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My relationship is in trouble. What next?

Your partner or spouse is someone you have probably known for years or decades. They are the person that you are most intimate with — in fact, you probably know them better than anyone.

For this reason, realising that your relationship is in trouble can come as a serious shock. It can be particularly difficult to accept if you discover this fact without warning, or if your spouse or partner was the one to unexpectedly break the news.

Knowing that there are problems in your relationship that have been stewing for a long time can therefore seem not only difficult and emotionally painful, but also quite strange.


Common signs of relationship trouble

There are many reasons why one person in a relationship may not “be across” the problems, while the other may, to a varying extent, be aware of what has been going on.

One person may not have recognised and therefore not be aware of the warning signs. They may have ignored the problems or dismissed them as temporary. Or they may even have blamed their partner for the situation (or even hoped the other person would fix it). Consequently, the other person may feel frustrated, angry, resentful or sad.

So what can you do if you know or suspect that your relationship or marriage is in trouble?

When a relationship is in jeopardy, there will always be a reason behind it. It sounds obvious — perhaps one or both people are so close to the situation that it’s difficult to see outside of it — but the first step is to try to understand what the actual problems are and what causes them.


What causes relationship problems?

Every relationship is unique. The reasons that bring people together are as varied as the reasons that can sometimes push them apart.

Even so, some common things are often at the heart of many relationship problems. Sometimes they may not even seem like problems (at first, anyway) because they’ve taken hold so gradually.

Often, those problems are related to communication difficulties.

For example, if disagreements get emotional and spiral into arguments (instead of problem solving resolutions) then that may be a sign that one or both of you may have trouble with how you communicate.

Perhaps you’ve fallen into a routine, or one of you is a better listener or communicator. That could be the case if you no longer open up to each other (you don’t talk over dinner, you spend a lot of time on your phones) or if communication involves negative comments (one of you dishes out put-downs, you make jokes or sarcastic remarks at each other’s expense).

It’s very important to note that communication doesn’t just involve being articulate or putting things into words. Effective communication is as much about good listening as it is about what and how you say it.

Poor communication can lead to other problems, too. Despite all the time you’ve spent together, it’s possible that one or both of you may have grown to expect certain commitments or things from the other. This can cause problems when those expectations are not met — one of you wants something from the relationship and the other person doesn’t live up to it. Expectations about commitments can take many forms, from beliefs about how children and families should be raised to waiting for someone to change their bad habits.

Communication isn’t the only reason why relationships develop problems, although very often it is a contributor. When infidelity (e.g. cheating) occurs, it may be the ‘tipping point’ for a relationship to end. While that is often the trigger that ends the relationship, there are often other reasons that led up to it.

Lack of intimacy is one common reason for that. It’s important to note that intimacy doesn’t just mean hugging, kissing and sex — a lack of emotional closeness and connectedness can be among the reasons why one person feels disconnected to the other, something that can be brought about for many reasons (kids seem to be taking up all your time and energy, phones or tablets are constantly intruding in your bedroom or couch time together).

In serious cases, drug and alcohol abuse may be a factor, as can verbal, psychological or even physical abuse.


Why free professional counselling helps

Acknowledging that there are difficulties in your relationship is naturally confronting and unpleasant. However, talking about those problems in a calm and rational manner (and doing so without blaming the other person) is one of the most important things you can do.

This can be especially difficult for someone if they are from an environment where talking openly about mental health conditions or relationship problems was either not done, or is even seen as something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Divorce in particular is an area that in some families is a taboo subject and which can be a reason behind people not seeking marriage counselling.

A person from such an environment may be reluctant to acknowledge or talk about relationship problems. This in turn can make it hard to come to terms with the fact that there is something in their relationship which is causing them to feel unhappy.

Unfortunately, attitudes like this rarely help. In fact, not acknowledging or talking about relationship problems can, in the long term, make a person’s situation worse, as they live with a source of unhappiness about which they feel they can do very little.

This is where free professional counselling can help. CAREinMIND counsellors are professionally trained mental health workers. They will help you manage your worries and concerns and assist you in gaining a new perspective on a difficult situation.

Counsellors help people identify better ways of coping. They can help you understand raw or buried feelings that could be affecting happiness and wellbeing. Talking it out helps — and ultimately helps you feel better.


Concerned? Talk to a professional counsellor on 1300 096 269. It’s free to people in north, western and central Melbourne and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Want to know where else you can get help? Find out how to access additional community support.


The CAREinMIND blog is delivered by On the Line. The views in each post do not necessarily reflect those of North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.