In all relationships there are ebbs and flows; times when you feel closer and times when you feel more distant. You may go through periods when things are going well, and then find yourselves stuck in conflicts and misunderstandings.
Recognizing that there are problems is the first step toward finding out what you need to do address these problems and nurture your relationship out of troubled waters. Below are three significant indicators that your relationship is in trouble.
- Prolonged feeling of distance between you and your partner. All couples go through some periods in which they feel more distant. However, if over time you feel that you are drifting apart, this is a sign that the relationship is not going well.Perhaps you don’t spend much time with each other anymore. You find yourself preferring to do activities with other people, spending time away from your partner or your home. Or maybe you think more about doing things by yourselves rather than doing things together.Distance also manifests in relationships when partners stop sharing feelings with each other. You no longer share about your day or what is going on in your life. From the outside it can look like you are content, but inside you feel resentful, distant, hurt or sad.
Apathy is another sign of distance. When your partner does — or doesn’t do — something that you expect, want or need, and you shrug it off as unimportant, this shows that you are disengaged from the relationship.
Finally, if you notice yourself becoming attracted to others besides your partner, you are probably feeling a significant level of distance in your relationship. Perhaps, deep down inside you still want to change your relationship, but because you are not hopeful you are looking for a different partner who can meet your unmet needs.
- Repeated conflicts that don’t get resolved. You try to talk about things, but you never seem to get anywhere. It feels like you are stuck in the same argument, and you are feeling consistently misunderstood. There is a palpable sense of tension between the two of you much of the time. It probably takes less and less time to start the same fight, and even as it begins you already know where it will end.Reactions feel out of control and proportion. Something is said innocently, and you or your partner gets very reactive and upset. Maybe it even feels like your partner is purposefully doing things to hurt you. These are all examples of how unresolved conflict may be manifesting in your relationship.
- Diminished sexual connection. If you are in a long period of little or no sexual activity, this may be a sign that things are not going well. Keep in mind that it is normal to have times when you are feeling less connected sexually. But prolonged, infrequent sexual connection may indicate a general diminished affection between the two of you. This includes not only the physical act of sex, but also more casual touching and cuddling.
If you find yourself feeling like you fit into one or more of these three categories, begin looking more closely at what is happening. Here are a few ways to become more proactively engaged in working with your relationship.
- Talk to your partner about what is really bothering you. Take time to think about it before beginning the discussion, perhaps writing in a journal to organize your thoughts.Before you begin the conversation, make sure you are both calm and open to talking about your relationship. Remember that you are not assigning blame, you are simply expressing how you feel about the relationship — both what is missing and what you can do on your side about it. Talking about how you think you can improve the relationship is a great way to inspire your partner to do something as well.
- Consider the impact of your words and actions. When couples are struggling with conflict, even when they have the best of intentions they may end up making things worse. Before you begin, ask yourself: Is the next thing I am going to say or do going to bring us closer together or create more distance? If it is the latter, then even if it feels right, don’t do it. Instead, find another way to express what you are feeling.
- Read relationship books. Relationships don’t come completely naturally to anyone. We all would benefit from learning skills and tools to make it work better. In books about navigating relationships, you may find situations similar to your own, and the solutions that have worked for other couples may also work for you.
- Counseling. It is often difficult to see what isn’t working when you are looking from inside the patterns of your relationship. A trained, outside party can identify the core issues and assist you in addressing them.