Relationship Difficulties

Everybody probably experiences relationship difficulties, though this does not make them any easier to deal with. This type of problem can cause more misery than many others.

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We regret we are unable to advise on medical matters. .

Everyone who is in a relationship or cares about their relationships may need assistance at some time to:

  • Help them deal with problems or difficulties in a relationship.
  • Learn how to form or improve relationship.
  • Cope with a relationship that has broken down.
  • Help to change a relationship where there is violence and abuse.

There is conflict at times in every relationship that is important to us. Being able to handle conflict and deal with differences is important in establishing and maintaining healthy relationships.
People often get very emotional, and angry, when they see their partner has different values, beliefs or expectations. We all need to understand and accept that between any two people there will be differences in ideas and expectations and, at times, conflict and strong expression of feelings.
Our relationships actually become stronger if we talk about these differences. We need to find out that differences are always going to be part of the relationship and that issues might have a solution if they are discussed more.

All couples experience problems in one form or another – its part of sharing your life with another human being. The difference between relationships that work, and those that don’t, is how well couples deal with the challenges and problems they face in their life together.

How can I improve my relationships?

(1) Successful Adult Relationships

A good’ adult relationship’ means different things to different people, and there are many different kinds of relationships. The couple relationship may be the most important one in our society : it is often the main relationship in people’s lives. It is the basis of a family (and this is the place where most of us learn about adult love, about negotiation, about how to change and how to compromise), and it is often an economic unit.
(2) What do we mean by ‘adult relationship’?
Some relationships between adults are mainly sexual, but all good relationships are based on people respecting each other and being able to communicate clearly. An ‘adult relationship’ is about two people who have equal rights, equal opportunities and equal responsibilities
(3) How can we define a fulfilling, intimate relationship?
Most people have very personal definitions of what a fulfilling, intimate relationship means for them. Some of the things most of us expect in a relationship are:

  • Love
  • Intimacy and sexual expression
  • Communication
  • Commitment
  • Equality and respect
  • Compatibility
  • Companionship

(4) Myths And Misunderstandings About Relationships

Many myths and misconceptions exist about relationships. These are based on romantic ideals formed by what we read, hear or see portrayed in the media. Here are some examples:
“People who love each other automatically communicate well” – FALSE

Good communication does not come naturally. Communication can be improved by learning and practising some simple skills. This includes skills in assertiveness, listening and clarifying to make sure messages are not misunderstood. Open communication between couples is essential.
“Maintaining romantic love is the key to a long and happy relationship”- FALSE

Studies show that there is a change in the type of love in a partnership from a romantic, passionate love early in relationships to complicated love later in a relationship called companionate love.
“If my partner loves me, he/she should instinctively know what I want and need to be happy” – FALSE

This is called the “mind-reading myth” – expecting your partner to know instinctively what you want and need. In reality, people must communicate their wants, needs and expectations to others in order to get those needs met.

(5) What does a good relationship need?

It will vary from one person to another, but most people would probably agree that respect, companionship, mutual emotional support, sexual expression, economic security and, often, childrearing, are all important parts of an adult relationship.
Ask your partner to write down the five qualities/needs that are most important for them in a relationship. Have a look at the list and see which of the needs you can do something about, and which you need to negotiate with your partner.
Do the same yourself. Then talk about each other’s relationship needs. It is essential for each partner to try to understand and respect the other person’s needs.

(6) What are the important life needs of my partner?

We don’t all want the same things out of life. You and your partner could each make a list of what is most important in life. Talk to each other about what is on your list. Remember, most people will want different things.

(7) Do we make time to talk about how our relationship is going?

Ask yourselves these questions, then check your answers with your partner:

  • How well do you think your partner understands you – how you think, how you feel, what’s important to you? Do you tell him/her?
  • How well can the two of you discuss a difficult issue?
  • How often do you argue? If you have many arguments that you don’t resolve, there may be communication problems. Lots of arguments over trivial issues may be a sign of a power struggle. If you never have any arguments, is it because you are avoiding important issues out of a fear of arguments?
  • What interests do you have in common? What do you do together for fun and relaxation? How often do you do something enjoyable as a couple?
  • How do you feel about your sexual relationship? Does sex usually leave you both feeling satisfied and good? Are you having any sexual problems?

(8) How can I encourage my partner to communicate more openly?

Each of you must first accept responsibility for your own feelings. You must start by being honest. This is at the heart of good communication.
Remember, the only thing you have total control over is your own thoughts, your own attitudes, your own actions.

  • Set aside time for both of you to talk
  • Talking about what is happening and how it affects you is the first step
  • Try to tell your partner exactly what you are feeling and thinking, even if it might upset him/her
  • Don’t forget: change can be painful and scary. Let your partner know that you understand this
  • Listen to your partner. Put aside your own thoughts for the time being
  • Try to understand his/her intentions, needs and wants
  • State what you want
  • Negotiate
  • What sorts of issues usually need to be discussed in intimate relationships?
  • Who is going to do what around the house?
  • How is your income going to be shared?
  • How much time are you going to spend together and how much time are you going to spend doing things separately?
  • What do you expect from each other when it comes to loyalty, trust, sexual faithfulness?
  • What you both like or dislike about your sexual relationship?
  • If there is a problem with jobs, whose career will take priority? How will this be compensated for over time?
  • What is the role of family and friends in your lives?

(9) Why should I be the one to make the effort?~

For a relationship to be good, both partners must want to make it work and show goodwill. Don’t wait for your partner to act. You may be pleasantly surprised by how much difference taking the first small step can make!

(10) How can I change my relationship?

Ask yourself how you would like your relationship to be different. If you know, then commit yourself to making the changes you need to make. One small change can sometimes make a difference to a lot of big things. Relationships need to be looked after:

  • Spend time alone together
  • Develop common interests
  • Really listen, and try to understand what your partner is saying
  • Tell your partner when you are unhappy about something
  • Try to find solutions that are OK for both of you.

(11) What are things that are good for relationships?

  • Learn new skills by trying new ways of relating
  • Be supportive; do not make judgements when your partner makes mistakes, or does things differently from how you would do them
  • Do things your own way
  • Ask for help when you cannot cope with a situation
  • Share the load – agree on who will do what in the household
  • Offer to do what you like the most
  • Allow yourself the right to put your feet up and relax
  • Make time specifically for yourself – soak in a bath, read, listen to music, talk on the phone to friends
  • Express your feelings honestly
  • Show appreciation when your partner does something for you
  • Listen attentively
  • Take responsibility for your actions.

