Expenses are the most common cause of squabbles among couples, according to research. Which is no surprise, especially considering the fact that so many more people are living—and fusing their incomes—with their significant others today than ever before. “We all come from different financial backgrounds,” says Nikki Martinez, PsyD, psychologist and clinical professional counselor. “We may have had money, we may have always struggled, but with either situation, people have very strong ideals about how finances are managed.” To squash salary and spending scuffles, she suggests discussing how you each handle money and deciding who will take care of what expenses and how mutual funds will be managed.
Especially if you’ve been together several years, or decades, you might find that you no longer feel the same sense of urgency when it comes to spending quality alone time together. Especially if you live under the same roof and have similar schedules, you might feel like you’re spending too much time together—when really you’re not spending enough intimate time together. “This is a major issue that causes distance in a relationship,” says Martinez. “If people allow themselves to span longer and longer between intimacy, and lose site of the importance of affection, it can actually become uncomfortable and cause tension.” Discuss your views about how much and how often you each prefer intimacy and what you believe is healthy for your relationship. “Like a plant, it’s important to nurture and water your relationship,” Martinez adds.
Spending time apart
No matter the stage of your relationship, spending enough time together—but not too much time together—is a delicate balance. “It’s healthy to have your own friendships and interests outside of the relationship—and you need a partner who supports and understands that,” says Martinez Have a discussion about what each of you thinks is a healthy balance and be supportive of your individual efforts to have your individual personal and professional lives. This will help you appreciate the time you do spend together, says Martinez.
Lack of communication
People in relationships can suffer from having chronic difficulty talking with each other about various issues, says Grant Brenner, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist and author of Irrelationship. “This can happen with basic planning, such as what to do over the weekend, and can extend to more challenging conversations about the future of the relationship, their shared lives together, sex, children, financial issues, and so on.” But without basic communication skills—listening and speaking clearly—it’s hard, if not impossible, for your individual needs to be met. “Mutuality cannot develop well, and misunderstandings can do serious damage and lead into some vicious cycles.”
Trouble handling emotions
Just as communication is important, clearly identifying and coming to terms with one’s emotions is critical for the success and vitality of your relationship. “When one or both members of a couple has difficulty identifying and talking about their emotions constructively, it leads to a basic failure to connect on a meaningful level,” Dr. Brenner says. As with communication issues, it can lead to basic misunderstanding and get in the way of planning as well as intimacy. In addition, Dr. Brenner adds that it can lead to one or both people feeling invalidated and unrecognized by the other person, and can sometimes become a situation where one person has to get good at “picking up” on what the other person is feeling and wants. While this can work for some couples, it doesn’t work for all. “It can become problematic because the person who isn’t adept at expressing his or her feelings is enabled to keep things to themselves,” he says. This is when speaking with a couples counselor can be beneficial. Doing so earlier than later is wise, as Dr. Brenner points out that, as more time passes, more negativity and issues continue to build up, making them harder to sort out.
Dividing up chores
Deciding who takes out the trash, cleans the kitchen counters, does the laundry, etc., does not always come easily to every couple. In fact, most roommates, even those not in romantic relationships, have disagreements over their preference for who tackles certain chores. Claudia Six, PhD, sexologist, relationship coach and author of Erotic Integrity: How to Be True to Yourself Sexually, recommends making a list of what needs to happen and how often, assigning each person a list of tasks, and committing to them. “Whatever does not get done, or whatever tasks do not get claimed, hire them out,” she adds. “If it means a housecleaner coming once a month to do the dirtiest work, it is cheaper than divorce.”
Hosting friends and family
When you live on your own, you can decide when and who to have over for company, however, when sharing a space, the other other person has a say—and one that may differ from yours. They might also operate on a different schedule than you and need quiet and rest during times you do not. “We all have a different amount of time we want to and can be around others. Many people view their home as their sanctuary and place of rest,” says Martinez. She suggests talking about what is a an appropriate amount of days and times for you each to have people over—which is especially important if you work different hours, if your partner needs to be getting their rest and if your partner has strong personal space needs. Find out each of your views and try not to violate the wants and needs of your partner.
Sleeping at the same time and together
While this issue might come down to your varying schedules, some people are simply night owls while others are early birds. “But there is a great degree of distance and loss of intimacy that can happen by either sleeping in different rooms, or at different times,” warns Martinez. “People feel a gap start to build by going to bed alone and not having this physical proximity with their partner.” She recommends discussing the personal importance of this to you. While it may not matter to some, it does to many. “If you have a need to sleep with your partner most of the time, let them know why this is important to you,” she adds. “If you schedules are enough in line, make the effort to sleep on the same schedule as much as possible.”
There are two areas of unresolved issues which can have a negative impact on relationships, though when handled well they contribute to personal growth and increased relationship quality, says Dr. Brenner. First, take steps to keep paranoia from destroying your relationship. One type involve issues stemming from a time before the two people met. “These are emotional problems often relating to intimacy in their family of origin or prior romantic relationships which are getting in the way,” he says. “A prime example is having been cheated on in past relationships which can lead to suspicion and difficulty with trust and intimacy.” The other are problems in the current relationship, which happened earlier on, but were not properly addressed, so they are still causing issues. “An example of this is when a couple broke up in the past and got back together, but never fully addressed the underlying reasons for the breakup,” Dr. Brenner says. “This continues to harbor concerns about both the stability of the relationship, as well as the reliability of the other person.”
While a lot of people have good sexual relationships with their partners, Dr. Brenner points out that many people have sexual dissatisfaction that are never addressed. “They can live in a state of deprivation, saying nothing; have outside relationships that are often kept in secrecy and can lead to serious problems down the road; they can have unsatisfying sex and not communicate that their needs are being met, and not ask for their needs to be met.” The bottom line is that sexual attraction and sexuality are an important ingredient to a healthy relationship. If you or your partner are finding that you have issues stemming from sex, seek help from a relationship counselor or sex therapist who can help you address the dysfunction.