We may think we're unique in our relationship issues, but counselors agree that there are more often similarities across partnerships than not, regardless of the situation. After all, most long-term relationships bring so many benefits, like love, stability, increased intimacy, and personal growth, but there can still be problems.
And that's perfectly normal - maintaining a relationship takes work. It’s common for people who’ve been together a while to talk about ‘losing the spark’ and the exciting 'newness' of it wearing off. Couples may feel like they’ve fallen into a routine and while they still love each other, things can feel stale.
Christina Roberson, author and certified life coach, says, “We often assume that our partner is growing with us but that is not always the case. There may be one person who hasn’t changed since day one and another who feels as if they have evolved into three different people in the course of 20 years.”
A lack of communication about these feelings can obviously lead to other issues such as resentment, lack of trust, and emotional distance. If these issues aren’t dealt with properly and openly, there’s a risk your relationship could start to break down. Here, woman&home asks the experts to reveal the most common relationship issues - from signs of a toxic relationship to how to stop being codependent and how to revive romance in your partnership - and what can be done to fix the problems.
1. A lack of communication
We’ll start off with the most common of all the relationship issues the counselors spoke about, and the one which can lead to many of the others we outline here: communication. Communication is the key to any relationship, whether it’s professional, personal, platonic, or romantic. If the parties involved aren’t open with each other about their expectations, hopes, and worries, resentment can build up. This can lead to even less communication and then the problems can really start to worsen.
It's often an issue in longer-term romantic relationships, explains psychologist Margot Zwiefka because "people expect their partners to be mind readers and they haven't been taught how to healthily communicate their feelings or boundaries." They also may presume they know their partner inside and out and don't have to communicate explicitly.
How to solve it: Zwiefka, who works with Joy Club, says, “It’s important that you figure out what your partner expects from a healthy relationship, what makes them happy, and how you can both work to make the relationship dynamic satisfying for both sides. This will probably require negotiation. That’s something you have to be open to as relationships will always evolve.”
2. A lack of intimacy
As we get older, life gets in the way and intimacy can get pushed down the priority list. This doesn't have to just mean sex - but it often does, says certified sex therapist Lyndsey Murray. Otherwise known as desire discrepancy, she explains it's a common issue in relationships.
“This is when two partners have different levels of sexual desire that are causing distress in the relationship. One partner wants to have sex at a higher degree than the other and it causes frustration for both partners. Usually, when I see this, the partner with the lower libido feels pressure to have sex and the partner with the higher libido feels unwanted,” she says.
How to solve it: "Dig deeper at what sex really means for each person, and figure out how to build intimate moments from step one that are not just about sex," she says. "A lot of the time, it can feel like ‘We need to have sex X times per week’ when really, what a couple needs is to feel sensual and intimate with their partner. There are ways to be intimate without sex as well to build up more opportunity for sexual moments in the future.”
3. Individual growth
"Balancing individual growth and maintaining a sense of personal identity within a partnership can be challenging," agrees Melissa Stone, a clinical health psychologist and relationship expert. "Differences in personal goals, interests, or desires can create tension if they're not properly addressed."
How to solve it: Regardless of where you sit in the relationship, whether it's you or your partner who feels they're lacking or achieving individual growth, Stone suggests creating a supportive environment for both of you to come together. "Create a space for your partner to feel prioritized and included in your life and growth. Learn how to be confident again in your relationship and in yourself. Celebrate your partner's personal achievements and goals. This is also important to bring you closer together and build your intimacy."
4. Emotional distance
If communication has broken down in your relationship, it might also be the case that you’re shutting off from sharing your feelings with your partner. This emotional distance can create challenges in identifying, expressing, and meeting each other’s needs.
How to solve it: Identifying there is a distance there is the first step. Then, decide what you want to do about it. If you want the relationship to continue, then it's important to open up the conversation. Check in with each other regularly to avoid miscommunication and make sure you understand how each other is feeling. Share things that make you feel emotionally connected, whether that is physical touch, quality time, or words of affirmation - otherwise known as the love languages.