(12) How can I improve the relationship I am in?

In long-term relationships, we often assume we know all there is to know about our partners. But people change. It is very easy to lose that connection, and not know where our partner is at now, who they are now.

  • Look at what is happening in the relationship
  • Stay curious (but respectful) about each other
  • Listen, and communicate your needs: don’t wait for your partner to try to guess what is going on with you.

Remember that a good listener:

  • Keeps comfortable eye contact
  • Leans towards the other person and makes appropriate gestures to indicate interest and concern
  • Has an ‘open’ position -a fairly relaxed posture, with arms and legs uncrossed
  • Faces the other – does not sit or stand sideways
  • Sits or stands on the same level to avoid looking up to or down on the speaker
  • Avoids distracting gestures, such as fidgeting with a pen, glancing at papers, tapping feet or fingers
  • Realises that physical barriers, such as noise or interruptions are likely to make effective communication difficult
  • Is genuine when attention and interest are shown.

(13) What are some of the warning signs of relationship problems?

Noticing early warning signs of relationship breakdown can help a couple resolve conflicts. Some early warning signs are:

  • Abandonment of joint activities – just living parallel lives
  • Recurring arguments which are never resolved
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction and unhappiness
  • Preoccupation with interests and activities outside the relationship, leading to one partner feeling neglected
  • Complaints of loss of feeling – one or both partner/s speak of no longer being in love
  • An affair – becoming emotionally and/or sexually involved with a person outside the relationship
  • Increased fatigue and reduced ability to meet responsibilities at work
  • Arguments over parenting

(14) When is a good time to get professional help?

Advice or extra skills can often assist. If your relationship has some of the early warning signs, it is time to seek advice. Counsellors can help you sort out what the problems are and help you find ways to try to mend your relationship. Mediators can work with you to define practical issues and identify present and future needs.
The sooner that you act on issues, the easier they will be to resolve.
It is good for couples to learn new ways of relating, communicating and resolving conflicts.

 (15) What if the signs of conflict in my relationship are more serious?

Some relationships involve behaviour that is very damaging to the other partner and in some cases may be criminal. Domestic/family violence is a problem in many households. If you suffer any form of family violence, seek help immediately.

(16) Power and Control in Relationships

Any good relationship should be based on equality and respect between partners.
When one partner uses tactics to control the other partner, it can be very damaging. This control or power imbalance can take many forms, including threats, ‘stalking’ behaviour, and physical abuse.
This usually results in one partner being scared of another, leaving them unable to feel safe in the relationship.

(17) What sort of things can be called family violence?

  • Physical Assault – kicking, slapping, choking or using weapons against the victim. All threats of physical violence should be taken seriously.
  • Sexual Assault – Any non-consenting (not fully agreed to by both partners) sexual act or behaviour, Any unwanted or disrespectful sexual touch, rape (with or without threats of other violence), forced compliance in sexual acts, indecent assaults, and forced viewing of pornography.
  • Using coercion and threats.
  • Telling your partner you will do something to hurt them, the children, pets or property if your partner does not do what you want, or does something you do not want them to do. Hurting the other’s feelings by saying mean things and name-calling.
  • Using Intimidation – making your partner afraid by using looks, actions, gestures.
  • Using male or female privilege to coerce or intimidate your partner.
  • Using children, such as by making your partner feel guilty about the children. Threatening to take the children away, to report your partner to Child Protection authorities. Using visitation to harass your partner, using the children to relay messages.
  • Using isolation – controlling what your partner does, who your partner sees and talks to, what she or he reads and where they go. (This includes emotional smothering).
  • Psychological/Emotional/Verbal Abuse – using words and other strategies to insult, threaten, degrade, abuse or denigrate your partner. This can include threats to your partner’s children.
  • Social Abuse – social isolation imposed upon a partner, such as stopping your partner from seeing their family and friends. This may include enforced geographic isolation.
  • Economic Abuse – controlling and withholding access to family resources such as money and property.

If you are in trouble, seek help as soon as possible. You do not have to put up with family violence.

Any good relationship should be based on equality and respect between partners.

When one partner uses tactics to control the other partner, it can be very damaging. This control or power imbalance can take many forms, including threats, ‘stalking’ behaviour, and physical abuse.

This usually results in one partner being scared of another, leaving them unable to feel safe in the relationship.


We don’t communicate anymore!

This is, without doubt, the most common complaint heard by family and relationship counsellors.

Communication is not just important, it is essential, in the following aspects of relationships:

  • companionship – sharing interests and concerns
  • intimacy – being able to be close to each other, to comfort and be comforted, and to be open and honest with each other
  • organising a shared home and a shared life and making decisions about issues such as money
  • working together as parents in caring for children.

Communication is the key to good relating

Some people are better communicators than others. This does not mean that people who find communication difficult can manage without it. John and Louise were typical of a couple who found communication difficult.

John was a quiet man, who found it difficult to let anyone know what he was thinking or feeling. Louise was more open and direct. She let John know exactly what was wrong when she was upset. But within an hour or two she would have forgotten about her anger. John was different, he would feel hurt and rejected for days after a row with Louise.

They learnt to get along together. John often felt lonely. Louise felt frustrated that she could never sort out anything with John. Then a major crisis struck. Their third child was born severely handicapped.

John didn’t cry, and couldn’t let anyone know how upset he was, or let Louise know how deeply he felt for her in her grief and worry. His sadness came out as anger, the only feeling he felt safe with, anger with the hospital, Louise and anyone else who caught his attention.

Louise couldn’t understand John’s anger, and felt increasingly bitter that John didn’t seem to share her unhappiness. After a few months, the arguments and the bitterness got to a level where Louise couldn’t stand it any more. She left John.

John and Louise would have said “we don’t communicate anymore”, but they were, of course, communicating some fairly strong messages to each other. Not talking to someone does not mean you are not communicating. Silence is a form of communication. It will be interpreted as anger, or sulking, or perhaps even disinterest.

John and Louise would have had a much more rewarding relationship if they had been able to communicate more clearly. So when the crisis came, they would have been able to work together and support each other.

What is Communication?

Communication is one person giving information to another. The information may be about:

  1. Facts – “I got a pay rise today”
  2. Opinion – “I reckon overtime will be cut soon”
  3. Feelings – “I’m really scared about being laid-off soon

We are so used to communicating with others that we forget how complicated it can be. To communicate clearly with your partner you need to:

  • be clear about what you want to communicate
  • convey your message so that it can be received and understood.

