How to Resolve Relationship Problems
Conflicts in relationships happen all the time. How you resolve relationship problems will help determine the quality of your relationship. Here are some excellent suggestions for dealing with relationship issues.
There are times in all relationships when things don't run smoothly. Often, this is because people have conflicting expectations, are distracted with other issues, or have difficulty expressing what is on their minds in ways that other people can really hear and understand what is being said. Sometimes they just don't know what to do to make a good relationship. The following information covers ways of enhancing relationships and working with common problems.
Let's begin with emotional support vs. emotional demands. Emotional support for each other is critical. This means giving your partner a feeling of being backed, supported; you're behind him or her no matter what. This does not necessarily mean agreeing with one another all the time. Realistically, no two people will agree on all occasions. What it does mean is treating your partner in a way that says, "I love you and trust you, and I'm with you through anything."
Emotional demands can damage the relationship. Insisting that your partner spend all of his or her time with you, insisting that they give up their friends or that you both hang around only your friends, insisting that you give approval of the clothes they wear, making sure that you make all the decisions about how you spend you time together and where you go when you go out, making them feel guilty when they spend time with their families, making sure you win all the arguments, always insisting that your feelings are the most important... each of these is an emotional demand, and has potential for damaging the relationship.
Emotional support involves accepting your partner's differences and not insisting that they meet your needs only in the precise way the you want them met. An example might be when want your partner to show love for you by spending free time with you, sharing and being open, paying attention to your concerns and needs. Of course these are important activities, but your partner may often show his or her love by doing things, like sharing home responsibilities, bringing you gifts occasionally, discussing the day's events or books and movies you've shared. Find out how your partner chooses to show his or her love for you and don't set criteria which mean that your partner must always behave differently before you're satisfied. Remember, too, that the words "I love you. I like being in a relationship with you. You're important to me." are not demands and need to be said occasionally in any relationship.
Time Spent Together and Apart
Time spent apart and time spent together is another common relationship concern. You may enjoy time together with your partner and your partner may want some time together with you, but you also may enjoy time alone, or with other friends. If this gets interpreted as, "my partner doesn't care for me as much as I care need" or "I resent the time my partner spends alone because they don't want to spend it with me and they must not really love me," you may be headed for a disastrous result by jumping to a premature conclusion. Check out with your partner what time alone means and share your feelings about what you need from the relationship in terms of time together. Perhaps you can reach a compromise where you get more time together but leave your partner the freedom to be alone or with others times when it is needed, without your feeling rejected or neglected or thinking of your partner as selfish, inconsiderate, or non-caring. Demanding what you want, regardless of your partner's needs, usually ends up driving your partner away.
Your Partner's Family
For some people, dealing with their partner's family is difficult. You may wonder how you can have a good relationship with them, or if you want to. Let's assume at the very beginning that most parents are concerned about their children. They do want to stay in contact with their children. They do want to see them, visit them and have continuing contact with them. However, a problem sometimes arises when these parents forget that their children are separate individuals and that they now have separate lives and that they must make their own decisions. Some family members volunteer a lot of uninvited advice or try to tell you and your partner how to run your lives. One way of handling this is to listen respectfully, let them know that you care about what they think and what they would do, but not make any promises to follow their advice. Just simply listen because they have a need to say it. If they attempt to pressure you into agreeing with them, you must be firm in saying, "I respect your views and ideas. Thanks for letting us know how you might deal with it. We'll think about that when we make our decision." You might need to say this a number of times before the family members finally get the message that you're going to make your own decisions even after hearing their advice. It will also be important that you and your partner be in agreement that you will deal with unsolicited advice in this way so you can support one another in the face of what could be some very intense "suggestions."
There are some people who seem to believe that "If I'm in a relationship. I have to give up all my personal friends unless my partner likes them as well as I do." Giving up your personal friends should not be a requirement of being in a relationship. Neither should it be assumed that your partner will like your personal friends as much as you do, so insisting that your friends should be their friends might not be reasonable. Just as with other areas in a relationship, who you and your partner spend time with together can be negotiated. You might ask, for instance: "Which of my friends do you enjoy seeing and which would you rather I see alone or at other times when I'm not with you?" There is certainly no reason to inflict upon your partner a friend who she or he does not enjoy. You can see those friends somewhere else or you can see them at home at a time when your partner is out doing something else. You do not have to give up your friends who mean a great deal to you. Being forced into giving up friends usually leads to resentment. It's important to talk with your partner about friendships with others, to negotiate them and to recognize that each of you need to continue your friendships even when you are intimately involved with one another.
How do you and your partner make decisions about handling money? Are decisions made individually or mutually? How are the priorities set about how money is to be earned? Spent? Who pays the bills? How much money goes into savings and for what purposes? How are "big ticket" (tuition, childcare, rent, car payments) items decided on? Does each member of the partnership control her or his own money or is it pooled? Is each partner expected to add to the mutual income? If only one is to work, how is it decided who it will be? If you find that you and your partner have differing expectations, it makes sense that you will have to make time to talk about them after stating your feelings, wishes, and desires and listening carefully to those of your partner. Decisions that might be easy to make when you're making them only for yourself might be more difficult when they involve someone else and the best solutions might not be those you think of just on your own. Discussion and cooperation may not provide any magic solutions to difficult financial problems, but knowing you and your partner agree about how to approach the situation will relieve at least some of the stress.
Coping with Changing Expectations in the Relationship
Relationships change over time. This is neither a good nor a bad thing, but it is a fact. What you want from a relationship in the dating stages might be quite different from what you want after you have been together a number of years. Changes in other areas of your life, outside your relationship, will have an impact on what you want and need from the relationship. You need to be sure you and your partner make time to discuss your expectations and negotiate responsibilities. The most important thing is that you need to do a great deal of careful, respectful listening to what each wants, and a lot of careful, clear communication about what each of you wants. Change of any sort tends to be at least a little stressful, yet because it is inevitable, welcoming change as an opportunity to enhance the relationship is more fruitful than trying to keep change from happening. Planning for changes together can lead the relationship into new and exciting places.
Seven Basic Steps to Maintaining a Good Relationship
- Be aware of what you and your partner want for yourselves and what you want from the relationship.
- Let one another know what your needs are.
- Realize that your partner will not be able to meet all of your needs. Some of these needs will have to be met outside the relationship.
- Be willing to negotiate and compromise on the things you want from one another.
- Do not demand that a partner change to meet all your expectations. Work to accept the differences that you see between your ideal and the reality.
- Try to see things from the other's point of view. This doesn't mean that you must agree with one another, but rather that you can expect yourself and your partner to understand and respect your differences, your points of view and your separate needs.
- Where critical differences exist in your expectations, needs, opinions or views, try to negotiate.
If you are currently having relationship concerns and these tips are not helpful, perhaps you need to consult with a professional counselor in your area.
Note: This document is based on an audiotape script developed by the University of Texas, Austin. With their permission, it was revised and edited into its present form.
Last Updated: 25 March 2016
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD