It's not uncommon to experience uncomfortable moments in your relationship every so often. Even the best and healthiest of couples deal with
relationship problems and moments of uncertainty. However, if those moments keep happening, you might start to question the strength of your relationship — and that’s OK.
Ongoing feelings of unease in a relationship are worth looking into, according to experts. As
Rori Sassoon, a relationship expert and author of , tells Bustle, The Art of the Date discomfort in a relationship is often a sign that something is missing between you and your partner, whether it's trust, good communication, or respect. It might also be a sign of another underlying problem entirely.
If you find yourself beginning to doubt the strength of your relationship, it’s time to reflect and ask yourself some questions. “When someone starts to question elements of their relationship, it’s a perfect time to do some exploration,” certified psychotherapist
Dr. Loree Johnson, Ph.D., LMFT, tells Bustle. “Each question can lead to doubt. If doubt surfaces, ask yourself what each answer means or reveals about you as a person in this relationship.”
Apart from asking yourself questions to identify where this "off" feeling is coming from, Sassoon also recommends asking your partner to chat, and assuring them that it's OK to be entirely honest. See if they've been sensing it, too. From there, talk about ways to improve your relationship, like how you might be able to communicate more clearly — and see if that creates a
stronger sense of connection over time.
There's no such thing as a perfect relationship, and ongoing problems certainly can't be fixed overnight. But if any of the habits listed below sound familiar, especially if they keep cropping up, it's time to check in, reevaluate
where you stand as a couple, and make a few changes. 1 Your Partner Doesn't Have Your Back
If your partner constantly sides with everyone else, and never seems to
have your back, eventually you'll start to feel "isolated, disrespected, and undervalued," Alonna Donovan Makinson, MA, LPCC-S, a couples counselor, tells Bustle.
If it's a one-time thing, fine. But if they always let you down, it may indicate "your partner isn’t
prioritizing you in the relationship," Donovan Makinson says, or that you need to work on your connection.
The next time it happens, let them know how you feel. "A caring partner will try to empathize with your feelings," she says, "seek to understand their role in contributing to your discomfort, and work towards repair."
2 Your Arguments Never End Well
Communication is one of the biggest factors when it comes to the strength of a relationship. And
how a couple argues, in particular, can be very telling. “I look at how a couple argues for telling signs of the health of their relationship,” Dr. Johnson says. “For example, how you communicate when you’re tested and not when things are easy can reveal a lot about relationship health. Is their language towards their partner filled with criticism or contempt? Is there a lack of respect for one’s partner communicated through this language?” If you can’t solve problems together or fairly listen to each other’s grievances, things likely aren’t going to go well without intervention. 3 They Exclude You
If you and your partner have a strong connection, chances are you'll be spending a lot of time together. They'll naturally want to invite you to events with family, friends, and coworkers,
Lesli Doares, MS, LMFT, a couples consultant and coach, tells Bustle, and you'll want to do the same.
Of course, it's healthy to
spend time apart on occasion. But take note if you're left hanging the majority of the time. As Doares says, if it's something you can attend, your partner should, at the very least, extend an invitation. "Not being given that option is an indicator of how your partner views the relationship," she says. 4 You Can't Speak Your Mind Around Them
As Donovan Makinson says, "A healthy relationship provides the safety necessary to feel comfortable with disclosing vulnerable information to a partner."
If that's not the case, try to make a few changes. "Let your partner know up front when you want to disclose something that makes you feel uncomfortable," she says. "That way, it'll allow them the opportunity to respond with care, which increases safety in the interaction and makes it easier for you to revisit difficult topics in the future." If they aren't OK with that, or they make you feel bad about being open or honest, move on.
5 They Make Decisions For You
Being a couple means making a lot of decisions together, which is why it should never feel as if your partner is calling all the shots, or as if you're being swept along in
their life — or vice versa. "It’s an indication of how the two of you are separate, not a couple," Doares says. "It’s also disrespectful." In healthy relationships, a lot of decisions are made and agreed upon mutually, especially if the outcomes affect both people. 6 They Dismiss What You Say
Even when you struggle to see eye-to-eye, your partner should still attempt to see your point of view and not immediately dismiss what you say. "Managing differences is a huge component of healthy relationships," Doares says. "Learning how to do this effectively is the way forward." But unless you're both committed to doing so, the problem will only keep coming back.
7 They Attack Your Character
Even if it happens in the
heat of an argument, it's never OK to exchange nasty words or attack each other's character. "How each of you handles anger and conflict is an indicator of whether [the relationship] will last," Doares says. "Name-calling and other forms of contempt are highly disrespectful to both you and the relationship."
While it's possible to practice communication skills and learn how to argue in a less toxic way, Doares says, consider leaving the relationship if nothing changes.