For the communication to be effective, your partner must:

  • hear the message accurately
  • understand what you mean.

At any of these stages, misunderstandings can occur. These can easily lead to hurt, anger or confusion. The good news is that with a little persistence, these misunderstandings can be easily corrected. When we communicate we also give a great deal of information without using words, by our body posture, by our tone of voice, and by the expression on our face.

These non-verbal means of communicating can tell the other person how we feel about them. If our feelings don’t fit with the words, it tends to be the non-verbal communication that gets heard and believed. Try saying “I love you” to your partner in a flat, bored tone of voice without looking at him or her, and see what reaction you get!

The message you send is not necessarily the one the other person will receive and respond to. There are two ways we can guard against this sort of distortion.
If you are sending a message:

  • Be aware of what you want to say. Especially be aware of what you are feeling about your partner or the situation.
  • Use “I” statements. That is, say what you want or feel, rather than make a statement about your partner. That way, your partner is more likely to listen to you without feeling attacked.

For example try saying “I’m disappointed that you don’t want to come to the cinema with me tonight”, instead of “Why don’t you want to come to the cinema tonight?”

Then, if you really want to know why, you can ask after you have made the “I” statement. If you feel any doubt or disagreement, or you find yourself reacting strongly to something your partner has said, then first check that you have heard the message accurately. Repeat back to your partner what you think they have said: “You mean …” This is called ‘active listening’.

Blind Spots

Most of us find some experiences or topics difficult to talk about. Perhaps, it is something that reminds us of a painful experience, or something that makes us feel uncomfortable:

  • A woman whose parents always had loud and bitter arguments when she was a child finds it hard to talk to her husband about anything that might lead to a disagreement. She is afraid of any disagreement turning into the painful fights her parents had.
  • A man finds it hard to let his wife know when he is feeling vulnerable and, if he is honest with himself, when he wants to be comforted. He was always told as a child that men don’t cry or show weakness.

The things that cannot be talked about often hurt the most.

Improving Communication

Communication can be improved. Open and clear communication can be learned. Start by asking these questions:

  • What things cause upsets between you and you partner? Are they because you are not listening to each other?
  • What things cause you disappointment and pain? What things don’t you talk about and what stops you talking about them?
  • How would you like your communication with your partner to be different?

If possible, ask your partner to think about these same questions. Then share notes, without criticising each other.

Next, try this experiment.

Decide on some ways in which you are going to communicate differently. See what effect this has on your partner, and change the way you communicate based on the response you get.

Remember – it takes two to communicate, and changing your part in the communication will lead to changes. You don’t have to wait for your partner to change.

If your partner is willing, you could both try the experiment. Don’t let on to each other what aspect of communication you are going to change, but after an agreed period (perhaps a week) sit down and compare notes.

You will find that as you become more aware of how you communicate, you will be able to take more control over what happens between you. Opening up new issues and areas of communication may not be easy at first, but as time passes you will find that it leads to a more fulfilling relationship.

If you find that there are aspects of communication in your relationship that you cannot improve by yourself, then consider having a talk with a relationship counsellor.

Counsellors are trained to recognise the patterns in a couple’s communication that are causing problems, and to help change those patterns.

Counselling is confidential. Usually it takes only a few meetings to make some worthwhile changes.

It makes sense to take action early and spend a little time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.

Fair fighting

Some Conflict in Relationships is Inevitable

Marriage and `living together’ involves two people being together in a relationship for up to seven days a week, twenty four hours a day, year in, year out. There is a great deal of physical closeness as they eat, sleep and share the same house together.

To make things more complex, they care for each other and have high expectations of how they wish to be treated by each other. Being human, they may occasionally let each other down.

Does conflict in relationships serve a useful purpose?

Conflict, most commonly expressed as anger, can indicate that all is not well for a couple. That some change is needed to keep their relationship healthy.

If conflict has a purpose, then instead of asking “how can we avoid conflict?” we should ask “how can we manage not to hurt each other or our relationship when we have a row?” and “how can we learn from the conflict?”

Avoiding conflict can mean avoiding important issues that would be better faced and sorted out.
Conflict is a symptom. Treating the symptom by patching things up without finding out what caused the conflict is unwise.


Anger is, for many people, a “bad” feeling and one that can be frightening because of its intensity and possible consequences.

There are three ways of responding when we feel angry:

  • Expressing our anger
  • Denying our anger
  • Acknowledging our anger.

Expressing Anger

Anger could be expressed by attacking the person we are angry with, doing a lot of shouting and screaming and perhaps using physical force by hitting, pushing, or punching the other person.

Expressing anger in this way will often leave a wound in the relationship which is harder to heal than the original cause of the anger. It may make you feel better temporarily, but can also leave you feeling guilty (because of the effects of your anger) even if you are convinced you were in the right.

Those who deal with their anger by expressing it often claim that their anger takes over, and that they can’t help their actions.

It may feel as if anger is beyond our control, but in reality, everyone can learn to control their anger.

Denying Anger

A second way of dealing with anger is to bottle it up and deny it. This means pretending that you are not really angry and denying it if your partner suggests you are angry. Some people become so good at denying their anger that they even fool themselves and become unaware that they are angry, even though it is obvious to those around them.

Bottling up anger and refusing to deal with it may solve a problem for a while, but it will create worse problems in the future. Facing up to conflict, whilst sometimes painful, can improve a relationship.

Ignoring anger means ignoring the warning signals that all is not right in the relationship. It also leaves the other person in the conflict feeling frustrated because they sense that something is wrong, but cannot get things out into the open and sort them out. It can become like living with an active volcano, waiting for the eruption.

In extreme cases, denying anger can gradually destroy a relationship. For example, it is difficult for a couple to be intimate and trusting with each other if they keep denying or ignoring the anger between them.

Acknowledging Anger

The most constructive way of handling anger is to acknowledge it.

First you will need to make a decision that you will not attack your partner when you get angry. This means that you will not, for example, use anger as the opportunity to score points about past failings by your partner. You decide that when there is a conflict between you, you will aim to resolve it as quickly and as constructively as possible.

When conflict arises and you feel angry with your partner, try to follow these steps:

  • Admit that you are angry

Try using “I” statements such as: “I’m feeling absolutely fed up with the way the kitchen was left last night”, rather than “you” statements such as: “You’re so selfish leaving the kitchen in a mess last night”.
“You” statements will inevitably be heard as an attack, and lead to the other person being defensive. They can make the conflict worse.

Admitting your anger lets your partner know how you are feeling. It helps to get problems into the open so that both partners can do something about them.

