There are at least a few rough patches over the course of any relationship. You may love one another dearly, but life has a way of producing obstacles. And that’s even if the problems aren’t coming from one or both people in the relationship. Whether it’s a marriage, a friendship, a father-son or mother-daughter relationship, or the relationship between siblings, trouble is bound to come your way and disrupt your relationship.The issue may be about money, or how you’re spending your time, or you may be growing apart, or life choices are being made that are causing the controversy. Whatever the case, problems arise and must be dealt with.
There are several things you can do when you are faced with an issue – you can choose to face it head-on and address what’s going on; you can also choose to ignore or minimize it and carry on. Whether you take one of these or an entirely different tack to deal with relationship problems, you’ll either improve your relationship or the issues may become further entrenched.
Problems don’t just go away by themselves; usually, if you don’t work on them, things tend to get worse. Emotional distance grows wider, your ability to communicate meaningfully with one another deteriorates further, and the possibility for resentment developing and taking root in the relationship becomes more real. How then do you work on relationship problems? Here are a few ways to work on relationship problems and resolve them meaningfully.
7 Tips for Working on Relationship Problems
1. Admit there may be a problem
This first point may seem obvious, but it needs saying. Sometimes one party to the relationship feels the issue more keenly than their partner. One spouse may think and say, “Honey, we don’t really talk anymore,” and find their spouse responding, “What do you mean? We talk plenty.” The spouse who feels there’s nothing wrong will change nothing, while the spouse who raised the issue will become increasingly frustrated until they reach a breaking point.Instead of resting on the perception that everything is okay if a person with whom you’re in a relationship (doesn’t matter the type) raises a concern, take the concern seriously and talk through it. The first step in resolving relationship problems is to be humble enough to admit that there may be a problem, even if you don’t see it or aren’t aware of it.
2. Work on the problem
A problem in a relationship has the potential to get between people. Sometimes, frustration can lead a person to attack their partner, instead of attacking the problem. Work the problem and try to address the issues without denigrating your opposite or engaging in any character assassination.
This can be hard if one person is causing the issue, but it’s possible to address the issue without calling the worth, intelligence, or dignity of a person into question. Using clear and specific “I” statements that outline the problem, among other means, can help you communicate your feelings in a way that doesn’t make the other person themselves the problem.
3. Show up, every day
When you have an issue in your relationship that’s serious enough to cause concern, it’s important that you show up every day and put in the work. Entropy means that things are typically moving from a state of order toward disorder and chaos; in relationships, as with most of life, things take a lot of time and effort to build and maintain.
But have you noticed how easy it is for something to fall apart? It takes years to build a good business reputation, but all it takes is one bad day for things to start going downhill. In relationships, it takes a long time to build trust and know someone well.
All it takes is one or just a handful of poor choices, and it can all fall apart. To resolve relationship problems and overcome the entropy that quite easily threatens to undermine relationships, we need to show up and work on the problem every day.
4. Be vulnerable and honest.
Any meaningful relationship is built upon trust. That trust is one of the casualties when a relationship is in trouble. To address relationship problems and find one another again, it requires emotional vulnerability and honesty. When you are open about your fears, hopes, and expectations that may have been realized, dashed, or unmet, that allows you both to talk openly and begin working towards overcoming those challenges.
If you remain closed off to one another and don’t share the true depths of the problem and how it has affected you, then your opponent won’t necessarily know and a need of yours may go unmet. Being honest about your capacity to meet a need is also valuable – then the other person knows that when you don’t meet that need, it’s not for lack of trying or disinterest. In this way, you can begin to rebuild trust.
5. Be open to correction.
This ties in with the first point about being willing to admit that there may be a problem. If you have two people in a relationship, and one of them is unwilling to see a problem or to admit that they may be responsible in some way for the issues in the relationship, then that makes for a difficult and nigh impossible situation.
Having the humility to admit that we may need to change how we talk, think, or act – in other words, being open to correction – creates room for growth and the possibility of change for the better. None of us is perfect and recognizing that fact while remaining open to correction and accepting that I could be wrong makes the process of receiving critique and advice much easier.
6. Be open to change.
Alongside being open to correction is the willingness to change. Perhaps the way you’ve always done things isn’t the best. Perhaps your way of managing your finances isn’t helpful or transparent enough. Maybe talking that way to your partner isn’t respectful to them and needs to change. Perhaps your use of time doesn’t honor your spouse.
None of us have arrived, and so change should always be on the menu. The apostle Paul, who wrote a considerable portion of the New Testament, wrote this to his friends:
I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. – Philippians 3:12-14
We keep looking forward and pressing on toward what God has in store for us. There are many ways in which we are not perfect as people, but rather than that causing us despair, we keep pressing on and taking advantage of countless opportunities for growth that come our way.
7. Be willing to get help.
Relationships can be complicated and messy things. You may find yourself in a situation where your relationship problems are beyond your capacity to understand, let alone resolve. We are not alone in this world, and whether it’s from the person we’re in the relationship with, or a support network of friends or a spiritual community, or from a trained therapist who understands relationship dynamics, we should be willing to get the help we need when we need it.
We may feel embarrassed for having certain problems, and that may prevent us from reaching out and finding help. But getting help when you feel you’re out of your depth (or even when you aren’t) is a sign of strength, courage, humility, and honesty. It doesn’t do you or your relationship any good to tread water when a life raft with a rescue team is right there next to you.
Relationships are fragile, and to keep them going requires a lot of delicate, consistent, and hard work. But they are worth it. God has made us in His image, and that’s why relationships are so fulfilling. As you follow these tips for working on your relationship problems, continue asking the Lord for strength and wisdom to meet the challenges you’re facing. He cares for you, and He desires that you flourish.
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