8 They Hold Onto Grudges
It can be tough to let go of hurtful things from the past, but it's necessary to do so if you want a strong relationship. Holding onto a grudge "blocks communication and conflict resolution,"
Michael Ceely, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. So, if either of you struggles to move on — and especially if you cling onto the small stuff, he says — your relationship may be in trouble. 9 You Struggle To Compromise
If it seems like you and your partner are never able to
reach a compromise or meet each other halfway when it comes to solving problems, that's another red flag.
Holding onto the need to be "right" will only lead to more frequent arguments, Ceely says. It's also a sign you are viewing each other as adversaries instead of part of a team.
10 They Don't Apologize
It's important to know
how to apologize to each other, as well as how to take the temperature of the room, so to speak.
When you do both of these things, it's not necessary to walk on eggshells around each other. You're "more cognizant of a bad mood you might be projecting, or slight moments of potential insensitivity,"
Michele M. Paiva, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Bustle. "In an unhealthy relationship, partners usually have to come to some conflict place in order to get an apology or even awareness of an issue." If your partner can never recognize when they’re wrong of when they might be projecting things onto you, it will be difficult for you to make it through tough situations as a team. 11 They're Constantly On Their Phone
While it may not seem like a big deal — especially compared to other things on this list — it isn't great if you and your partner are constantly staring at your phones instead of being present with each other. It could be a sign you're emotionally checked out, or even being slightly passive aggressive, Paiva says, meaning you're using your phones as a way of avoiding a tough conversation or "getting back" at each other.
Of course, it's OK to answer texts or chill out together while scrolling through Instagram, but if the phone-checking occurs so often it starts to feel like there's a great divide between you, talk about it ASAP.
12 They Seem Distant
In a similar vein, if your partner seems distant, check in with them immediately. Creating space to talk can mean finding out what's on their mind and potentially fixing a problem before it gets worse. But if it seems like you're the only one who's willing to make an effort, you may be saving yourself a lot of time by calling things off now and finding someone who is more invested.
As Jordan Madison, LGMFT with
Friends in Transition Counseling Services, LLC, previously told Bustle, "It's going to be hard for the relationship to last if your partner can't seem to handle when things get rough. Relationships are not always going to be easy, so you should be able to trust that you can count on your partner when things get hard." 13 They Don't Hear You
If your relationship is strong, you'll get the sense that your partner is actually digesting what you're telling them, Paiva says, instead of your words going "in one ear and out the other." Remember, there's a difference between hearing someone and actually listening to what they say.
Listening is a skill you can both work on improving over time. And once you do, you'll feel like your relationship is a thousand times stronger.
14 Jealousy Frequently Takes Over
Jealousy happens, and a touch of it here and there isn't that big of a deal. But let's say your
partner receives a text from their ex. What kinds of emotions does it stir up? If you immediately assume the worst and feel like your relationship is in jeopardy, take note.
The anger and distrust that stems from unchecked jealousy will quickly drive your relationship into the ground, Paiva says. Push back against it by creating boundaries and talking with your partner about how you feel.
15 You Feel Insecure About The Relationship
Speaking of jealousy, if your relationship is solid, you likely won't encounter many situations that make you question the future of your relationship. To use the ex example again, your first thought won't be, "Oh no, my partner is going to leave me for them" just because they texted to say hi.
“[If] you are unable to place trust and faith in someone, and because of that you can’t or won’t open up," Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert at
Maple Holistics, previously told Bustle, “this could hurt the relationship because it puts a limit on the amount of emotional intimacy you are going to share." It can take a lot of work to get to a point of shared vulnerability as a couple, but it's worth the effort to know that you've got a solid connection, and little everyday moments like these won't shake you. 16 They Don't Treat You As An Equal
If you get the sense your partner views you as "less than" in any way, call it out immediately. Have a discussion about what equality and respect will look like in your relationship,
Sara Stanizai, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle.
Some questions to ask yourself include: “Are there unrealistic expectations placed on the partner, making it difficult to manage expectations and perceptions? Is it hard to appreciate the humanness of one’s partner?” Dr. Johnson says. “If the answer to either of these questions is ‘yes,’ it’s essential to explore your responses and understand why before saying a relationship can’t be repaired.”
17 You Constantly Compare Yourselves To Each Other
In a strong relationship, both partners will encourage each other to find success. So take note if your partner responds with jealousy or anger whenever you have a happy life update, or when things seem to be going your way. "This can look like being passive aggressive when you share your wins," Stanizai says. "It can look like jealousy that you are getting attention from others." The root of this is insecurity, she says, and that's all sorts of toxic.