BUT NOTE that admitting your anger is different from expressing it. You will need to sound as if you really are angry, but that does not mean you have to shout and swear!

  • Ask for “time out”

This is essential if either you or your partner feels too angry to talk about the problem – “I’m too angry now; let’s talk about it later”.

Ask for “time out” if you need it. Don’t leave it to your partner to suggest it. You are the one who knows how you feel; don’t expect your partner to read your mind.

Don’t use “time out” to avoid issues. It is important that you come back later and try to sort things out.

  • Explore your feelings

There is nearly always another feeling underlying anger like sadness, hurt, disappointment, or a sense of being let down or taken for granted. Let your partner know how you feel. The underlying feeling will usually be a clue to the real issue that you and your partner need to face up to and talk about. For example:

“You’re always off out with your damn mates! I’m fed up to the back teeth with them – and with you! You’re just totally selfish!”

It’s unlikely that reducing the amount of time he spends with his mates will solve anything. Almost certainly the real issue is that she is feeling unappreciated and left out. Something needs to change so that she feels differently.

When he hears that she wants to spend more time with him because she cares for him and enjoys his company, he may be more likely to change his behaviour than if he hears a criticism of his mates.

  • Listen to your partners point of view. There may be an angle on the situation that you haven’t considered.
  • Be prepared to acknowledge your part in the problem. Saying sorry does not mean that you are accepting all the responsibility.
  • Ask what lessons can be learnt from the conflict. This will improve your relationship and lessen the chances of a similar conflict happening again.
  • Be prepared to forgive and make up, when you are ready, but don’t make your partner wait as a punishment. A row between two people who love each other is like a “little separation”. Reunion after separation can lead to a deepening of closeness and intimacy in the relationship.

Learning How to Handle Conflict more Effectively

Couples who are able to communicate effectively are more likely to be able to handle conflict constructively. A first step, therefore might be to attend a course or `workshop’ on communication skills in marriage such as Getting it Together a relationship course for couples or Living in a Step-family a course for couples where one or both partners have a child or children from a previous relationship.

If you are having difficulty in resolving conflicts, and especially if there is violence involved, seek the assistance of a counsellor.

Physical Violence in Relationships

Physical violence in relationships (most often, but not always, with a male being violent to his female partner) has become an increasing cause for concern. Physical violence is NEVER acceptable as a response to conflict or provocation.

Marriage does not confer the right to physically assault one’s partner. Assault is assault, whether to one’s partner or to a stranger in the street. Once physical violence occurs in a relationship, it easily becomes a pattern. It happens more and more frequently and becomes more serious. Eventually, it can lead to serious injury or to death. Violence is a sign that something is wrong. It should be taken seriously and help should be sought.

Two Persons One Relationship

Intimacy and Autonomy

People generally seem to have two conflicting needs in relationships. We want a sense of space and autonomy, of being allowed to do our own thing. Our independence is important to us.
We also want to be close to someone else, to know that we are loved and accepted for who we are, despite our faults. We need to know that we matter deeply to someone else, and that we are valued by them. In other words, we long for intimacy.

Intimacy strengthens how we value ourselves, reassures us that we matter, and enables us to face the world with confidence.

As children, we achieve this sense of intimacy with our parents. As adults we seek to achieve it in close relationships and with other adults – in friendships, in family relationships, and with a partner.
Intimacy is important in relationships, but is not always easily achieved.

This page provides information about relationship issues, to help couples think about their relationship, to share their thoughts and to explore together ways of making their relationship happier and more fulfilling.

It does not attempt to give answers, because what works well for one couple may not work well for another. Instead, issues which trouble most couples at some stage in their relationship are described, as well as possible ways of tackling these issues are suggested.

Intimacy in Relationships

Intimacy is about being emotionally close to your partner, about being able to let your guard down, and let him or her know how you really feel. Intimacy is also about being able to accept and share in your partner’s feelings, about being there when he/she wants to let their defences down.
We all have an `inner world’ of feelings and experiences, the world of our day dreams, hopes, fears, hurts and memories, the world of our `inner-most’ thoughts. To be able to share our `inner-world’ with a partner we love, and to be able to share our partner’s experiences, is one of the most rewarding aspects of a relationship.

Intimacy often doesn’t need words, but being able to put feelings and experiences into words makes intimacy more likely to occur. Intimacy involves being able to share the whole range of feelings and experiences we have as human beings – pain and sadness, as well as happiness and love.

Most of us, however, find it easier to share some types of feelings than others. For example, are you and your partner able to let each other know how you feel about each other?

Saying `I love you’ is important. Assuming your partner knows about your love because of the way you behave is usually not enough.

How do you feel when you are sad, a little depressed, in need of some comforting and reassurance? Are you able to let yourself be dependent and to receive some nurturing? Is this balanced in your relationship, or is one partner the `strong one’ who never needs to show any vulnerability? If so, is this really how you want things to be in your relationship?

How do you feel about yourself? When you’ve taken a bit of a knock and are feeling ‘small’ and ‘put down’ or when you’ve achieved something that makes you feel good about yourself.

How do you feel about sex? What you like and don’t like in your love-making, and about how your sexual relationship could be made more enjoyable for you.

Do you really know what your partner thinks and feels, or do you have to guess and `mind-read?’ Are you able to be open with your partner, or do you feel that your partner would not be able to accept some of your feelings?

Intimacy is a journey of discovery in a relationship. Many couples start out their relationship sensing they have achieved a new dimension of intimacy which they have not experienced before. They are in love, it is exciting, and they cannot imagine a greater degree of intimacy.

Yet as the years pass and they go through some of the highs and lows in their relationship, they discover a series of deeper levels in their intimacy. Each discovery makes the relationship more rewarding and fulfilling.

Intimacy and Sex

For most couples, one of the times when they are most aware of being intimate is when they are making love. This is not surprising – sexual activity involves trust and taking the risk of being vulnerable with each other. It is a time when, both physically and emotionally, partners let themselves get close to each other.

Making love can then lead to intimacy. Indeed, this is one of the purposes that sex serves in relationships – bringing the couple back into emotional closeness with each other. A good experience of sex in the relationship often makes it easier to remove the risk involved in talking about other experiences.

Sex cannot, however, carry all the burden of intimacy in the relationship. Being able to share feelings of anger, hurt, sadness, pride – the full range of emotional experiences – is also necessary. Without this, some couples find that after a while they begin to feel lonely and unappreciated, however good their love-making might be. It is sometimes necessary for a couple to learn how to be close and express affection for each other without this leading straight on to lovemaking.

