The decline of a relationship is rarely something that just happens overnight. More often than not issues brew under the surface for a period of time.
Relationship experts constantly remind couples that communication is key and failure to do this can result in partners harbouring their feelings until it comes out in tense exchanges and arguments rather than a problem-solving discussion.
What are these seemingly minor issues that can, unknowingly, build up to cause resentment and bitterness in a relationship? Arabella Russell, a counsellor at Relate, shed some light on the actions and behaviours between couples which can lead to longer term problems.
Hearing but not listening
After the excitement of wanting to know absolutely everything there is to know about a person in the initial stages of a relationship, it is still important to listen to your other half says Russell.
“Further down the line, there is a tendency to stop listening, particularly when they are saying things you don’t want to hear. But when your partner is not paying attention to what you are saying it can start to eat away at the relationship and do real damage. Keep listening to your partner and taking an interest, it is so important for a happy relationship.”
Not having enough ‘me time’
Even if you want to spend every waking moment with your partner, a bit of space can only be a good thing and maintaining independence is important in relationships.
“Having separate interests is one of the key ingredients to a happy relationship. Without this then one or both partners could end up feeling suffocated and you could run out of things to talk about. Having separate interests will improve your confidence and you may find your partner even misses you while you are gone. If you are always by their side, how can they ever long for you?”
Putting them down in public
This is often done without realising ; in social situations among friends after a glass of wine when it can be tempting to pick at your partner in an attempt to make a joke while conveying that you are in an easy-going and light-hearted relationship. However, Russell warns this can do more harm than you think: “It may be that your partner is pretty relaxed about these things and finds it funny when you call them a terrible cook or unromantic but it may be worth checking in with them in case you ever go too far without realising it. By all means have a laugh but ideally not at your partner’s expense.”
Insisting they hang out with your friends all the time
While it is normal to want your partner and friends to get on and combine all your favourite people together, too much of anything can potentially turn into a bad thing.
“Make sure you give your partner enough time to see the people they care about and make an effort to get along with them too. Or why not go and see your friends separately sometimes while your partner hangs out with theirs?” Russell advises. “Don’t let it become too one sided, even if you are the one who is in charge of the social calendar. If your partner doesn’t get to see their friends as much they may end up feeling they are losing their identity and resenting you for it.”
Projecting your feelings onto your partner
Before accusing your partner of being in a bad mood, perhaps take a moment to check you are not the one with any issues.
“Saying ‘you make me feel’ rather than ‘I feel’ is very accusatory,” Russell says. “You need to own your own feelings: nobody makes you feel anything, you only make yourself feel that way. It is about being able to talk to your partner and say ‘I feel like this when you do this’ rather than accusing them. Just make this simple change and you will probably find your partner responds in a much more positive way.”
Being too critical
It might go without saying that even the most relaxed person does not want to be repeatedly criticised, but when you share such an intense and close proximity with someone people can fall in the trap of not realising how frequently they criticise their partner.
“It can be so tempting to complain to your partner whenever they do something wrong but this can create a miserable atmosphere,” Russell says. “If you adopt this approach, you may even find your partner starts avoiding you or anticipating that you have something negative to say as soon as you approach them. If something is bothering you, it is important to talk about it but instead of moaning at them then and there, consider finding a time when you are both free to chat, free of distractions.”
Assuming instead of asking
Especially in long-term relationships, couples can assume their partner will instantly know what they are thinking and feeling so believe the onus should be on the partner to know if they are unhappy for some reason.
“This can cause real problems because it leads to assumptions and stops couples from actually communicating with one another about how they are really feeling,” says Russell.