Relationship problems & solutions
Close relationships typically go through
phases of development with normal highs and lows in attraction,
energy and enthusiasm.
Living in a close relationship with another person can be a
source of comfort, support and fun, and also, at times, a source of
distress, frustration and despair. The fluctuations in relationship
satisfaction are also influenced by other factors including
tiredness, communication skills, problem-solving abilities,
managing stress, and expectations for our own life and our
Common problem areas in
When problems occur in a relationship there can be a diverse
range of reasons related to both individual problems and problems
relating to patterns of interactions within the relationship.
Individual problems that appear to place stress on relationships
often arise due to individual needs being unmet. These unmet needs
often arise due to dysfunctional patterns of interactions within
the relationship. Specifically, these dysfunctional interactions
• inability to communicate effectively
• inadequate partner support
• poor problem-solving skills
• lack of quality time
• a lack of positive enjoyable shared experiences.
Poor communication is an area identified in practically all
problems within relationships. The way people talk (or don't talk)
to one another can cause a lot of distress and tension within a
relationship. The following dysfunctional patterns are common:
- Demand-withdrawal: one person adopts a
demanding, intrusive or pushy communication style and the other
partner withdraws or refuses to communicate in response.
- Negative emotion and labelling: a person uses
lots of negative emotion such as anger and sadness to manipulate
the other person. Labelling occurs when a person uses general/
global terms about their partner such as "lazy", "stupid",
"annoying", to describe them, as opposed to describing the
behaviour they do not like.
- Emotional invalidation and ineffective
listening: a person does not use receptive body language
and verbal feedback to show concern and understanding, and may be
distracted from communicating by excessive noise or competing
demands (e.g. television).
This is a critical skill necessary to generate effective
solutions to the many daily problems that people living together in
relationships have to face. Problems can include: organising
schedules each day to get everything done, paying bills and
budgeting, organising social activities and outings and making sure
time is set aside for each other on a regular basis.
Common problems encountered when trying to problem solve
- Failing to identify the actual problem: Often
we fail to recognise what the problem really is. For example, in
relationships often we think that our partner may not be very
pleasant any more and may not like us when in actual fact the real
problem may not be that but rather that they are not getting enough
rest and there is a lack of quality time together.
- Not thinking widely for all possible solutions before
choosing one: Often we jump to conclusions about how to
fix something without thinking about all the options. In
relationships, sometimes one partner may think that a big holiday
is needed to fix things and overlook little daily changes that
could be made to bring about the same improvements. Similarly we
often think about ways to earn more money rather than cutting back
on costly lifestyle choices.
- Not discussing and involving our partner in selecting,
implementing and reviewing the strategy: Sometimes we try
and solve relationship problems without involving our partner. We
deny them the opportunity to be involved and share the process and
may tend to blame them (or they blame us) when things don't work
out rather than working together on issues.
Inadequate partner support
In order for a relationship to survive and flourish each partner
needs to feel that they are receiving adequate support. Having
these needs met is a combination of both having realistic
expectations about your partners ability to meet your needs and
creating and environment where they are aware of and able to meet
your needs for support. Common problems in this area include:
- Having unrealistic expectations about your
needs: It is important to be realistic in assessing what
your needs are in terms of partner support. Relying on your partner
to meet all your support needs is likely to be unrealistic and
place too much demand on your partner.
- Placing unrealistic demands on your partner:
Sometimes relationships become strained when one partner places
unrealistic demands on the other and does not take into
consideration their partners humanness. Our partners are only
human, make mistakes, get tired, and have their own needs.
- Failing to communicate and problem-solve to enable
needs to be met: Often arguments occur when one partner is
upset that the other has not remembered or done something which may
or may not have been communicated effectively. In this case things
get worse when communication and problem-solving is not used
effectively to generate alternate solutions to meet needs.
Lack of quality time & shared
Lack of quality time and enjoyable shared experiences is another
area frequently observed in relationship dissatisfaction. In
highlighting the specific area identified the following problems
are frequently observed:
- Lack of quality time: Couples often don't plan
ahead to ensure they get quality time together. When they do have
time alone it is not "quality" as they are often tired and
distracted and end up arguing or failing to enjoy each other's
- Lack of shared enjoyable activities: Another
area which can cause problems in relationships is when couple's
don't have shared interest which they can both participate in and
Improving your relationship
There are several things you can do to begin the processes of
improving your relationship. Making changes to the way you and your
partner relate and spend time together, and improving your skills
in communicating and problem-solving can form the basis for marked
improvements and gains.