This is particularly difficult for some men, who may have been brought up to believe that showing their feelings is somehow a betrayal of their masculinity. When they feel sad, as we all do at times, they can only deal with their sadness by being angry. And when they feel close to their partner, they can only express affection through sex. The more a couple is intimate with each other in ways other than sex, the more rewarding their sex life usually becomes. So, sex and intimacy are not the same, but they are closely related and easily influence each other.

Intimacy and Separateness

Intimacy is one of the high points of a relationship. But relationships can’t run on a high all the time. Space is also necessary so that each partner can develop as an individual. Separateness, being able to be an individual, makes the coming together of intimacy deeper and more special.

So ask yourself these questions. Are you able to have a part of your life to yourself? Are you able to do things on your own that give you satisfaction, or are you totally dependent on your partner for happiness?

Real intimacy is when two independent people choose to come together. The words of Kahil Gigran from the poem “The Prophet” are often quoted about the balance of intimacy and separateness in relationships.

‘Let there be spaces in your togetherness … Love one another, but make not a bond of love … Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone … And stand together yet not too near together; For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other shadow.’

Barriers to Intimacy

Some couples find it difficult to achieve intimacy in their relationship. Others can find that, after achieving intimacy, it seems to slip away. There are many reasons for such difficulties, and each couple’s story is unique. There are, however, some common themes.

Lack of communication

This is a common problem. One partner or sometimes both, simply don’t know how to put into words what they feel. They may have grown up in a family where personal feelings were never talked about, and so they lack the confidence to be open with their partner for fear of looking silly or being rejected.

Unresolved emotional differences

These can put a very firm brake on the development of intimacy in a relationship. Anger, hurt or resentment of one partner by the other, along with a lack of trust or a sense of not being appreciated by their partner, are examples.

Practical difficulties

These can reduce the level of intimacy in some relationships at different times. Examples might be money worries, pressures at work, concern about difficulties with children, or just being too busy to really connect with each other.

Childhood experiences

These are often at the root of some people’s difficulty establishing intimacy. A person who has experienced a great deal of hurt as a child will often find it hard as an adult to trust their partner, however much they may be in love. Examples of childhood pain that affects adult relationships include long-term conflict between parents, physical or sexual abuse, or a loss or death that was never properly accepted and mourned.

Such experiences can lead to a child having a poor self-esteem, a basic doubt about whether or not he or she is worthy of love. These doubts can be carried into adulthood, making it very difficult for the person to open up to someone else in case they are rejected and their doubts are confirmed.

Intimacy in Relationships

Intimacy does not happen by magic. It must be built up over time. This takes some people longer than for others. Often the harder you work at intimacy, the more valuable and rewarding it is. The following are some steps that may help.

Be positive about what you have in your relationship and let your partner know what you value about him/her and about the relationship. Put it into words, don’t assume they already know. Everybody likes to be told that they are appreciated and loved.

Create opportunities for intimacy. Times when you can be alone together in a situation where you can focus on each other and on your relationship. The harder it is to do this because of the children, work or other commitments, the more important it is that you do it! Try to plan a regular evening, day or weekend for the two of you to be alone.

Practise making “I” statements about how you feel. This avoids putting your partner on the spot, and may help him or her do the same. For example “I feel hurt you didn’t ask me before you decided” instead of “Why didn’t you ask me first?”

After an argument look at the deeper feeling behind the anger, the hurt, anxiety, sense of being let down, or whatever. Talk to your partner about these feelings.

Sometimes the issues are too complex, or the feelings too painful or confusing, for talking together to be successful. Counselling can, at these times, be of great value.

A relationships counsellor acts as an independent guide to help the couple talk things through. The presence of the counsellor makes it possible to say the things that are otherwise too hard to put into words.

If you feel your relationship has changed and you are concerned, consider talking to a counsellor.
It makes good sense to spend a little time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.

Turning Points

The Phases of Relationships

All people change over time. We are familiar with the way children change through their physical growth and the development of their personality.

We are, however, less aware of the ways adults change. These changes are less visible and less obvious.

If you were to think back five, ten or twenty years ago you would find your attitudes, your expectations of life, your self-confidence and your interests would have changed in many ways.

Change for adults is gradual, but is still very real. Because adults change, their relationship will also change.

People sometimes complain that their partner has changed. ‘They’re not the person I met all those years ago!’ No – they’re not. Chances are they have changed.

Relationships and Change

Most relationships change a great deal over the years. It is important for couples to realise this, and to be ready for change. Otherwise, perfectly normal changes in their relationship may be seen as a threat or disappointment. This can lead to tension and difficulty in their relationship.

Three types of change occurs in relationships:

  1. Changes in the pattern of the relationship
  2. Changes caused by the stage of life the couple has reached – the `milestones and hurdles’ of committed relationships
  3. Changes caused by some of the unexpected events that can occur in anyone’s life, such as the unexpected death of a family member.

This page will briefly describe each type of change. Although these changes happen to many marriages, there will be exceptions. The important thing is not how well your relationship fits the following pattern, but how well you are coping with whatever changes have occurred for you.

Changes in Relationships

In love …

Many relationships begin with an exciting and often intense period of falling in love. This is a time when couples wear rose-tinted glasses, they idealise each other, can’t spend enough time together, and make light of any differences between them. Love will conquer all. The first phase of the relationship is important as well as enjoyable.

It provides a powerful bonding of the couple that will carry them through more testing times in the future.

Recognising differences …

Eventually couples move onto the next stage of their relationship. This can happen early in their relationship or sometimes not for a year or two. Couples begin to be aware of the differences between them, and become more realistic in their view of each other. Arguments that are more than `lovers tiffs’ will often occur.

This phase can be quite frightening for some couples, especially if they weren’t expecting it, believing that the honeymoon would last for ever. The earlier experience of being in love, and the bonding together of the couple, now comes into play and serves to re-assure couples that their relationship will survive.

I want to be me …

In the previous phase of their relationship, couples began learning how to be two separate individuals within a relationship. This process continues for most couples in the third phase, when much of the energy of the two partners will go into establishing their own lifestyle – as parents, in their work and in their interests outside the home.

This is often a time when the relationship seems to coast along and the partners want less from each other. They know the relationship is there, and it is safe to be busy in the ‘outside world’.

Together by choice …

The fourth phase is a process of finding each other again, of seeking greater intimacy and deepening the relationship. This is vastly different to the intimacy formed in the earlier part of their relationship.