Another common issue the counselors see in relationships is boredom. "When we feel like we know our partners inside and out, we begin to make assumptions," says Zwiefka. "It's incredibly common for couples to fall into daily habits which might have worked when the relationship started, but their circumstances and/or needs have changed.”
The boredom could relate to any part of the relationship - from day-to-day life to sexual intimacy. This can then become dangerous territory if one party starts to look elsewhere to fulfill their needs or add a little excitement.
How to solve it: “It’s important that we maintain a sense of curiosity about the other person, consistently doing new things both sexually and in other areas of our lives. You must be open to learning something new about your partner every day," Zwiefka says. For tips, see our guide on how to spice up your relationship.
"It’s also important that you’re able to adapt and change routines that are no longer serving either partner. You must create a safe space so you both feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings and never be afraid to seek external support," she says.
6. A lack of fun
Boredom and a lack of fun in the relationship are very similar problems - but here, we're not referring to fun in the bedroom. Having a partner you can laugh with, someone who can distract you and lift your mood when life gets too much is really important.
It’s easy for the work-life balance to feel overwhelming. You might have fun with your children or friend but forget to have fun together as a couple, which can lead to further issues such as complacency, a negative routine, and a lack of intimacy.
How to solve it: Intimacy coach Jeni Simas advises her clients to commit to one shared activity per week. "Spending time together, out of the house and away from household chores or childcare, is a great way of reconnecting and remembering why you got together in the first place," she says.
While spending time with your partner, if you learn that you don't have fun together anymore and you're struggling to understand what you have in common these days, it could be one of the signs your relationship is over.
Conflict is another very common relationship issue and while it can manifest in arguments, it doesn't always look like this. If the communication channels in your relationship have broken down, it can lead to a build-up of resentment and hurt feelings. If these issues aren’t addressed, they become compounded and end up erupting in the form of an argument.
"I see couples going to either extreme, where they will do anything to never upset their partner even when it’s at their own expense or couples who have self-identified to the point where they are uncomfortable if their partner is even the slightest bit different from them,” Murray says.
Naturally, if your partnership is new and you're constantly arguing, this is one of the biggest red flags in a relationship and a key relationship issue to iron out.
How to solve it: In some relationships, conflict can be beneficial because it means grievances are being aired. If it’s handled in a healthy way, it can lead to a better understanding of what both parties want or don’t want from the relationship. Conflict doesn't have to mean the relationship is ending.
Murray says, “I like to let every couple know that if they can face their differences, manage it well, and respect and understand each other through the conflict, they’d be amazed at how connected they can get on the other side of their conflicts.” However, if the conflict is toxic, and there is mental or physical abuse involved, then you should seek help straight away.
Divorce attorney Laura Wasser explains that as we grow older together, it’s easy for resentment to rear its head in relationships. It's an issue she sees a lot with her clients.
While the resentment could be linked to various other issues, she says a common reason is that our partner may not be living up to the role we had imagined for them. “Long-term couples often face challenges stemming from this very expectation gap," she explains. "The person you met decades ago has grown and changed, just as you have. Embracing those changes and learning to love the person your partner has become, not the one you remember, can be a significant hurdle."
How to solve it: This is where communication is important, the experts agree, and it's vital if you want to learn how to be happy in a relationship again. Try to respect your partner’s point of view and listen to them, the experts suggest, and work on solutions together rather than playing the blame game.
Jealousy is an issue that goes alongside resentment in this list, the experts say. It may be that there’s jealousy around how your partner’s career has taken off while yours might have stalled, or it could be jealousy over your partner’s other relationships, whether that's with your children, their friends, or their family. If left to fester and grow, envy can lead to emotional distance and conflict, which are more complicated issues to resolve.
How to solve it: Talk to each other. It might be that your partner has no idea how you feel and if you help them understand your feelings, you can ease the jealousy. You might be able to work on a plan to ease the tensions and they may be able to give you the space you need to work on those other relationships, for example.
