This article lists all the major relationship problems which have been proven to negatively impact relationships.
How to use this article
The aim of this article is to give you a quick overview of all the most common relationship problems.
It’s all based on research and data.
It condensates, in a shorter and easier format, all the more in depth articles and books previously appeared here.
If you need more details, you can then just click on the hyperlinks.
- #1. Lack of Intimacy: Friends But Not Couple
- #2. Emotional Unsafety: Fear of Being Vulnerable
- #3. Lack of Interest in Partner’s Life
- #4. Ignorance of Our Partner: “He Doesn’t Really Know Me”
- #5. Unmatched Attachment Styles
- #6. Harsh Arguments: It’s Not About Arguing, It’s About How You Argue
- #7. Bad Communication: The 4 Horsemen
- #8. Negative Outlook: You Get What You Think Of
- #9. Vicious Circles: When Everything Positive Goes Out The Window
- #10. Refusing Influence: When “Being Right” Kills Cooperation
- #11. Power Struggles: When Winning Kills Cooperation
- #12. Resentment: When Fights With No Fondness Turn Love Into Bitterness
- 13. Affairs: The Ultimate Betrayal of Turst & Bond
- 14. Ambivalence: When Partners Are Not All In
- #15. Dysfunctional Relationship Dances: When Couples Get Stuck In Poisous Patterns
- #16. Abusive Relationship
#1. Lack of Intimacy: Friends But Not Couple
John Gottman in The Man’s Guide to Women says that the biggest complaint of women in relationships is the lack of intimacy and emotional connection.
What men should know is that with more intimacy and connection not only they can also enjoy a better relationship, but they can also fix their two major complaints: too much arguing and not enough sex.
Emotional intelligence is key to fix relationship problems related to intimacy. Here are two articles to help you fix the lack of intimacy:
#2. Emotional Unsafety: Fear of Being Vulnerable
In some bad relationship partners are afraid of opening up and sharing intimate details.
They hold back on affection and signs of love in fear they might be spurned.
Amir Levine in Attached explains that feeling secure in the relationship makes us feel secure in life. Not feeling secure in our romantic relationships instead make us feel insecure for life.
To fix emotional unsafety both partners need to look and act in the relationship as a sanctuary to being oneself.
And they both must restrain to use any personal details as a tool to attack and undermine their partners during arguments -which amounts to emotional abuse-.
#3. Lack of Interest in Partner’s Life
When someone is interested in us, we feel like they care. And if they’re not interested, we feel like they don’t care.
Being interested in our partners also enable intimacy, because it allows us to get to our our partner more than anyone else.
When we feel like our parnters know us better than anyone else, we feel bonded to them.
Knowing our partner is not something that we do once and forever. It’s a continuous interest and curiosity that we keep for our partner.
- How did their day go
- What do they think about the latest scandal
- Why did they decide to vote for this candidate
- How do they feel about the new boss
Keeping curious about our partners is also a way of saying “I care about you”.
As a bonus, a common refrain of people who develop affairs is that “the affair partner understands me so much better”.
Knowing each other well and updating that knowledge with curiosity also becomes an antidote to affairs.
As one woman said:
I share all significant events with my husbands. How could I have an affair, I’d have to immediately run and tell him about it
#4. Ignorance of Our Partner: “He Doesn’t Really Know Me”
This is the consequence of a lack of interest.
Many relationship experts agree that a crucial element that make couples stick in the long run is a good friendship.
It can be hard to develop a strong bond though unless we know each other. Couples that don’t know each other well cannot fell understood and cannot develop a strong bond that transcends all other relationships.
As an example of how lonely it can be to live with a partner who doesn’t know us, I like this scene with Jack Nicholson:
#5. Unmatched Attachment Styles
Attachment styles mismatches are an extremely common relationship problem.
Most people miss both the warning signs and the fixes though because, well… Very few people know about attachment styles.
Attachment styles in a nutshell
In a nutshell, people are categorized through attachment style depending on how they stand in relation to intimacy (here’s a quiz to find out where you stand).
- Crave lots intimacy and are afraid of losing it (anxious attachment style)
- Are afraid of intimacy and push it away (avoidant attachment style)
- Are comfortable with intimacy, both asking for it and giving it (secure attachment style)
You can already see from this description the worst mix you can have is between an anxious who craves intimacy and an avoidant who pushes back on intimacy.
That’s what I describe in this article of a match made in hell.
#6. Harsh Arguments: It’s Not About Arguing, It’s About How You Argue
It’s not true that arguments are an issue.
It’s harsh arguments that are an issue when they are not offset but more powerful and more frequent intimacy-building moments.
Arguments have a strong, strong tendency to start as they start.
That means that couple starting arguments harshly or with a heavy critical tone are likely to spin their wheels in the ugly swamps of pointless fighting.
Becoming more skilled at having arguments will mean that you will solve more problems, reach more resolutions and have less and more pleasant arguments.
Here are the keys to better arguing:
- Start gently
- Take a break when things get too heated
- Drop meanness and the mindset of hurting your partner
Here’s how you can improve your arguments:
#7. Bad Communication: The 4 Horsemen
How often have you heard this is the crux of all relationship problems?
Well, I’ve got news for you, Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight make a compelling case that great couples don’t communicate any better than poor ones.
The key, she says, is in the emotional connection, not in the communication.
Communication overlaps with emotions
I agree with Jonson, but also partially disagree.
And research seems to be on my side.
Bad communication goes deeper than words and becomes entangled with feelings and emotions.
When you accuse your partner of a global deficiency instead of addressing the issue at hand indeed you’re not just communicating poorly, but you are also negatively shifting the mood and emotions.
Communication styles to avoid
Avoid what John Gottman refers to as The Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse, such as:
And also read:
#8. Negative Outlook: You Get What You Think Of
Negative outlook happens when the relationship has become so bad that we filter everything that happens through negative lenses.
Couples who are badly entrenched in their negative outlook see everything that happens through negative lenses.
That means that you mostly see and focus on the negatives and miss on the positives.
And when you do see a positive, you spin its significance.
Him: She is being strangely nice… She wants something or she feels guilty for being such a bitch
Her: He’s being nice because his team won. If he could only care about me as much as his stupid football team…
The antidote, for your relationship and for a better life as well, is to consciously focus on the positive instead.
Here’s an in depth article:
#9. Vicious Circles: When Everything Positive Goes Out The Window
Vicious circles are what happens when you let a negative outlook take over.
Mira Kirshenbaum, author of Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay, says she has never seen a troubled relationship that wasn’t in the vice of a mutual shutdown -what I call here “vicious circle”-.
When we start a relationship there is a non written rule that we will do our best… As long as our partner keeps doing their best.
And the unspoken other side of the coin is that we will retaliate if our partner hurts us.
Little by little, each partner feels they are in debt and that they have to receive before they can start giving again.
But so feels the other partner. The result? There is little giving in the relationship while they are both acting hurt and entitled.
#10. Refusing Influence: When “Being Right” Kills Cooperation
Accepting influence means to listen to what our partner says and taking it into account.
Not accepting influence means doing it our way without consideration for our partners.
It happens relatively often that, especially men, are not very open to accept their partners’ influence. And the impact is huge: More than 80% of couples who don’t accept influence split up.
How to accept influence
How do you accept more influence, then? It’s a simple shift, yet one of tectonic proportions: you must go from “I” to “US”.
And believing that there can be no win unless both partners are either on board or accept the decision.
Here’s more information on the subject, including examples:
#11. Power Struggles: When Winning Kills Cooperation
A consequence of refusing influence is that of a relationship that becomes a power struggle.
Partner think how they can win in stead of winning together.
Unluckily much dating literature for women and for men focuses on power games which don’t always lead to the best relationships you can have -unless you’re able to make a U-turn for the relationship-.
Some manosphere self-improvement circles like The Red Pill also teaches men how to win and how to control relationships instead of how to be successful at relationships as a team.
Here are some typical power moves:
#12. Resentment: When Fights With No Fondness Turn Love Into Bitterness
Bitterness is the feeling you get when the relationship is based on power struggles and games.
Partners caught in a vicious circle and mutual shutdown are also often bitter towards each other.
And of course, partners who use the four horsemen of the apocalypse are also often bitter towards one anther.
The antidote is:
13. Affairs: The Ultimate Betrayal of Turst & Bond
Affairs are traumatic events which in a matter of minutes within the discovery shutter trust and goodwill.
- Signs your partner is cheating
- Why do people cheat
- The stages of an emotional affair
- Myths and facts of infidelity
And most important:
14. Ambivalence: When Partners Are Not All In
Ambivalence is straddling on the fence, not knowing whether you want to stay in the relationship or not.
It’s one of the major relationship problems because you stop giving fully, you second guess everything and you keep your options open.
The antidote, simply, is to decide.
But of course, deciding is not always is, and this is a really good article to help you decide:
- How to know when to break up (or stay)
#15. Dysfunctional Relationship Dances: When Couples Get Stuck In Poisous Patterns
Dysfunction relationship can actually stay together for a long time. However, they are simply not optimal.
Growing out of a dysfunctional relationship sometimes means to grow as individuals first and foremost, because each partner enables the other like two planets in each other’s orbit.
This is an article on some of the most typical dysfunctional relationships:
#16. Abusive Relationship
Fixing all the relationship problems will NOT help if you are in a relationship with an abusive man.
Doing any fixing with an abusive man is actually likely to make the problem worse because it focuses on joint responsibility.
And focusing on joint responsibility gives the abusive partner -most often albeit not always, the man- all the excuses to keep blaming you.
But you cannot fix anything until you first fix abusiveness -which is difficult and unlikely-.
And this article might help if you are mired in an abusive relationship (albeit it’s not fully tailored to abusive relationships):
Guys, this will take you quite some time to read.
If you want to shorten your learning curve, consider getting my overview of the whole relationship literature in the store.
Sources: this article leverages decades of research and relationship literature. I won’t list each single source as it would get way too long, but some of them you can check here.