The pattern is all too common. One moment your relationship is riding a wave of warmth, love and intimacy. But the next moment coldness, anger and blame creep in.
What is happening? Is it something that signals a serious underlying problem, or is it just the natural ebb and flow that accompanies the cycles of love?
Often we are too close to really understand what we're going through. But we recognize that we need help. But then, just as we decide to move in that direction, we decide to put it off. This yo-yo pattern repeats itself and we are once again at a loss to explain what is going on.
How do you know when your love life is on a crash course? For starters, there are common signs that can be clues. Once you identify them, you're on the road to better understanding.
The common signs of a troubled relationship are:
1. Decrease in sexual passion
6. Less time spent together
9. Manipulation of family members
1. Decrease Sexual Passion
There is a natural waxing and waning of passion that occurs in every relationship, but what we're talking about here is something else. While stress, fatigue and other pressures can creep between the sheets, there is no place for anger. When you find yourself shut down to your partner's advances, it's time to pay attention.
In order for your love to stay fresh and healthy, you must be able to talk about both simple and complex feelings. When bickering replaces conversation, nothing gets addressed and nothing gets resolved. Instead, tension builds and a power battle takes over. Anger and blame follow.
Like it or not, straight talk is healthy. Without it, you will lose your boundaries and values. We all have to stand up for something even when it is not received the way we had hoped. Real differences in a partnership don't have to cause problems, especially when they are explored with respect. When you remain silent and stoic, and keep everything below the surface, repressed feelings become part of a toxic brew. Eventually they take on a life of their own.
You have to be careful about this warning sign. It's confusing. Jealousy is a complicated emotion. It can mean many different things. The type of jealousy I'm referring to is unfounded jealousy, not jealousy that comes from watching a flirtatious partner about to make a conquest. Unfounded jealousy is something that appears without warning and disturbs the equilibrium of a relationship. This type of jealousy appears out of nowhere and can have little to do with infidelity. It is often a reflection of the loss of self- esteem and a deep sense of insecurity on the part of either you or your partner.
I have seen many people come into my office with depression. For the most part, they can't figure out why they are feeling like this. They say they have a good life, and a solid relationship. But as they talk, they realize that many things are missing in their love life, things they don't want to look at. Why? Because they fear that if they face the truth, that ultimately, they might wind up alone. They think they are better off not knowing. But in order to break the cycle of depression, one must be honest. As one patient told me, "Truth is my friend, it will guide me in a good direction."
6. Less Time Spent Together
When is enough time together enough? Well, that depends a lot on your needs. Finding the balance between love, responsibility and other demands creates a continuous juggling act. We all experience that. But an abrupt shift in shared time patterns could be a warning sign that something is out of whack. Too much separation and not enough shared activities can create a void, making intimacy difficult to experience.
I think of anxiety as a warning sign in much the same way that I think of depression. A sudden increase in anxiety or a change in sleep patterns can indicate that there is an unresolved issue lurking in your unconscious that needs to be exposed. Since relationships are so important in life, there's a big chance that anxiety is a red flag indicating that some aspect of your partnership needs to be examined.
When you're too dependent, the fundamental partnership is out of balance. If there's too much dependency, a natural resentment brews. One person is likely to feel burdened, the other frightened by their neediness. It's a "no win" situation. Equality is tossed out the window. The one in power often feels unappreciated and undervalued. The needy one frequently feels disappointment. Resentment grows and both partners feel judged.
9. Manipulation of Family Members
When you begin to manipulate and clutch at your children or others, your partner can easily be marginalized. A wedge can occur. Low-level family warfare can result. This can happen not only with children but with other family members, friends and even business colleagues. The result is that you and your partner are at odds.
I recognize the problem, now what can I do about it?
Relationships are enormously complex. There are no easy answers. Sometimes it may feel that it is too late, but in my practice, I've watched relationships flourish on very parched soil. Most issues can be resolved by honest dialogue and open conversations -- conversations that require you to leave all your "ammunition" behind.