Communication provides the basis for either a great relationship
or an average one. Communication is a complex process with many
skills involved in order to be successful. Your psychologist is an
expert is this area and has many strategies to enhance your
communication, whether learning the basics or fine tuning your
- Remove all distractions when trying to
communicate: Turn the television or radio off and remove
distractions when trying to discuss things. If it's not convenient
to discuss things now then advise your partner and provide a time
(soon) when you can discuss things.
- Do not speak while your partner is speaking:
Always wait until they have finished talking, and then if unsure or
upset summarise back what you have heard and check for accuracy
before you speak in reply.
- Do not use blaming and labelling: Do not blame
or label your partner as lazy, uncaring etc but rather focus on the
problem behaviours. Blaming will not achieve positive outcomes
whereas identifying specific difficulties provides more of an
opportunity for future change.
- Build your partner up and use encouraging words when
speaking: Always look for positive ways to discuss things
and attempt to phrase things in ways that, whilst honest, also aim
to build your partner up and encourage them instead of putting them
generating new effective solutions
Problem-solving is a skill that whilst sounding simplistic can
be very difficult to learn and even more difficult to apply
properly when encountering difficulties. Here are some basic tips,
and remember your psychologist can provide expert assistance.
- Break down big problems into smaller ones and only
solve one at a time: Some problems seem impossible because
they are so overwhelming. In this case it's time to break the
problem down into parts and begin solving them one at a time in
order or urgency and importance.
- Think of all possible solutions before choosing the one
you will use: Don't forget to think through all possible
solutions and strategies before you select one. Sometimes the
unusual ones turn out to be the most helpful or may be needed later
- Involve your partner and work as a team: In
order to problem-solve relationship issues both partners need to be
involved in order to have a sense of shared ownership in the
process and shared responsibility in the outcomes. Remember to ask
your partner for their ideas and opinions and get feedback
- Remember to focus on the positive and learn from each
situation: If things don't go exactly how you want them
don't just look at the negatives but also focus on the positives.
What went well? Which aspects did work? What did you and your
partner do well together? What could you do differently next
Promoting partner support
Promoting partner support requires many skills and energy. Your
psychologist is familiar with the complexities of understanding
these issues and enhancing relationship satisfaction and meeting
needs. A few strategies are outlined below to get you started in
- Take time out to identify what your needs for support
are: If you don't know what you want then it is unlikely
you will get it. Take time to think about what it is your partner
can do or be to assist you to feel more supported in the
relationship. Keep in mind the need to have realistic and practical
ideas in this area.
- Communicate clearly to your partner your expectations
and check they understand: When you know what you want or
need make sure you can communicate this clearly with your partner
and that they understand this both in what you've said and how they
- Be forgiving and patient as humans aren't
perfect: Remember that your partner is not perfect and can
let you down for a number of reasons, ranging form simply
forgetting through to being exhausted and tired or preoccupied.
Maintain a gentle and forgiving attitude, and do not expect too
much - that way you'll be pleasantly surprised when things work out
the way you had hoped they would.
Increasing quality time & enjoyable
This is an area you and your partner can work on together both
as a couple and in conjunction with your psychologist.
- Plan regular quality times and ensure the
quality: Plan ahead with your partner to have time
together when you are not tired or distracted and can focus on each
other and enjoy the company. When having quality times stay
focussed on pleasant topics and only discuss more difficult issues
if you both agree to.
- Make enjoyable shared experiences an ongoing growth
area: If you have a lot of activities you both enjoy then
continue to do these together, but also begin to expand or
diversify your shared interests or deepen you understanding of the
specific aspect of each activity that you partner enjoys the most.
If you do not have many enjoyable shared activities then start
developing a list of activities that you can try together.
References and further information
This article is reproduced with the permission of Psycare from
their range of fact sheets at www.psycare.com.au Please
note it is of a general nature - contact your nearest Brain Injury
Assocation to discuss relationship problems arising after a
partner's brain injury.