10. A shift in the family dynamic
Relationship and sex therapist Georgina Vass says that changes in the family dynamic can cause additional stress in a relationship. This stress may come from a recent bereavement, divorce elsewhere in the family, conflict over disciplining children, or children leaving home for the first time. It could also come from positive sources, like a new addition to the family.
As Vass says, "There may be varying values around parenting and the role of families, a shift in identity, general unfamiliarity with other parts of life, or a lack of skills or familiarity in caring for children."
If you've spent a long time looking after your children, an elderly relative, or dealing with other stressful situations within the family dynamic and the focus has moved away from your relationship, this can cause issues for other reasons. Once your children have moved out of the family home, for instance, you might find you've lost a sense of who you were as a duo.
How to solve it: Communication is key, of course, when you’re going through this huge change to your partnership. Tell your partner what you need help with. It could be that you're struggling to sleep, dealing with anxiety, or even loneliness, and ask them what kind of support they need too as they could be experiencing similar feelings.
11. Financial worries
Counselor Janice Gaunt says one of the most common issues she sees among couples she works with involves money stress. “How much to spend or save, where and how we should spend the money, and who gets the final say regarding money” are particular issues, she notes.
Money conversations can be uncomfortable, but this can be especially tricky if there’s a disparity between how much each person earns, or spends. A lack of discussion about financial plans and expectations can cause conflict and, naturally, if you fall into debt this is a hugely stressful issue for a couple to cope with.
How to solve it: If you believe the issue is starting to spiral out of your control, with more serious problems like bankruptcy on the horizon, seek professional financial help either individually or as a pair.
Many of the issues outlined in this article, such as resentment and lack of communication, can lead to infidelity. Sexual desire and other needs can change over time and there may be an imbalance between the pair of you. If you don’t speak to each other about what you want or don’t want, this can lead to one of you seeking it elsewhere.
"When couples have been together for a long time, they can become complacent. This can sometimes lead to feelings of disconnection, which can lead to even larger problems, such as infidelity. It's important to intentionally keep the spark alive in your relationship," says Kendra Capalbo, a certified relationship therapist. "In the beginning, we're eager to show our partner how much we care about them and we put in a great deal of effort to make them feel special and loved. But then over time, we sometimes stop doing that - and that's a mistake."
How to solve it: Cheating on your partner, or being cheated on, can be hard to recover from as a couple - although not impossible. The trust has been broken and there can be a feeling of shame and betrayal, so Capalbo recommends couples therapy in the first instance to talk about why the cheating happened and whether you can move on from it.
13. Trust issues
A loss or lack of trust is a clear consequence of infidelity and some of the other issues outlined above. In his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr John Gottman writes: “Although you may feel your situation is unique, we have found that all marital conflicts fall into two categories: Either they can be resolved, or they are perpetual, which means they will be part of your lives forever, in some form or another.”
The wider theory is that there are everlasting problems and solvable problems in relationships. It might be that trust has been lost through cheating or another kind of betrayal and you'll stay together as a couple, but the issue could always be there in the back of your minds. Or the trust can't be regained, and that relationship is over.
Dr Gottman says trust is needed so that a “person knows that his or her partner acts and thinks to maximize that person’s best interests and benefits, not just the partner’s own interests and benefits. In other words, this means, ‘my partner has my back and is there for me’.”
How to solve it: Couples therapy could be a good option if you're looking to learn how to build trust in a relationship again. It might be that you need a professional to give you tools to regain faith in your partner, remember why you trusted them in the first place, and build some positivity into your relationship again.
14. Different life goals
If you and your partner plan to commit to each other for the long term or have already been together for a long time, you will need to have some serious conversations about how you see your future. From what you want in your career to where you're going to live in retirement, if you're not on the same page about these plans or able to support one another then this is bound to be one of the biggest relationship issues for you.
How to solve it: Ideally, conversations around big topics like these will have happened when you first got together. But you can't turn back the clock and there's every chance you could still be having the problem now, even if you had discussed it. The key thing is to be open and honest about what you want from life and what's non-negotiable for you, says Capalbo. If one person is compromising on their wishes, this can create a build-up of resentment.
