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Common causes of relationship problems

by Sarah Graham
Monday 01 December 2014
2362 8463

Romantic relationships can be a wonderful source of love and companionship, but not even the happiest of couples is immune from occasional difficulties. Sustaining a long-term relationship can be hard work, and communication breakdowns can leave your love feeling stale. We asked some RSCPP therapists to explain common causes of relationship problems.


A common relationship problem is conflict. You may be fighting, arguing and unable to communicate with your partner. This can be deeply distressing for you and your partner - and children, if you have them.
Registered Psychotherapist Rachel Lebus


Lack of trust

One common relationship problem is lack of trust, either due to a past situation or a lack of confidence which is exasperated by imagination. If you lack trust, you may begin to behave in bizarre ways to test your partner and relationship. If you are not trusted, you may change your behaviours to try and prove your worth, but may eventually grow tired of this and begin to feel controlled.
Accredited Counsellor Liz Hynes


Past experiences and expectations 

Relationship difficulties may be based on your previous experiences and expectations, and how these make you feel and act in your current relationship. If you had a highly critical parent, you may strive to please your partner and seek validation through achievement, which may make it difficult to show your vulnerability, ask for help or accept less than perfection. If you have experienced abuse, you may expect rejection or harm and be extremely guarded in a relationship. Or, if you have experienced abandonment, you may seek love at any cost and end up in relationships with people who abuse you. Couples may find different expectations and ways of doing things, whilst not problematic in themselves, can cause the sparks to fly in a close and intimate relationship.
Registered Psychologist Dr. Ruth Ann Harpur-Lewis


Lack of work-life balance

Many couples are finding themselves in the 'sandwich generation', squeezed between the competing and increasing demands of the younger and older generations. Perhaps children are testing boundaries, demanding expensive items, requiring help with studies, whilst at the same time elderly parents are beginning to struggle or need support as they go through medical tests or treatment. All this can be emotionally and physically draining. At the same time, competition in the workplace requires greater and greater commitment on the part of professional people. Caught in this trap, you may begin to resent the demands of your partner or spouse. Time together feels like another task to tick off the job list and this undermines feelings of tenderness and douses any fires of passion. Patience can dry up and squabbles can quickly turn into full blown arguments, as a downward spiral begins to undermine the whole relationship.
Registered Counsellor Keith Beckingham


Money concerns

Money can cause problems in relationships in various ways. You and your partner may have different ideas about how money issues should be managed and your own individual attitudes towards money. This may result in breakdown in communication and a feeling that you are growing apart, and can lead to a breakdown in other areas of your relationship. Getting into debt may also lead to feelings of failure, which may result in you withdrawing from your partner and leave you with a sense of isolation.


Sexual problems 

Although sex in a relationship may not be the most important thing, when difficulties arise it can cause a lot of hurt, tension, misunderstanding and lack of intimacy. Amongst new parents, for example, many couples who had previously considered themselves to have a good sex life, may now feel that it has become non-existent or a major source of conflict and resentment. For some couples, sexual problems can form a pattern that is hard to change and can lead to resentment, rejection, hurt and retaliation. You may not cuddle anymore for fear of this being taken as an encouragement for sex. You may be spending more time on social media sites and separate mobile phones or laptops than with each other. Perhaps you feel there is little or no romance or 'setting the mood'. The more distant you and your partner become, the more unlikely it is that your previous sex life will return. Trying to communicate the need for talking, understanding and finding a good balance between life's other demands, and the effort of maintaining intimacy and closeness as a couple, can lead to an improvement in all areas of your relationship.
Registered Counsellor Brenda Silverman



Infidelity can at times be a sign of something breaking down in a relationship - something such as communication, respect, unresolved tensions, unsatisfactory sex and so on. Sometimes you may lack insight into your own behaviours, so don't understand why you have cheated on your partner. If you are aware of why, you may not wish to disclose this as you fear it may cause more problems in the relationship. However, when the other partner knows but the underlying issues are neither disclosed or addressed, then the relationship may deteriorate further.

Finding support

You can find out more about symptoms and causes of Relationship Problems, including how to find a therapist. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

Find a Therapist working with Relationship Problems

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Updated 01 December 2014