Anyone who’s been in a long term relationship will tell you there are rough periods, and most people, when they’re honest, will admit to doubts along the way. But sometimes we don’t know how to assess, “Just how bad is it?” Here’s a list of symptoms that suggest a relationship is in trouble. The more symptoms you think are true for you and/or your partner, the more likely your relationship is in need of some help. If you have three to five checked off, you probably need a tune-up. More than five, it’s time to consider more serious therapy, either alone or with your partner, or in some cases, both.

Below this list is another one, “Signs of Severe Relationship Problems.”

______ You feel worse around your partner than you do when you’re on your own.

______ Your self-esteem has plummeted since you’ve been together.

______ Either you or your partner, or both of you, are dishonest with each other.

______ You often feel hurt by how you are treated by your partner, instead of feeling good while being together.

_______ You complain frequently about your relationship to others.

_______One or both of you have become frequently critical of each other.

______ You are unable to approach your partner with your concerns in a reasonable way, without exploding in anger or using passive aggressive (sarcastic, outwardly compliant but inwardly defiant) behavior. Or you expect that any confrontation will only result in an unproductive fight with no change in the situation. You feel you must walk on eggshells most of the time.

______ Most if not all of the issues that come up between you remain unresolved, even when you do try to sort them out together. Therefore, one or both of you often take a “why bother?” attitude about dealing with issues. This is different from “choosing your battles,” because even important issues remain unresolved and “go underground.”

______ You lose your enthusiasm about life, and have given up most of your hobbies, friends, or interests that were important to you before getting into the relationship. Instead you are consumed about the difficulties you are having in your relationship.

______You no longer trust your mate. This one is tricky, because some of us have trust issues, and find it hard to trust anyone. You may need help in exploring this with people who know you (and possibly your partner) well. Of course, sometimes the doubts turn out to be warranted.

______ Little things about your relationship bother you and you can’t let them go.

______ You find yourself more drawn to priorities outside the relationship than spending time together.

______ Your sex life has dwindled down to very infrequent or none at all, and at least one of you is unhappy about it.

______ One or both partners have become closer to someone else than with each other. This can be an emotional affair, or it can even be a friend, sibling, parent, or even one of the children. Obviously the most destructive of these is if there is an actual affair. Online relationships are just as destructive as if they were in person.

______You find yourself reverting to behaviors that take you away from your partner that are not likely to support a healthy lifestyle: drinking too much, spending too much time zoning out with electronics – computer, video games, TV; escaping into your work; finding more satisfaction in singular sex (pornography, escapist fantasies, etc.) than with your partner.

Did you answer Yes to three or more symptoms?

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Signs of Severe Relationship Problems

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is time to address them as soon as possible. It is usually very difficult to address these problems on your own, and getting help, or in certain cases getting out, if anyone is being abused by the relationship, including the children, is advisable.

______ You are afraid of your partner, because you’ve learned to expect an angry response that comes with name-calling, crude or abusive insults, or fits of rage.

______ You no longer speak to each other beyond the very basic necessities of shared living space.

______ One or both of you use indirect, passive-aggressive means to “get to” the other, and you often have the feeling that you’ve been punched in the stomach but don’t know why.

______ You or your partner spend nights away from the home without calling to let the partner know where they are or when they’ll be home. A lesser version of this, but still damaging to the relationship, occurs when one or both partners frequently stay out partying with others without their partner until very late.

______ Any incidence of domestic violence, including throwing objects, shoving, hitting, kicking, biting, or physical aggression against the other person. “Lesser” versions of this, but still very destructive, occur with violence against pets, or threats of violence against any living being. Still of concern is when one or both partners throw objects at walls, break things in the house, or otherwise destroy property.

______ Any incidence of threatening the other partner, suggesting they’ll hurt you (or you’ll hurt them) directly or by hurting themselves. (Some threats of suicide are thinly veiled attempts to make their partner feel so guilty that they become afraid of saying or doing anything that might upset their partner, such as leave the relationship.)

______ One or both partners use and abuse recreational drugs, including alcohol, on a regular basis, to the extent that it disrupts the relationship. This is the individual’s issue and may not be an indication that the relationship is in trouble – the person is in trouble, and their drinking/using will very negatively affect the relationship.

______ One or both partners are using their children to hurt their partner, or using them to send messages back and forth to their partner.

When a couple has this much distress in their lives, people might wonder why do they stay together? But there are many ways a couple feels locked in, primarily because of children and finances. Sometimes there is a real threat that if one partner makes any move to leave, the other partner will actually try to harm them in some way. These are highly abusive situations which are beyond the need of therapy, and a partner may need to use local resources of a safe house from domestic violence.

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Beth Strong, MA, LPC

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