Common Relationship Challenges And How To Address Them

Oliver Jay

The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp.

When you’re involved in a toxic relationship, there’s probably not much you can do to fix the problem. Instead, you should consider letting go of the relationship.  After all, it takes two willing partners to improve a relationship. 

However, in many cases, less severe relationship challenges can be addressed with hard work from both partners, compromise, and a willingness to learn how to communicate more effectively. 

Common relationship problems 

Here are some of the most common relationship challenges, along with effective strategies to address them: 

  • Cheating 

According to Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, “We have a really black-and-white way of looking at infidelity. But it’s important for us to see that there are a lot of shades of gray to it […] People do bad things. That doesn’t make them bad people.” 

A 2021 study of 495 people who’s had an affair found that cheating is often motivated by (or more) of the following issues: 

  • Anger
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of love
  • Low commitment 
  • Need for variety
  • Neglect 
  • Sexual desire 
  • Circumstance 

Whatever the cause, it may be a good idea to consider trying individual or couples sex therapy if your relationship has been impacted by infidelity. They can help their clients uncover why cheating took place, how each partner can embrace self-compassion, and the process of rebuilding trust and emotional intimacy. 

  • Communication 
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Good communication is at the center of healthy relationships. But, unless it’s actively worked on, even formerly good communication can break down in the face of hardship or stressors.  Over time, couples may develop unhealthy communication styles that Drs. John and Julie Gottman call the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These four horsemen are indicative of serious communication issues that could end the relationship if not addressed: 

  • Criticism: Instead of criticizing who your partner is as a person, emphasize the use of “I language” to share how their specific behaviors make you feel without placing blame or judgement. 
  • Contempt: When you hold your partner in contempt, you’re actively disrespecting them and trying to put them down while assuming an air of moral superiority. To combat contempt, remember that your partner is your equal, and you never have the right to mock or harm them. 
  • Defensiveness: This horseman often develops in response to criticism. However, making sure your partner is heard and accepting responsibility for your actions is a healthier way to manage conflict than blaming your partner for your mistakes.
  • Stonewalling: The final horsemen is usually a response to contempt. But shutting down, withdrawing, or avoiding important conversations does not usually solve problems. Instead, when you’re feeling overwhelmed by the conversation, ask your partner to take a time out from the discussion, and return once your emotions have calmed back down.
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Addressing unhealthy communication styles can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. Reading about communication and conflict management can help, though it may be a good idea to work with a licensed couples therapist. 

  • Intimacy 

When couples are emotionally and physically intimate, they’re bonded and connected, and benefit from the feeling that someone deeply understands and supports them. Unfortunately, many couples struggle with intimacy due to trust issues, stress, insecurity, communication difficulties, or a lack of understanding of one another. 

There are several strategies that can help couples build a stronger connection, such as: 

  • Practicing vulnerability exercises 
  • Scheduling routine date nights and check-in time
  • Enjoy physical contact beyond sexual contact, such as giving each other massages, holding hands, kissing, and cuddling
  • Express gratitude for each other 
  • Learn each other’s love language 
  • Parenting differences
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Most parents have differences of opinion when it comes to how they want to raise their children. The most common parenting styles can be grouped as follows:

  • Authoritative: High expectations and warmth
  • Authoritarian: High expectations with rigid rules and strict repercussions when rules are not followed
  • Permissive: Few rules and warmth
  • Uninvolved/neglectful: Few rules or expectations and little warmth 

When parents have different parenting styles, they may encounter more disagreements about how they want to raise their children. To navigate these challenges, parents should routinely chick-in to discuss their concerns, privately compromise and agree on the rules you will set for your children, attend couples therapy, and read parenting books. 

Takeaway

Many couples experience challenges with things like communication, intimacy, or infidelity. But, with hard work from both partners, and help from professionals, many couples can recover and build a stronger connection through these challenges. 

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