In every relationship, there comes a time when friction mars things. Misunderstandings, misrepresentations, unmet expectations, frustrations, lies, and hard truths can all bring difficulties into relationship issues. Two imperfect people, whether a couple in love, a parent and child, neighbors, colleagues, perfect strangers, or friends, are bound to run into trouble at some point in their interactions.
The all-important question to ask is “What then?” When conflict of whatever kind arises, some people avoid it, others address it head-on – with delicacy, or otherwise. For relationships to flourish and continue growing, being able to deal with conflict in a healthy way is a key skill.
When you know how to listen to the other person, their concerns, expectations, experience, and pain, you can discover what may have caused the issue, and decide on ways to move forward together.
Common Relationship Issues
A relationship can have issues such as:
Breakdown of trust
This can happen when a confidence is betrayed, or if the exclusivity of the relationship is breached, as with infidelity in a marriage. This breakdown can also occur if someone does not honor their word. A parent can promise things to their child and not deliver. A spouse can promise that after they finish graduate school, their partner will also have an opportunity to get further training – if that doesn’t happen, it can diminish trust.
Frustration and resentment
This can occur if someone doesn’t feel heard, or they experience repeated hurts that are either unacknowledged or for which no repentance has been forthcoming. If the relationship feels one-sided, or the needs of one party aren’t being met, it can lead to frustration and resentment
For any relationship to flourish, effective communication is necessary. A relationship might become strained due to simple miscommunication, but if the people in the relationship don’t talk about it, that simple miscommunication can evolve into a deep and abiding hurt. People need to hear others and feel heard. These two elements compose the bulk of good communication, but they are often absent.
Loss of emotional connection
The bonds that bind two people in a relationship such as a marriage or friendship can be strained, and the people involved drift apart. This can result from any of the issues listed above among other things.
These and other issues may be present in a relationship, and they can stifle growth, intimacy, and the warm affection that makes relationships worth having.
How to address relationship issues
In the face of the various relationship issues that can plague any relationship, what can be done to address them? Each relationship has a unique signature and history, so what follows will need to be adapted to fit your situation.
Reading the room
The first step in addressing a problem is being aware that there is one. If you’re oblivious to the problem, you’ll simply continue doing what you’re doing, and the issue will continue to fester. This isn’t a suggestion to hunt for issues in the relationship that don’t exist, but it is calling for self-awareness and developing emotional intelligence in your relationships.
As you engage with the other person, do things feel normal and open? If it feels as though something has changed, even though you may not be able to pinpoint it, use empathetic listening, asking the other person questions to check after the health of the relationship. It can be as simple as asking, “Hey, are you (or we) doing okay? You know you can talk to me about anything, right?”
Paying attention to the relationship and “reading the room” can go a long way to helping you pick up if anything is up. In a relationship such as a marriage, having a set time, perhaps an hour each week, to have a check-in with one another helps to nip issues in the bud and provides an opportunity to raise issues and ask questions.
We’ve already mentioned the value of empathetic listening in finding out if there’s an issue in the relationship. When you create space for another person to express themselves and feel heard, they feel valued, and it also gives you a clearer picture of where they’re at.
In creating that space to hear what the other person has to say, you’re opening yourself up to criticism. It may be that the cause of the issue in the relationship is you, and humility will allow us to take that challenge without becoming defensive or attacking the other person.
That can have the consequence of shutting the conversation down and complicating the situation further. Being willing to humble yourself and acknowledge when you’ve caused problems helps the relationship get back on track.
Humble listening, which is another way of talking about active listening, allows you to pay attention to what is being said. Instead of jumping to conclusions about what you think the other person means, pay close attention, and allow them to express themselves.
Ask clarifying questions. Summarize what they’ve said and repeat it back to them. Don’t interrupt them, allowing them to finish their sentences and thoughts. Listening humbly puts us in a position to hear someone else’s concerns, ensuring that they will walk away feeling like they were heard.
Being able to read the room and listen humbly are the first steps toward addressing relationship issues.
Outline the problem
When you’ve heard what the other person has said, you can clarify and outline the problem together. “So, are you saying that you have been feeling distant toward me because I didn’t seem to acknowledge the effort you went to for my birthday, and it made you feel unappreciated?”
Listening well to one another allows you to arrive at a place where you can both agree on what the issue is. Without clear communication, one may be thinking there is no issue, or assume that the issue is something else entirely. Talking through and outlining the problem together helps to scratch the itch.
Work through practical solutions together
When you both understand what the issue is, you can begin working on practical solutions together. In the scenario above, one solution may be clarifying the situation and asking for forgiveness.
“I’m so sorry that my actions made you feel unappreciated; please forgive me. I appreciate your friendship, and it was never my intention to make you feel that way. What can I do differently to show you my appreciation?” The other person can share how things can be done differently, and if you are agreeable, you can move forward with a new understanding.
Set a timeline or goals and when you’ll meet them
In situations where the issue is related to changing behavior or fulfilling a promise, you can set a timeline for it together. For instance, if a relationship is suffering because of anger issues, you can agree to set boundaries and for the appropriate party to go for anger management therapy.
This can encourage accountability and the required work to deal with the issue. Check back in with one another. Keep walking with one another on the journey, asking after progress, encouraging, and praying for one another.
We’ve already mentioned therapy as something that may need to happen in a relationship. The issue confronting your relationship may warrant the intervention and support of a trained professional, and that may be so whether you go for therapy by yourself or together depending on the situation.
A trained therapist understands relationship dynamics – what makes for healthy and unhealthy relationships, as well as ways to nurse a relationship back to health. They are someone who can help you with developing tools and skills to do relationships well. Therapy is a valuable tool to help us understand ourselves and other people better, and we do ourselves and our relationships a good turn by availing ourselves of it.
Relationship issues confront us all at some point in our lives. Our relationships can be stronger for going through points of crisis, provided we manage the situation with humility, maturity, and patience.
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