8 Difficult Relationship Problems That Might Seem Unusual, But Many Long-Term Couples Go Through
No matter how much you love your partner, you're bound to encounter some difficult moments in your long-term relationship. In the beginning stages of romance, your biggest concerns were probably questions like where to go for date night or whether it was time to meet the parents. But as your time together stretches on, deeper issues can arise. While these might feel like they're a bad sign for your relationship, they're actually very common for long-term couples to experience, according to experts.
"One method for a long and happy partnership is practicing the art of radical acceptance," Christine Scott-Hudson MA MFT ATR, a licensed psychotherapist, marriage and family therapist, and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "Radical acceptance in your relationship means accepting your partner just as they are," she says. "You don’t fight with reality." Of course, this doesn't mean putting up with abusive or toxic behaviors from them, but if your partner is someone who hates dressing up, for example, don't try to force them to wear very formal clothing when you go out. In a healthy partnership, you have to love the other person for their little flaws as well as for their strengths, Scott-Hudson says. In fact, you may even begin to relish in their quirks.
Here are some difficult relationship moments that are actually pretty normal, according to experts.
1. A Lull In Your Sex Life
It's easy to assume that if a couple loves each other, they'll always desire each other sexually. But that simply isn't true for many folks. "A difficulty that many long-term couples experience is losing that spark in their sex life," Wendy Newman, a dating, sex, and relationship expert and author of 121 First Dates, tells Bustle. During those super romantic early days, you probably think that you'll never stop desiring your partner, but it's totally common to experience a bit of a lull. "Once you have them, excitement, newness, and burning loins are replaced with familiarity, sense of family, comfort, and snuggling," she says. While that comfort is wonderful, it doesn't always welcome a more sexual connection.
"Intentionally work together to create new and exciting adventures together," Newman says. Try something like a sexy make out session in a sunny spot on a forest hike or a little bit of roleplaying at a local hotel. Thinking outside the box will help keep the excitement, risk, newness, and adventure alive.
2. A Major Conflict
"Yes, conflict is inevitable in healthy relationships," Daniel Sher, a registered clinical psychologist specializing in sex therapy and couples work ,and a consultant for the Between Us Clinic, tells Bustle. In fact, a little bit of fighting is not only OK — it's also a sign that your relationship is healthy. "The fact that you’re experiencing conflict indicates that you’re both feeling safe enough to express your individual needs," he says. "Healthy couples are able to manage conflict constructively and use it as a chance to strengthen the relationship." For example, instead of seeing your quarrels over household chores as a reason to break up, instead try to turn chore time into a moment that you can set aside to work together on something.
3. Differing Opinions
All couples disagree from time to time. Sometimes it's about something as tiny as preferring different kinds of takeout or liking different movie genres. "Alternatively, couples may disagree on far bigger topics, such as whether or not to have kids and which country you want to live in," Sher says. These kinds of disagreements actually teach you and your partner to build compromise skills, which are a crucial part of a healthy relationship, he says. If you and your partner have different goals for the future that can't really be compromised on, like whether or not to have children. But most of the time, chances are you'll be able to find a way to agree to disagree.
4. Communication Problems
As one of the most important people in your life, you might think that your partner should be the one that you find it easiest to talk to. While that could be true, it's also absolutely normal to have trouble communicating in your relationship. If you and your partner are having trouble expressing your emotions to each other, try a communication exercising using "I" statements, Dr. Candice Cooper-Lovett, PhD, LMFT, a sex therapist, lead therapist, and owner of A New Creation Psychotherapy Services, tells Bustle.
Instead of saying something accusatory, like "You hurt my feelings when you hang out with your friends more than you hang out with me," try reframing the statement to say "I feel hurt when you hang out with your friends more than you hang out with me." she says. This avoids putting your partner on the defensive, and instead gives them a chance to truly hear you.
5. Issues From Your Past
Before you met your partner for the first time, each of you had a life full of experiences, issues, and potentially even trauma. "Both individuals are entering the relationship with their own 'stuff' and patterns of communication, history, etc.," Dr. Molly Giorgio, PsD, a licensed clinical psychologist, adjunct faculty member at the University of Hartford, and expert in trauma, relationships, and mental health, tells Bustle. Early on, those past issues might not seem like a big deal, but unless you understand how to manage them, they could grow over time, she says. Strike up a healthy balance by simultaneously acknowledging your partner's experiences and communicating your own needs.
6. Changing Interests And Personalities
If you've been with your partner for a long time, you might expect that you will grow closer the longer you spend together. While this is probably true, it's also common to change as an individual over time, which might mean that you no longer have as many things in common with your partner as you did at the beginning. "It's natural for couples to develop new interests and for their personalities to evolve regularly," certified relationship expert Adina Mahalli, MSW, tells Bustle. "That being said, it’s important to hold onto those memories that brought you close in the first place in order to stay close over time," she says. Remind yourselves of the days when you were beginning to fall in love by visiting the spot where you had your first kiss. You could also pick up a new hobby together, which could match each of your evolving interests while still bringing you closer together.
7. Issues On A Vacation Together
You may love nothing more than carefully planning every hour of your vacation with your partner. But maybe they insist on going with the flow and having a more relaxed adventure. Even though vacationing with your partner may seem like it should be totally romantic all the time, it's very normal to find yourself fighting when you go away together.
"This is actually a common thing I hear in couples therapy — couples have widely differing ideas of the perfect vacation," Scott-Hudson says. "It’s something that can be talked about and worked on, just like any other relationship assumption." Find compromises that work for you, whether that means alternating planning your vacations, giving yourselves a day alone to do whatever you'd like during the trip, or each choosing excursions that sound like fun. "Talk about what you would like without making the other one wrong," she says. "Respect your differences."
8. Different Opinions About Next Steps
"Even after living together for some time, many couples have a difference of opinion about the progression of their relationship," Scott-Hudson says. For example, each partner might have a different idea of when (and whether) you should get married, whether you should have children, or where you should live. "Each partner may experience uncertainty about their own or their partner's timing," she says, "and may suffer if they relate their partner's faster pace to being pushed or their partner's slower pace to feeling unappreciated or undervalued." As soon as possible in a relationship, talk about what you'd ideally like your future together to look like, so that you can avoid hurting each other's feelings or misunderstanding each other.
If you and your partner have been finding yourself in difficult situations, don't get discouraged. Instead, set aside some time to intentionally work together to strengthen your relationship.