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Recognizing and Repairing Relationship Distress Signs

There are challenges in every relationship, but there are ways to repair them.

Key points

  • Studies show that most people entering a relationship overlook flaws and place greater emphasis on their potential partner’s positive traits.
  • A common sign of relationship distress is when one partner struggles to feel and express emotions, which can block connection.
  • Feeling the need to be "perfect" in a relationship could be a sign of not feeling completely accepted by one's partner.

In every relationship, there are challenges of one type or another. All of us are flawed and imperfect, and in trying to maintain a long-term relationship, conflict is bound to happen. Some distress signs in a relationship may emerge subtly over time, making them more difficult to clearly identify. These types of difficulties can cause people to feel generally dissatisfied with their relationship, but without a solid explanation for why they feel that way.

image via pixabay
Relationship Distress Signs
Source: image via pixabay

Relationship patterns begin early on. As people get to know each other, the desire to impress is strong; most of us do not actively try to deceive our prospective partners, but we certainly put our best foot forward and expend more effort to present in a pleasing way. These early patterns and interactions set an unspoken assumption and play on the most hopeful parts of ourselves. If people presented their full array of flaws from day one, there may never be a second date. In a sense, the dance of "best presentations" is an evolutionary relationship-saver.

Overlooking Early Signs of Distress

Some of the earliest signs of relationship distress are overlooked or dismissed because of the desire to believe in the other person’s worthiness as a partner. Idealizing a new partner and making exceptions for their flaws is an early sign that distress awaits. That’s not to say the relationship is doomed, but it indicates that the hope for an ideal partner may outweigh the ability to look at the situation objectively.

If this sounds familiar, you are not alone. Studies have shown that most people entering a relationship overlook flaws and place greater emphasis on their potential partner’s positive traits, even changing their standards to reflect their partner’s characteristics.

Relationship Red Flags

Whether you are in a relatively new relationship or have been with your partner for many years, there are benefits to facing the distress signs in your relationship. There are many relationship challenges that can be addressed and repaired. Common distress signs in relationships can include:

  • Feeling unheard/invalidated: You notice that your partner does not seem to respond to you in ways that feel validating, or they seem unaware of your needs.
  • Emotional unavailability: Your partner struggles with feeling and expressing emotions and it gets in the way of your connection as a couple.
  • Incompatible values: You and your partner have values that differ so much that it alters the way you see one another.
  • Lack of trust: You observe challenges with honesty, a sense that your partner is not being forthright about themselves, or have nagging suspicions about their behaviors at times.
  • Communication problems: You and your partner struggle with talking about important topics relevant to your relationship.
  • Feeling as if you cannot or should not be your true self: If the feeling of needing to be perfect for your mate continues, that could be a sign that you are not feeling accepted by them “as you are."

Much more can be said on the subject. If you are interested to learn more, please read "The Impact of Cognitive Distortions and History" and "Repairing Signs of Distress in a Relationship" on Living With Finesse.

Regardless of your relationship status and how you decide to manage the difficulties you face as a couple, remain true to your values and your sense of self. If you find that you cannot be yourself with them and this feeling persists, it may be important to examine whether being with this person is worth compromising your ability to be genuine and comfortable in a relationship. Commitment to a partner is only worthwhile when you are honoring yourself in the process.

More from Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT
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