The partners now have a stronger sense of themselves as individuals. They are choosing to be together, to be dependent and intimate at times, rather than needing to be together.

This phase represents the end of the journey from being “in love” to “loving”. There is a growing balance between ‘I’ and ‘us’. The relationship is based on choice rather than need – two partners, who are not afraid to be independent, who choose to be together and to be intimate.

Milestones and Hurdles

Whilst couples are working out how to be together and yet still be two individuals, other changes will also be demanding their attention. All relationships have a series of turning points and hurdles they must get over. At each of these turning points practical changes in the couple’s lifestyle will need to be made. There are also less obvious challenges to the couple’s relationship.

Becoming a couple

The first hurdle a couple has to face is the task of becoming a couple in the sense of placing a boundary around their relationship.

This involves separating from the families they each grew up in. This is not always easy to achieve. Parents are still important, but being a son or a daughter has to become second to being a partner. Otherwise, jealousy or resentment from their partner may develop.

From partners to parents

For most couples, the next turning point is the birth of the first child. Many practical adjustments need to be made. There is also a change in the couples relationship as parents. Until now they have been able to focus their attention and energy on each other. This now has to be shared with their baby.
Less of their effort goes into being a couple and instead goes into being a mother or father. This is a point when some relationships run into difficulty as some couples find it hard to adjust. Resentment and hurt can creep in, with one or both partners feeling that they are no longer cared for in the way they were before the baby’s birth.

Wives may feel that their husbands don’t help as much as they should, especially when the demands of motherhood lead to exhaustion. Husbands often feel they are playing second fiddle to the baby and that their wives no longer have the same interest in them as companions and lovers.


Many practical changes in family life occur when the children become adolescents. How does this affect the couple’s relationship with each other? Parents are faced with their children’s sexuality in adolescence. This means couples will need to re-examine their own relationship and how satisfying it is to them, both emotionally and sexually. Adolescence also signals that soon the couple will be left alone together as their children become independent. This raises questions about the quality of the couple’s relationship.

Is the bond between the couple strong enough to maintain their relationship when they no longer have to put so much energy into being parents? Some couples find that they have drifted further apart than they had realised, and a crisis is triggered off in their relationship. This may lead to separation, but it can also lead to a fresh commitment to the relationship and a growth in intimacy. Adolescence is a time of questioning for parents as well as for adolescents!

For more information on parenting, go to the Family Skills Courses/Parenting Programs page.


With people living longer and retiring younger, more of their relationship will be lived in retirement. We tend to focus on the practical aspects of retirement such as housing and financial needs. Retirement, however, also poses yet another hurdle for the relationship.

How will they spend their time? How much time they spend together and how much apart? What joint interests will they have, and how much will each partner pursue their own interests? How will decisions be made now that finances are more restricted? How will the domestic chores, from which there is no retirement, be shared?

Unless these sorts of questions are faced and talked about, couples may become disappointed and withdrawn. There is less divorce in the post-retirement age group, but there is often considerable hidden marital unhappiness.

Unexpected Changes

Nobody knows what the future holds. Many couples find themselves faced with unexpected changes in their lives that present a challenge or threat to their relationship.

Common examples are migration, an inheritance or business failure that has a big impact on the financial situation or a serious illness or death, perhaps of a child. Whatever the event, the couple need to adjust to it, and come to terms with their feelings.

If they don’t, the issue may become one that simmers beneath the surface of the relationship, and eventually leads to them growing apart instead of becoming closer.

All relationships change over time

Couples who can talk about how their relationship is changing will be more in control of the direction it is taking. They are less likely to be caught out by change, and will find it easier to adapt to each new stage of their relationship as it comes along.

Sometimes the issues are too complex, or the feelings too painful or confusing, for talking together to be successful. Counselling can, at these times, be of great value.

A relationship counsellor acts as an independent guide to help the couple talk things through. The presence of the counsellor makes it possible to say the things that are otherwise too hard to put into words.

If you feel your relationship has changed and you are concerned, consider talking to a counsellor.
It makes good sense to spend a little time talking to someone about your concerns instead of waiting until things get worse.

Ending relationships without using violence or abuse

Ending a relationship can be a traumatic experience for all people involved, and it can also sometimes be a dangerous time. Sometimes the use of violence or abuse can become worse around separation, as one partner takes out their anger and frustration on the other, or tries to use violence, threats or coercion to get the partner to stay.

Relationships Australia can help victims to be better resourced in dealing with family violence issues and can advise perpetrators on how to eliminate aggressive and violent behaviour.

Both Partners and Parents

The Birth of your First Child

The birth of your first child will cause major changes to yours and your partner’s lives. You can prepare for this change in several ways, such as:

  • learning about childbirth and about being the parent of a young baby
  • making practical arrangements for when your baby comes home
  • making decisions about your work arrangements and finances after your baby is born

You may not, however, have thought how becoming a parent will effect your relationship with your partner. Children affect their parents’ relationship. Couples often overlook this in the busy time preparing for their child’s birth, and in the excitement of becoming parents.

All relationships change over time, but some life events can have a major impact on a couple’s relationship. The birth of a first child and the process of becoming parents is a major turning point for most relationships.

Couples face two particular challenges at this time:

  1. Coping with the demands of pregnancy, childbirth and the early months of parenthood; and
  2. Expanding their relationship to make room for their baby.

Becoming Parents
Each person’s experience of becoming a parent is different. Whilst for some it will be an easy transition, for others it may create some unexpected problems.


During pregnancy, both partners must adjust to the woman’s physical changes. Each persons experience of pregnancy is affected by:

  • How the woman feels about herself as her pregnancy develops
  • How her partner reacts to her being pregnant
  • How both partners cope with the changes in their emotional and sexual relationship.

The effect of pregnancy on a couple’s relationship can vary enormously. One woman describes:

“The best part of pregnancy was the common interest between my husband and myself … I couldn’t imagine the experience without him. No one else was as interested in every tiny detail of the experience.”

This is very different to another woman’s experience:

“My husband did not understand how the pregnancy affected me. He seemed to think that because pregnancy is a ‘natural’ state that I shouldn’t be uncomfortable or have any trouble coping.”

Men also have emotional needs during pregnancy. These may include a need to be able to express their concerns and to be reassured.

“There was no fun or sharing, no recognition that I also needed reassurance and support. Instead she expected me to give in to all her needs. I felt lonely, angry and hurt.”

For some men it is easier to ‘opt out’ and to be busy with work or other interests:

“… it was easy for me to lose touch with the daily changes in my wife … I was always too busy keeping up with the day’s action.”