18 They Overreact During Tough Conversations
If your partner constantly overreacts or lets their emotions get out of control, you may eventually learn to avoid bringing up potentially tough topics,
Dana C. Avey, MS, MA, BC-TMH, ADS, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Bustle, for fear that it will create conflict or start an argument.
And it's easy to see why that's no good. If your partner's bad moods control the whole atmosphere of your relationship, it'll be difficult to feel safe, much less maintain a strong connection going forward.
19 They Resist Therapy
If you do notice ongoing problems in your relationship — like your partner overreacting 24/7 to the smallest of inconveniences, and taking their frustration out on you — it may be worth
looking into couples therapy. This is a great way to unpack and understand bad habits, and learn how to communicate more clearly.
Take note, though, if your partner doesn't want to go. It may mean they aren't fully invested in your future as a couple, or that they lack the maturity to do whatever's necessary to create a stronger relationship.
20 They Refuse To Address Problems Delmaine Donson/E+/Getty Images
Struggling to address issues with your partner is one of the biggest red flags that something isn’t working out, but having
no communication about problems might be even worse. "In my experience, the most damaging communication pattern is when a partner refuses to speak when their partner attempts to discuss a concern with them," therapist Heather M. Garner, LCSW-C previously told Bustle. "I call this 'making lumpy carpet’” — AKA sweeping issues under the rug. In any relationship, avoiding problems and discussions won’t make the issues go away. In fact, it will likely just make them worse, as resentment will build up over time. 21 They Make Negative Comments About Your Family
It's not uncommon to go to a family get-together as a couple and then vent for a while afterward about the annoying things your uncle said. But your partner shouldn't launch into a free-for-all, where they bash your family incessantly, or seemingly hang onto problems.
It's not only rude, Sassoon says, but it's also a sign they probably aren't watching what they say because they aren't planning on sticking around. Or that they have a problem they aren't talking about, and instead are choosing to take it out on you and your family inadvertently. These habits are incredibly toxic and will only get worse as time goes on.
22 They Don’t Tell You The Truth
Of course, if
a partner lies to you about big things, that’s a major red flag, but small lies that seem inconsequential and easy to dismiss in the moment aren’t a healthy sign, either. “This may seem innocuous at first, but lies — even little ones — often represent deeper things such as insecurity in the relationship or something more significant,” Dr. Jacob Santhouse, LCPC, a licensed clinical professional counselor, previously told Bustle. “When the deeper issue is not addressed long-term, it weakens the relationship and opens the door to jealousy and heartache.” 23 The Same Problems Keep Coming Back
In unhealthy relationships, couples are typically unable to effectively resolve conflict and examine the real issue at hand,
Daryl Johnson, a psychologist and couples therapist, tells Bustle, which often means having the same arguments over and over and over again.
That said, the problem is rarely what you end up arguing about. If you're arguing about the dishes, he says, the real issue might be much deeper, like an inability to work as a team or share responsibility. And it's important to catch that difference ASAP.
With all of this being said, it’s also important to note that most of these issues can be worked on. In fact, doubting your relationship is a very common occurrence, as Dr. Johnson explains. “It’s normal to have moments where individuals may question the strength of their relationship,” she says. “Questioning allows for an honest conversation about your values as a couple, what elements of your relationship are receiving the necessary attention, and your areas for growth.”
If you do want to work through these problems with someone, it’s helpful to keep in mind
why you want to do it, even in moments where things get tough. “The key to navigating these conversations is staying committed to the relationship when it’s challenging to stay committed to your partner,” Dr. Johnson says. “Feelings can ebb and flow like an ocean's tide, but remembering and nurturing your commitment to the relationship can help sustain you when your commitment to your partner is wavering. Healthy couples will usually find ways back to their foundation where they can resolve conflict and honor their commitment to their relationship.”
Let problems like those listed above serve as a jumping-off point for a conversation. While not all issues can be resolved — and when that's the case, it is OK to walk away — you can work to build a stronger relationship by acknowledging what feels wrong, and then making a mutual effort to fix it.
Sources: Rori Sassoon , relationship expert and author of The Art of the Date Dr. Loree Johnson , Ph.D., LMFT, certified psychotherapist Alonna Donovan Makinson, MA, LPCC-S , couples counselor Lesli Doares, MS, LMFT , couples consultant and coach Michael Ceely, LMFT , licensed psychotherapist Jordan Madison, LGMFT with Friends in Transition Counseling Services, LLC Caleb Backe, health and wellness expert at Maple Holistics Sara Stanizai, LMFT , licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Prospect Therapy Dana C. Avey, MS, MA, BC-TMH, ADS, licensed marriage and family therapist Daryl Johnson, psychologist and couples therapist
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This article was originally published on
July 19, 2019