There are a variety of stages within a relationship, where in the initial stages the mixture of emotional excitement brought the couples together, six or sixteen years later the love that has evolved is very different. 

The various stages that transpire within a relationship are quite normal, and are necessary for growth and development. Every relationship has its teething periods, but the problem really isn’t ‘what’ happens, but rather how you handle and deal with those issues.

Conflict is to be expected in every relationship. Everyone has their own belief systems and personal habits which have been learnt from young and some of these may irritate the other person, no matter how much love there is. In healthy relationships, couples are able to settle their differences whether it be by compromising or acceptance. 

For others, where there is no resolution, tension and frustration sets in, causing the couple to become detached within the relationship and leading emotionally distant lives. There is now a relationship breakdown, and at this point a decision needs to be made to either make the relationship work, or to end it.

Finishing a relationship can be very difficult, no matter how right it is for you to do so. It is normally the choice of one person to end a relationship, rather than the couple together, although the decision affects both persons concerned and their immediate family. It is important to truthfully assess whether the situation is so bad within a relationship that there is no other option.

  1. Are there possibilities for changes in the relationship?
  2. What steps can be taken towards improvement?
  3. Are there any advantages in ending the relationship, and if so, what are they?

Developing Problem Solving Skills

When we are having problems in our relationship, we can feel overwhelmed and have difficulty in seeing a way forward. Developing the ability to apply logical, critical, and creative thinking, enables us to find effective solutions. Problem solving is a process that involves a number of steps that you can follow.

  • Identify the problem
  • Break the problem down into parts – one small step at a time
  • Explore the problem – consider a variety of solutions and strategies
  • Set a goal – what would you like to achieve?
  • Choose a solution and put it into action 
  • Evaluate – what went well?
  • Evaluate – what could you do differently next time?


Lack of communication is a common problem and the one that probably needs most attention. One partner or sometimes both simply don’t know how to put into words what they feel. They may have grown up in a family where personal feelings were never shared openly, and so they lack the confidence to be open with their partner for fear of looking silly or being rejected.

Enhancing Communication: When problems arise in relationships, it is often as a result of poor communication. In order to communicate our desires and needs to our partner, we need a healthy sense of our own identity.

A successful relationship is dependent upon there being two individuals with a strong sense of self and clearly defined, healthy, personal boundaries. An appreciation of our own qualities enables us to see and value them in another and increases our capacity for intimacy and commitment.

Increasing our understanding of who we are and how we have developed as well as learning practical skills in communication and problem solving, can lead to more satisfying and harmonious relationships, and to personal fulfillment. There are some basic principles that are worth following if we want to have good communication with our partner.

Be clear about what you want to communicate – if you don’t know, they won’t either

  • Use “I” statements, stating what you want or feel rather than making “you” statements about your partner
  • Don’t blame or label your partner
  • Choose a time when you have their attention and there are no distractions
  • Take time to listen to what your partner is saying and resist the temptation to interrupt
  • If you are unclear or upset about what they have said, check for accuracy before you respond
  • Be encouraging and supportive
  • Be willing to negotiate

Unresolved emotional differences: These can put a very firm brake on the development of communication and intimacy in a relationship. Anger, hurt or resentment of one partner by the other, along with a lack of trust or a sense of not being appreciated by their partner, are examples.

Practical difficulties: These can reduce the level of intimacy in some relationships at different times. Examples might be financial concerns, pressures at work, difficulties with children, or just being too busy to really connect with each other.

Childhood experiences: These are often at the root of some people’s difficulty establishing intimacy. A person who has experienced a great deal of hurt as a child will often find it hard as an adult to trust their partner, however much they may be in love.

Examples of childhood pain that affects adult relationships include long-term conflict between parents, physical or sexual abuse, or a loss or death that was never properly accepted and grieved.

Such experiences can lead to a child having poor self-esteem, a basic doubt about whether or not he or she is worthy of love. These doubts can be carried into adulthood, making it very difficult for the person to open up to someone else in case they are rejected and their doubts are confirmed.

Intimacy does not happen by magic. It must be built up over time. This takes some people longer than for others. Often the harder you work at intimacy, the more valuable and rewarding it is. The following are some steps that may help.

  • Be positive about what you have in your relationship and let your partner know what you value about him/her and about the relationship. Put it into words, don’t assume they already know. Everybody likes to be told that they are appreciated and loved.
  • Create opportunities for intimacy. In other words, times when you can be alone together in a situation where you can focus on each other and on your relationship. The harder it is to do this because of the children, work or other commitments, the more important it is that you do it! Try to plan a regular evening, day or weekend for the two of you to be alone.
  • Practise making “I” statements about how you feel. This avoids putting your partner on the spot, and may help him or her do the same. For example “I feel hurt you didn’t ask me before you decided” instead of “Why didn’t you ask me first?”
  • After an argument look at the deeper feeling behind the anger, hurt, anxiety, or sense of being let down. Talk to your partner about these feelings.

For some of us, our best efforts are not enough, and our relationship comes to an end. Rebuilding your life after a relationship has ended can be a painful and challenging process.

The end of a relationship can result in disruption to the extent that we need to create a whole new way of life – often with a different place to live and with different relationships with family and friends. Finding our feet in these circumstances can be very difficult indeed.

Not Repeating the Old Patterns

Each of us is unique. We have learned how to be who we are through the particular circumstances of our family, and the society in which we live. Unfortunately, some of our early conditioning may result in us having feelings and behaviours that no longer serve us well, reduce our capacity for spontaneity and individuality, and our ability to relate well. Low self-esteem, poor personal boundaries, difficulties with intimacy, and feelings of shame and guilt impede our capacity to relate.

Letting go of this negative conditioning is possible. We tend to hang on fondly to old patterns of being and relating, fearing change or of being confronted with aspects of our personalities we prefer to keep at the blurry edges of our awareness.

Whilst dipping into the unknown can be anxiety-provoking, it can also be exciting and enlivening, opening up possibilities only previously dreamed of. Consider embarking on a journey toward something better.

© Australian Institute of Professional Counsellors –