideas that we get from our upbringing and assume this is the norm. House rules that you agree as a family can be helpful; presenting a consistent position on as much as possible can avoid the bad cop/good cop scenario. There’s lots of evidence that children pick up on parental conflict, so it helps them if you minimise this. Also remember that there’s more to your relationship than your family – you will be a couple even after the kids have left home. So try to find time for each other – it will benefit your relationship and that’s good for the whole family.