Pregnancy often puts new emotional demands on men – demands to show patience and tenderness, to mop up tears and to give gentle encouragement. This can be a difficult role for some men.

One area in a couple’s relationship often affected by pregnancy is the area of sexuality. For some couples pregnancy is a time of heightened sensuality, a time when love-making takes on a new intensity and a new importance. Others find that during pregnancy their sexual needs diminish and that other ways of expressing intimacy and affection become more important.
Birth – and afterwards

Many fathers are able to be present at their child’s birth. Some choose to be present, other feel that they have to be present because it is expected of them. This is a new pattern. A generation ago fathers were firmly excluded from the birth.

For some couples, sharing the experience of their child’s birth can be very special.

“Witnessing the birth of our baby was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life”
“My husband was the support I looked to during the labour – he knew better than anyone else what I wanted and how I felt.”

Some fathers, however, find the experience more upsetting than they had expected. It can be difficult for men to find someone they can talk honestly with about the childbirth and the feelings it aroused.

“The pressure to be a strong husband and a proud father is great. Admitting to more complex feelings like fear, horror and revulsion is very difficult.”

After the excitement of the baby’s birth comes the task of settling down to parenthood. Parents’ experiences will vary. For some couples the transition is easy.

“I was happy that he was at home so much and I enjoyed watching him in his new role as a father. I guess I fell in love with him all over again.”

For others, it can be a difficult time. A time of tiredness and emotional stress, when couples become distant and withdrawn.

“I found I sometimes resented him relaxing and playing with the baby while I was madly trying to do a million things at once.”

Or as two fathers expressed:

“In the beginning everything was going fine, but as time went on I got angry for no reason at all. I guess I was jealous because everything centred around our child and his mother.”
“It seems that the mother has a complete bond with her child during breastfeeding. It was like witnessing an affair … I wanted the breastfeeding to stop, even though I knew it was important.”

Many couples experience uncertainty, and sometimes difficulty, in their sexual relationship after the birth of a child. For some, it is a matter of quickly picking up where they left off, but others find that the demands of parenting affect their sexual needs and their lovemaking for a long-time. Honest and open communication is vital to avoid pain and misunderstanding between couples.

Now we are three

The physical and practical aspects of becoming parents presents couples with many new experiences to share and challenges to overcome. The most difficult can be learning to make room in their relationship for the baby.

Before the pregnancy, couples could give all their attention and emotional energy to each other. In many ways, a relationship before the birth of the first child is like an extended honeymoon.

The arrival of the first child means that time and emotional energy will be taken from the couple’s relationship and put instead into parenting their child. Most couples are happy to make this change. Some partners, however, can feel left out, unappreciated or not as loved as before. This can distance the couple from each other.

Facing the Future

If you are expecting your first child, or if you are a new parent, there are some steps you can take to strengthen your relationship with your partner.

Share your experience

Let each other know how you feel.

  • Share the positive experiences – the joy, the excitement, the sense of achievement. Also share the negative experiences – the anxiety, the doubts and the frustration.
  • Try to use “I” statements which let your partner know how you feel, rather that “you” statements which are often heard as blame or criticism and can produce a defensive response. For example: “I feel a bit sad and lonely sometimes because we don’t seem to find as much time to talk as we used to “instead of “You always seem to be too tired and too busy these days. You don’t want to talk like we used to.”

Take control of your relationship

Because this is a period of change it is a good time to be clear about how you want your relationship to be, and to establish some new ways to improve and strengthen your relationship. Discuss issues with each other such as how family life was for you as a child, and how you would like your new family to be. What family traditions and values will you continue? You will find it easier to set new patterns early rather than to change patterns later when they are already set.

Give yourself time

Your relationship with your partner needs to be nurtured and developed. It is important that you spend time alone together as a couple, regularly, without your child! This is not selfish! It makes good sense – regular time alone as a couple will give you a chance to get close, to ‘recharge your batteries’.
How often you spend time alone will depend on your circumstances. You could, for example, aim at an evening a month, and a weekend once or twice a year once the baby is old enough to be left overnight.

If you can’t get help from your family, try another couple, with a similar aged child, with whom you can develop a trusting relationship and take turns.

Becoming parents as well as partners will make difference to your relationship. Couples who adjust to parenthood find their relationship is enriched and a great source of strength and support for the demands of parenthood.

If, however, you find that there are difficulties and disappointments about your relationship after you become parents, consider seeking the help of a counsellor.

Often all that is needed is to talk to someone who understands some of the changes you have been going through, and who can help you and your partner communicate more clearly with each other about your experiences.

How violence and abusive behaviour affects children

The forgotten victims of family violence are often the children in the family. Even if the children are not physically abused themselves, they will often witness the abuse of the abused parent.

Many children of abusers are scared of the abuser, and will often exhibit problems such as ‘acting out’, problems at school, and many other symptoms.

Besides being traumatised, these children are much more likely to be abusive in their own relationships when they are older, as that is what they have had modelled to them by their parents.

For many children, the first step is merely having someone who recognises that they are involved and allows them to tell their story. There are also therapists who specialise with working with children and also groups available for children who have witnessed domestic violence.

Second Chances

The Challenges and Opportunities of Re-Marriage

A new pattern is emerging in Australian marriages. One-third of marriages involve at least one person who has been married before. These second marriages often involve children from a previous relationship and will therefore form a step-family.

Contrary to their bad image, step-families can provide a rich and rewarding environment for the adults and children involved.

In second marriages, couples are often more aware of the difficulties in establishing a successful relationship and are more committed to making the marriage work.

Both second marriages and step-families have to overcome some difficult hurdles. These hurdles can present significant challenges to the couple in their relationship as partners and as parents.

Unfortunately, many second marriages and step-families, despite their commitment to making things work, fail to get over these hurdles.

This page outlines some of the challenges and complications of re-marriage and step-families.

The Decision to Re-Marry

In considering remarriage, there are three questions that should be reflected on::

  • When?
  • Why?
  • To Whom?

When to re-marry?

The simple answer to the question of when to re-marry is when you have come to terms with the end of your first marriage. This is particularly important if you did not want the first marriage to end, and had to deal with the pain of leaving or being left by your previous partner. It takes longer than many people expect to get over the end of a marriage, even if you might have been unhappy and felt that the end was inevitable.

