How Is Your Relationship Really Doing?

11 subtle warnings.

Posted Sep 15, 2017

Most intimate couples sense when their relationship is in trouble. When discord is brewing, one or both of the partners usually talk to each other about it. They know that ignoring potential distress is not a good thing.  

Most of those issues are relatively obvious and amenable to resolution. However, there are some common, more subtle ones that many intimate partners don’t recognize or don’t seem that important at the time. These underlying issues can slowly unravel the basic fabric of a relationship if not addressed.

In my four decades of working with couples, I have observed eleven of these under-the-radar saboteurs that can infiltrate even the best of relationships.  Caught early, they can easily be resolved. If they are allowed to fester, they often become much more damaging.

As you and your partner read through them, you’ll be able to identify whether any of them are currently present in your relationship. You’ll also be able to compare how their presence contrasts to how they manifested when you were first together.   

To evaluate how these issues may have changed from the beginning of your relationship to now, score each in the following manner:

Use the numbers one to ten, with “one” representing the issue as not important and “ten” as very significant. You’ll use this number evaluation span twice with each issue. The first evaluation will be to identify how this particular problem may exist currently. The second will measure how you experienced it when you first were in love.  

Once you’ve individually scored each example, you’ll want to explore the results with each other. If you have any major differences between each of your evaluation numbers, you’ll want to share your thoughts and feelings with each other. When you compare the present evaluations with those of the past, you will also have a clear picture as to whether or not that issue has become potentially damaging to your relationship.  

As you share your thoughts and feelings with each other, please listen without judgment. If your early relationship was not burdened by any of these issues but now is, you’ll need to help each other express any distress that accompanies those thoughts and feelings.

Bringing up potentially difficult situations can sometimes be disturbing. If that happens, tread gently as you explore together. Courageously facing the issues that cause distress is the best way to put your relationship back on the road to resolution.

The Eleven Subtle Issues That Can Harm Relationships

1) Gunny Sacking

When couples are first in love, they are acutely aware of anything that might upset the other partner. Most cannot bear sadness or anger between them for long, and are anxious to resolve their differences as soon as they become known.

As relationships mature and life’s challenges emerge, too many couples begin to suppress small irritations to maintain harmony in the moment. They avoid bringing up upsets and hope they’ll just away on their own. Over time, those seemingly insignificant distresses can build up, and a small infraction can unexpectedly trigger a torrent of saved-up gunnysacks of negative emotions.

With 1 being the least and 10 being the most, evaluate each situation as it existed at the beginning of the relationship and then as you experience it currently.

When your love was new, were you able to express any distresses you had with each other as they occurred? _____

How about now? ____

2) Percentage of Positive to Negative Interactions

When love is just beginning, most intimate partners are very complimentary and supportive, sharing on a regular basis how important each is to the other. Most new lover’s interactions are far more positive than negative.

As couples spend more time together, too many tend to drift away from expressing the positive parts of their relationship and continue share what they dislike or want changed. As that percentage of good interactions to bad ones lessens, the capacity for the relationship to heal diminishes.

Were there more positive than negative interactions between you when you were first together? ____

How about now? ____

3) More Rapid Escalation during Conflicts

New partners constantly strive to maintain harmony. When they do disagree, they try to resolve their differences gently, with care, and as rapidly as possible. Instead of attacking or criticizing, they are more likely to talk from their hearts, listen carefully, and ask for what each needs to feel better. They search for greater understandings and strive to avoid offensive behaviors in the future.

In sad contrast, many established couples not only disagree more often, but react more quickly and intensely during their conflicts. They become more concerned with getting their own points across than listening to the other. The relationship turns destructive more often and takes longer to heal.

How patiently and caringly did you resolve conflicts when you were first together? ____

How about now? ____

4) Boredom

Novelty, intrigue, and discovery are the core experiences of new love. At the beginning, romantic partners fervently seek the combination of security and challenge. Both partners are eager and curious to explore the other’s sexual, emotional, mental, and spiritual world views.

As a relationship matures, many couples forget how important it is for them to keep searching for new experiences together. As their relationship becomes more predictable, neither partner has to put as much into it, and the impending laziness can easily turn into boredom. Knowing everything there is about each other can result in a loss of intrigue. The attraction to security and predictability does produce comfort, but may be at the expense of the novelty that great relationships need in order to regenerate.

