It’s not like the movies. Relationships don’t usually break up during a big dramatic scene; they are distressed little by little over time until both partners feel a complete disconnection. As a counselor, I meet couples when their relationship has reached that point of disconnection—when communication, conflict resolution and intimacy have collapsed. Almost all couples report seeing little warning signs they wished they would have addressed before those signs grew into huge red flags that redefined the relationship. They can be hard to recognize, unless you know what to look for.
Are you ignoring subtle signs of distress in your relationship?
Review the list below, and mark any statements that feel “true” to you.
- I have trouble expressing my thoughts and feelings.
- I find it difficult to ask for what I want in our relationship.
- I avoid discussing issues in my relationship.
- My partner often doesn’t understand how I feel.
- When we are having a problem, my partner often refuses to talk about it.
- It is difficult for me to share negative feelings with my partner.
- I wish my partner were more willing to share his/her feelings with me.
- Sometimes we have serious disputes over unimportant issues.
- When we argue, I usually end up feeling responsible for the problem.
- I feel some of our differences never get resolved.
- I go out of my way to avoid conflict with my partner.
- To avoid hurting my partner’s feeling during an argument, I tend to say nothing.
- I feel attacked/criticized when we are not getting along.
- I am unsuccessful at comforting my partner when he/she is upset.
- If I engage with my partner when he/she is unhappy, I will only make it worse.
If you answered “yes” to any of these statements, it’s time to pay attention. There is always a cause and effect, so think about how you reach the “yes” statements and why. What do you do in reaction to these statements? Chances are, your reaction to these sensitive feelings doesn’t not bring you closer to your partner. Most importantly, do not sweep issues under the rug and hope they will change when you get married, have children or go on vacation. When feelings are unaddressed, they act somewhat like a slow-release pill and you experience small doses of negativity over a long period of time, before finally, you feel the full effect. Everyone loves Hawaii, but a vacation there won’t be anything but a Band-Aid for feelings of feelings of distance, loneliness, and anger.
Recognizing the warning signs and addressing these feelings early in the relationship are the best ways to keep your bond strong.