Some studies suggest many people take at least two years to adjust to the end of a marriage. There are many exceptions to this. Some people take longer, others adjust more rapidly. Ask yourself:

  • Do I find myself thinking about my ex-partner and do these thoughts still arouse strong feelings, including feelings of anger and resentment?
  • Have I adjusted to living alone again?
  • Have I regained a sense of self-confidence?
  • Can I look back on the first marriage and recognise some of the things that contributed to its breakdown?

In other words, am I emotionally free to re-marry? Can I put all my emotional energy into this new relationship without allowing my feelings about my first marriage to get in the way?

Just as you cannot re-marry until you are legally free to do so, being emotionally free to re-marry is also important.

Why re-marry?

Unfortunately this question is often overlooked. Are you thinking of re-marrying because you want to be with a new partner whom you love or do you want to re-marry for the sake of being married, or to provide a two-parent home for your children? Being alone is not easy after being married, especially if you have children living with you. However, moving too rapidly into a new marriage is no solution in the long-run, particularly if it doesn’t work out.

To Whom?

Past experiences influence our choice of partners. This is especially true of a second marriage. Be realistic about what worked and what didn’t work in your first marriage when making a decision about a new partner. Learn from that experience to clarify what sort of partner you want.

Being in love is not enough to make a relationship work especially once the initial excitement has worn off. Many couples thinking of getting married try living together first. This may help, but remember that living together is not the same as being married. If you have children, they may find such an arrangement confusing and need reassurance.

Online Relationships

Now would a website on relationships have any use unless we talked about the latest and greatest transformation of relationships – relationships on the internet.

The Internet is about making many new and different connections with people, some just down the street and others on the other side of the world. Stories abound with the sophisticated ways that people have meet and forged new relationships on the Internet.

Like the woman in Australia who visited chat rooms around the globe and met her new husband. They communicated by IRC and email for months until they decided to meet. They then met in Sydney and were married 6 months later.

We no longer consider it strange to order that book from the bookseller in the United States with our Credit Card. Or emailing daily to friends about the latest thing we have found on the net.

Before the existence of the Internet, relationships used all the other types of technology, telephone, fax, snail mail to communicate. What is distinctive about this communication is that before they initiated the connection they knew who they wanted to communicate with. Even if they did not know the person they did have some clues to who they were, where they lived and why they might need to make contact with this person(s).

The Internet has provided us with a particularly new way of relating. We can log on to the net and meet new people everyday and all we will know about them is what we see on the screen. That is what their name and cyber address and what they actually type into their computer.

We can strike up friendships or just very brief chats with people and never lay eyes on them or speak to them in person. Some people would say that is no way to have a relationship, yet millions of people do it now daily.
The Internet is an informal anonymous place to meet people. People don’t know what you do or what you look like. You can change your sex, job, sexual preferences, age, and culture. You are known by what you write. You are allowed incredible freedom of expression, any expression you choose. As much as the other person only knows what you tell them the same applies to you.

How can you know about the man who says he lives in downtown LA, who you have been chatting with for the last 3 months?

As much as it is exciting to explore the cyber-planet earth, there are risks involved. These risk are there when we choose to make a change in this cyber relationship. This might be moving from public to a private chat room, starting to correspond by email, starting to communicate by telephone or even arranging a rendezvous in the real world.

The risks are highest when we move from cyberspace into the real world, as we are basing our decision to meet the other person on only information we are told, not something we can independently assess. When we meet someone in the flesh we hear not only what they say, but notice their body language and nonverbal cues and also their overall behaviour in real time.

The Internet can be a place of immense deception or great honesty, more honesty than some people would normally be in the real world, an interesting paradox. The art of thriving in cyberspace involves knowing the difference and being cautious at the right times. There are horror stories of people who have not be cautious at the right times or with the right people.

If you choose to meet someone in the real world after meeting them in cyber space,

  1. Don’t go alone, have someone you trust with you and do it in a public place.
  2. Start the relationship anew. When people first meet and start new relationships they check each other out and then gradually reveal themselves bit by bit and so bring down their barriers and protection. When you meet a cyber traveller in the flesh treat it like a new beginning and make sure you have your barriers up, even if you think you know this person, they might not be who they say they are or who you expect them to be.
  3. Be in control of what is happening. Don’t allow yourself to do anything that you don’t want to do and make sure you have ways to leave the situation safely.

Relationship Satisfaction Survey

Dr. Bill Gaultiere
Clinical Psychologist

Director of New Hope

Are you happy with your relationship with your spouse or significant other? Do you know your relationship strengths and weaknesses? With the 30 item “Relationship Satisfaction Survey” I developed you can find out. This self-test will assess your relationship in six vital areas to clarify how you’re doing and what areas you need to work on in order to improve your relationship. Circle the number of any question that you answer yes to.

1.             I’m not pleased with our roles in handling responsibilities at work and home.

2.             We often disagree on how to deal with our kids and/or families.

3.             We don’t agree on how to handle our money.

4.             I’m not satisfied with our spiritual life together.

5.             I’m not satisfied with our sex life or expression of affection.

6.             My partner says things that put me down.

7.             I often hold back my true feelings from my partner.

8.             I often don’t feel listened to by my partner.

9.             Sometimes my partner gives me the silent treatment.

10.          I’m afraid to ask my partner for what I want.

11.          I go out of my way to avoid conflicts with my partner.

12.          I give in just to end an argument.

13.          When we argue I often end up feeling the problem is my fault.

14.          Our conflicts usually don’t get fully resolved.

15.          I’m afraid to be honest and hurt my partner’s feelings.

16.          We don’t spend enough time as just the two of us.

17.          I don’t feel very close to my partner.

18.          There aren’t many fun activities that we enjoy together.

19.          Sometimes I don’t enjoy my partner’s company.

20.          I don’t like my partner’s personality.

21.          My partner loses his/her temper at me often.

22.          I lose my temper at my partner often.

23.          Sometimes we have major conflicts over minor issues.

24.          I’m afraid of my partner’s anger.

25.          My partner is too emotional.

26.          It’s hard for me to say no to my partner.

27.          Sometimes I feel mistreated by my partner.

28.          I don’t get enough space in our relationship.

29.          Sometimes I feel controlled by my partner.

30.          It’s hard for me to be happy if my partner is upset.


Total up your yes answers for each of these six relationship categories. Two or more yes answers in a category is a red flag and suggests that your relationship needs help in that area. If you can’t work through these issues with your partner then you’d be wise to talk with a marriage counselor.

Category Questions Score

Stress Points 1-5

Communication 6-10

Conflict Resolution 11-15

Relational Intimacy 16-20

Emotional Reactivity 21-25

Boundaries 26-30

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