How present or important was intrigue and discovery to either of you when you were first together? ____

How about now? ____

5) Frustration Tolerance

New couples seem to have almost unlimited patience for each other. They remain caring and supportive even when faced with difficult challenges.

As relationships mature, disappointments or disillusionments can build, and frustration tolerance lowers. When that happens, that safety net of inexhaustible patience often wanes, and the ability to stay open and patient can quickly give way to impatience and dismissal.

What once seemed like an innocent challenge can be experienced as a more urgent demand for resolution. What once was a need for connection can be perceived as an insistent requirement for attention. Repeated expressions of needs of any kind might be met with an irritated or impatient response.

How quickly did you get frustrated with one another when you were first together? ____

How about now? ____

6) Inquiry Before Judgment

New lovers act as if they are like emotional anthropologists to each other. They are excited to explore and embrace any differences in their emotional, spiritual, cultural, mental, and physical world views, and do so with curiosity and patience.

As most couples mature, they become more urgent to get to the bottom line, and replace timeless inquiry with impatience. Those rapid reactions can obliterate the possibilities of new thoughts and feelings that could have emerged when the partners had more patience.

How patient were you with your partners needs to share when your relationship was new? ____

How about now? ____

7) Staying in the Moment

When people first connect, they experience the comfort of timelessness. They live in the moment and let the past and future dissolve. They are absorbed by one another’s facial expressions, voice intonations, body language, and rhythms. Ever-watchful for new data, they “focus in” when they are together, searching to sense any changes in the other’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

As intimate partners get to know one another, that exquisite attentiveness often diminishes. They may think they are listening to their partner, but are actually more preoccupied with something else.

How well were you able to be timeless and deeply involved with your partner when your love was new? ____

How about now? ____

8) Prime Time

New lovers make their relationship central to their lives, often putting life’s other demands on a back burner. They give their best selves first to one another and make other needs less important.

As relationships mature, too many couples give the best of themselves elsewhere and use their relationship as the place to recharge. Often without realizing it, they forget to make each other a high enough priority. They are aware how easily the challenges of life can steal that special time away from them, and forget to keep those sacred moments from dissolving into life’s other demands.  

How often did you give the best of yourself to your partner when your love was new? ____

How about now? ____

9) Emotional and Physical Affection

Most human beings not only yearn for affection, but cannot truly thrive without it. Affection is the way most loving couples communicate warmth, safety, and welcome in their interactions. Though the need for the kind and frequency of affection can widely vary from person to person, new couples make certain that their partner’s needs are known and met.

As relationship partners spend more time together, they often become lax in remembering to express affection in the ways the other partner desires. They may take the other for granted, or forget to check in on a regular basis, often incorrectly assuming that he or she is okay.

How well did you express emotional and physical affection to your partner when your love was new? ____

How about now? ­­­­____

10) Responses to Mistakes

New lovers are quick to forgive when their partners do something wrong, often expressing concern and reassurance even before understanding the full impact of their partner’s actions. They respond to most errors with concern, support, and reassurance. Their love for each other is more important than assigning blame.

Long-term partners too often forget to do that. They are more likely to respond impatiently and negatively, leaving the other partner hurt, embarrassed, and defensive. Instead of working to diminish the distress and to focusing on what they continue to love about that partner, they react in a way that hurts and distances.

When your love was new, how patient and caring were you when your partner made errors? ____

How about now? ____

11) Shared Sacred Commitments and Beliefs

New lovers strive to make their partners feel deeply known, treasured, and beloved. They accept and commit to the same values and ethics that sustain their trust in each other and the relationship.

As relationships mature and life’s challenges intervene, the partners are likely to develop new thoughts and feelings that may be different from those they originally shared with each other. If either feels those changes could threaten the other partner, he or she may choose to keep those thoughts and feelings to themselves instead of sharing them.

If partners continue to keep those kinds of secret thoughts or feelings from the other, they may eventually seal them off and then not know how to talk about them later. The longer that goes on, the more the other partner will feel betrayed when those new interests emerge.

Were you in fully honest, and in accord with each other’s beliefs, ethics, and values when you’re your love was new? ____

How about now? ____

These eleven potentially damaging relationship issues can be revisited as often as either of you feels they may need to be throughout your relationship. The sooner they are identified, confronted, and resolved, the more your relationship will get back on track and realize the possibilities you both deserve.

My free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over my 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring.