Relationship Problems Happen
Relationships have their ups and downs. These can be due to challenges in your personal life such as career and health; changes in your family life such as rearing children or losing beloved pets; other people in your life impacting you and your relationship; and things that happen in the world around us.
Furthermore, you both evolve through life so if you and your spouse/partner are not growing together you can easily grow apart.
But change and challenges are a fact of life so how you navigate these changes and challenges determines how rocky your journey will be.
Research Into Perception Of Control Of Relationship Problems
A key aspect of navigating change and challenges resiliently is the ability to solve problems well.
New research also highlights that individuals in romantic relationships are more likely to have, at some point, considered breaking-up with their romantic partner when they’ve felt a lack of control over their relationship problems .
And the sample they studied (mostly made up of Spanish people) had a good degree of variance:
- The average age of the 266 participants (133 heterosexual couples) in the study was 32 years. So this is a factor that can affect people from early adulthood.
- 96% of the participants were in good health. Therefore, we can rule out the pressures of health challenges affecting participants’ relationship satisfaction and perception of control.
- About 29% of the couples were married (almost a third of the sample). Marriage and cohabiting have been found to have different affects on individuals happiness levels  so the findings in this study are not due to marital status (alone).
- Some had children, some didn’t, with a range of 0 to 3 children per participant. Navigating parenthood can pose a significant challenge for some couples so again the findings are not merely due to having children or not having them.
- 15% had stayed together for more than 25 years, whilst 53% had been together for less than 5 years. Therefore, the length of the relationship was not the determining factor either.
So kids or no kids, a few years together or many years together, married or not married, feeling in control of your relationship problems helps prevent intentions to break-up.
Two Important Factors For Taking Control Of Your Relationship Problems
So what prevents you and/or your partner from feeling in control of your relationship problems and what can you do about it?
There are two things that will help you to feel in control of your relationship problems and thus be less likely to think about breaking up.
One, your attitude towards your relationship problems, current and future.
Two, your approach to resolving your relationship problems, current and future.
And the first determines the second.
Your Attitude Determines Your Approach
When problems occur, you can either see them as opportunities to improve your relationship, or problems dooming your relationship. What a difference in feeling that creates! Even as you read that sentence, the second one probably made your heart sink, just by merely reading it! That’s the power of words, that’s the power of thoughts.
Your attitude determines how you emotionally and physically feel, which in turn influence the behaviours you engage in, and thus, the outcomes you achieve, i.e. the results you get.
So if you think about the problems you’re facing and you see them as another sign of your relationship’s impending demise, you’ll feel deflated, sad, anxious and/or some other negative emotions. And as a result you may not even discuss the issues with your partner, let alone consider solutions for resolving the issues.*
Or if you do discuss and try to implement solutions, you won’t do them as thoughtfully or as diligently as you would with an optimistic outlook, because you’ve already told your mind that the whole exercise is pointless because of the impending demise you’re expecting.*
On the other hand, if you look at your relationship problems as a welcome sign that something needs addressing to ensure a happy, healthy, lasting marriage/partnership, then you’ll feel positive emotions such as gratitude and optimism, and you’ll begin heeding those warning signs in the form of relationship problems, by looking for solutions to whatever challenges you are facing.
So first comes your attitude. That’s the ticket to the next phase. The ‘fixing phase’. If you don’t get that ticket, you stay stuck in the ‘problem phase’.
Problem Phase —> Positive Attitude —> Fixing Phase
Problem Phase —> Negative Attitude —> Problem Phase
Pick the right attitude as that’s your ticket to getting to the fixing phase instead of remaining stuck in the problem phase.
There is an important caveat to mention here. Your negative attitude might be the result of your correct intuitive hunch that your relationship is doomed because, for example, you are in an abusive relationship and you’re realising that no matter how positive your attitude has been, how proactively you’ve found solutions, and how loving and giving you’ve been, nothing has changed, and perhaps only gotten worse.
In this case, your negative attitude is also a warning sign, just like your current relationship problems are, and the solution is to exit this dangerous relationship so that you can have what you want in the end, a happy, healthy lasting relationship, but it will just need to be with someone else, someone worthy of you.
Notice how problems always usher us towards our goals, happiness and life purpose, it’s just that they may require a different future than the one we had planned. And that’s okay. Be grateful. It’s to your benefit.
Risk Taking Is Involved
Interestingly, the researchers found a positive association between individuals subjectively feeling in control of their relationship problems and their willingness to take risks .
We could say, speaking up about relationship problems as opposed to brushing them under the rug, so to speak, and making suggestions about how to overcome those problems, are in themselves risks that you take. And that is the case regardless of whether you have a positive or negative attitude about resolving the relationship problems you are facing.
For example, looking at the risk on a spectrum, depending on how your partner behaves, you run the risk of: your partner being offended and/or hurt, to your partner sulking for hours or days, to your partner becoming psychologically or physically aggressive. The latter is, of course, a dangerous risk.
If you are concerned that you are in an abusive relationship, then this unwillingness to take the risk is a red flag signposting you towards safety and for that you need to seek help, help from loved ones you can trust or professional help (for example, a coach, therapist or domestic abuse helpline).
If your partner gets angry and shouts but is not abusive per se, then they need to get help with their anger because it has either become a habit that can be changed easily or because there is something deeper going on that can be resolved.
If on the other hand, you are worried about hurting your partner’s feelings, then that is a natural reaction and we’ll discuss that next.
How To Have Greater Control Of Your Relationship Problems
Short-term pain for long-term gain
Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind. And that can mean telling your partner something that may hurt or embarrass them a little in the short-term, but will make them happier, and your relationship happier, in the long-term.
But your approach matters, so here are some questions to ask yourself to help you navigate these tough conversations, better:
- How can I better understand my spouse/partner’s perception of our current problems instead of assuming what his/her behaviour is about?
- What do I need to genuinely take ownership of?
- How can I discuss our relationship problem with my spouse/partner in a compassionate, respectful way?
- What should I avoid saying?
- What will make him/her feel appreciated?
- What will make him/her feel heard?
- What usually makes him/her feel hurt and how can I prevent that from happening this time?
- What solutions could I suggest as ideas so that we can focus more on the solutions than the problems?
Implement positive changes
Together, agree on practical steps that you’re both going to take to make the relationship better by resolving the problems you’re facing. And then do them.
The problem will signal the solution.
- Not experiencing enough togetherness? —> Create more quality date nights/days together, with little or no distractions from others.
- Feel like you don’t have their attention when discussing important matters? —> Ensure you discuss important issues when they have the head and heart space to be present and empathic.
- Arguing a lot about how to raise you children? —> Come up with parenting rules that you both like, and evolve them together as the children grown and evolve.
Evolving Is Key
You evolve, your loved ones evolve, the world evolves. Just keep tackling issues head-on, as a team, to help ensure you keep evolving together.
Doing so will make you both feel in control of your relationship problems and if you both feel in control, you will both naturally be happier and healthier, and you’ll reduce the likelihood of either of you even considering a break-up.
1. Boto-García, D., & Perali, F. (2023). The association between marital locus of control and break-up intentions. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 00, 1–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajes.12511
2. Brown, S. L., Manning, W. D., & Payne, K. K. (2017). Relationship Quality among Cohabiting versus Married Couples. Journal of Family Issues, 38(12), 1730–1753. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X15622236