15. Health issues
As we get older, the likelihood of illness or other health problems rearing their head grows. This can cause challenges for relationships as it can be very physically and mentally draining for everyone involved. Plus, of course, it’s horribly worrying. While this hopefully isn’t an issue that will cause the breakdown of your relationship, it might lead to stress, caregiver burnout, and other common issues on this list.
How to solve it: There's no one solution, considering that every health issue will require a different response. For example, there are ways to learn how to support someone with depression but it won't be possible for everyone, depending on individual circumstances and support networks.
Seek professional help and support one another. You may both need therapy if you have been through a health scare, such as a cancer diagnosis or mental health struggles. You may also need support from your friends and family, so try to be open with them about how you are feeling and what you’re going through.
Psychology expert Dr Lilian Glass defines a toxic relationship as “any relationship [between people who] don’t support each other, where there’s conflict and one seeks to undermine the other, where there’s competition, where there’s disrespect and a lack of cohesiveness”.
It’s normal to have differences of opinion or to exchange harsh words with your partner from time to time. A toxic relationship is different: if your wellbeing is being negatively affected, whether emotionally, physically, or financially, then this is a sign your relationship has become toxic.
How to solve it: Toxic relationships don't come out of the blue, they can sometimes develop after years of unrealized expectations, resentment, jealousy, or boundaries being ignored. Unfortunately, this often means things have gone too far to come back from. As relationship expert and attorney Laura Wasser says, a relationship is done when it "causes more pain than joy, consistently, and there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel."
She says, "Perhaps you've tried therapy, had endless discussions, taken breaks, and nothing seems to have brought back the love and respect that once was. That might be a sign that it's time to let go.”
Do you all relationships have issues?
Yes, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ relationship. Whether it's a monogamous relationship spanning decades or a rebound relationship after divorce, everyone in a couple will find themselves facing issues at some point. The longer you’ve been together, the more likely this is to happen but the key to moving forward will be how you manage the challenges and hurdles.
"Relationships involve two or more individuals with different perspectives and expectations, which can lead to occasional friction or tension. However, the frequency and nature of the issues can vary greatly from relationship to relationship," says clinical health psychologist Stone. "It's important to remember that how couples or individuals address and navigate these issues is what ultimately contributes to the health and longevity of the relationship."
But many of the experts, including attorney Wasser who deals with couples going through divorce, believe it's possible to resolve almost all relationship issues. "Some problems may seem enormous, like chronic infidelity or a complete breakdown in communication. But I firmly believe that with commitment, understanding, and often professional help, these obstacles can be overcome. It's more about the willingness of both parties to put in the work,” she says.
When is it time to end the relationship?
With that in mind though, there are some clear signs that it's time to end a relationship. Among these include hard boundaries like physical, verbal, and/or sexual abuse. If your relationship has become abusive in any way, it's time to get out, and if there's toxicity present that's bringing down your confidence and self-esteem, it may be a sign that the relationship should end.
But everyone will have different ideas about when a relationship is over, given that we all lead our romantic lives differently. For some people, infidelity will be the line that can't be crossed while, for others, it will be a breakdown in communication or a resistance to change. It’s how you avoid these issues getting to this stage that matters the most.
If you have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse, it's important to reach out for help. Find support at The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1.800.799.SAFE or text START to 88788). If you're in the UK, contact Refuge on the National Domestic Abuse Helpline (0808 2000 247).
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Kat has been a digital journalist for over 12 years after starting her career at Sky News where she covered everything from terror attacks to royal babies and celebrity deaths. She has been working freelance for the last five years and regularly contributes to UK publications including woman&home, Stylist, ES Best, Metro, and more.
Since having her three sons Kat has become more focused on writing about parenting and health and wellbeing. She has looked at postnatal mental and physical health, how to exercise when you're hypermobile and tips for coping with sleep deprivation.