Top 5 relationship problems
Money, sex and arguments are at the root of most couples' discontent. Susan Quilliam tackles the most common relationship problems.
My partner's having an affair. Is this the end of our relationship?
'I've discovered my husband's been unfaithful with one of our closest friends. The past few days have been a horrendous mixture of rows, tears and recriminations. He says he still loves me, and I still love him, but everyone I know tells me to just walk away. Is there any hope for us?'
Infidelity doesn't have to spell the end for a relationship. Yes, some partners have affairs because they want out of the relationship, but for most people, an affair is a wake-up call. It's a signal that they're not happy, but if the relationship changed they would stay. In some cases, a relationship is strengthened by an affair as both partners have had to face and work through the problems in their relationship.
Affair action plan
News that your partner has had an affair will shock. Don't make any hasty decisions about your future, however much other people pressure you to do so.
Your partner needs to agree to stop seeing his (or her) lover - if they refuse, walk away.
Once you're over the shock and can talk calmly with your partner, try and talk through the reasons for the infidelity. Think about the question: what needs to change in your relationship for infidelity never to happen again? Couples counselling can provide a neutral and supportive environment to talk these difficult issues through.
Read: After the Affair by Julia Cole (Vermilion, £6.99).
We keep having the same old arguments. How do we stop going round in circles?
'We are always arguing and it's always about the same things. We try to work things out, but one of us always loses our temper - and to be honest, I'm losing faith that we will ever get things sorted. How can we stop these rows?'
There are two key causes of arguments. Firstly, you may not have the necessary skills to resolve serious conflicts. Whilst you were fine in the early part of your relationship, when there was nothing serious to argue about, now your differences of opinion are apparent, you struggle to resolve issues and can't cope.
Secondly, you avoid discussing the issue you're really upset about - one or both of you feels furious but either doesn't realise it, or is too scared to admit it.
Stop arguing action plan
- Discover the hidden resentments that are lurking under the surface; sometimes acknowledgement alone clears them up.
- Discuss together - if necessary with the help of a counsellor - any long-standing issues, things you just can't forgive.
- Develop ways of nipping an argument in the bud by breaking the mood with a hug, a joke or an apology.
- Learn the skills of negotiation to resolve things that you can't agree on in a way that leaves both of you feeling good.
- Head off building resentments by taking time every day to bring up differences and disagreements and clear the air.
Read: Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton (Arrow, £8.99).
My partner's gone off sex. Does it mean he has gone off me?
'At the beginning of our relationship, sex was non-stop. But over the past six months, my partner seems to have lost all interest in sex. He never initiates sex and none of my efforts to entice him into bed are working. He says he still loves me, but I don't believe him.'
Sexual desire naturally dips in any relationship. However, when desire completely dies away, there is something wrong. It's not necessarily due to problems in the relationship. Desire can fade through physical causes, such as illness or medication and mental causes such as stress or depression.
Sex action plan
- Encourage a partner who's lost interest in sex to have a medical check-up.
- If loss of desire has followed a life failure, such as job loss, then offer support. Once confidence returns, your partner's sex drive will, too.
- Even if the love is still there, sometimes relationship resentment can mean that there isn't enough trust for lovemaking - couples counselling may help.
- Remove as much stress from life as possible - cut back work, spend more leisure time, take regular breaks away.
- The worst you can do is to pressure a partner who's gone off sex - that'll just add to their anxiety and make them less likely to feel sexy.
Read: Sex in Loving Relationships by Sarah Litvinoff (Vermilion, £7.99).
I love my partner - but I can't get on with his children
'We've been together for nearly a year, and everything's wonderful - except for the weekends when he sees his children. I haven't got children of my own and feel uneasy with his. They resent me because they want him to get back with their Mum. The whole weekend's stressful and after the children have gone home we always end up rowing'.
Being a step-parent can create all kinds of problems. Your partner wants to do the best for his kids and in principle you agree with him. In practice, you feel left out and often hurt by the children's hostility towards you. This emotional tug-of-war creates strain in your relationship.
Step-parenting action plan
Expect the children to come first when your partner sees them; don't fight them for his attention or put him in an emotional tug-of-war.
When you're with the children, be yourself; they'll spot false attempts to win them round. As to childcare, support your partner's way of interacting with his children - he may feel as unskilled as you are about coping with them.
If you really find it hard to be with your partner's children, stay away. It's vital that he gets good quality time with them - you have him the rest of the time!
Read: Making Friends with your Stepchildren by Rosemary Wells (Sheldon Press, £6.99).
We never agree about money
'My partner and I just have completely different attitudes to money. He seems incapable of keeping track and as a result we sometimes get overdrawn. I'm much more careful, to the point where he often accuses me of being miserly. I feel so out of control when he spends too much - and he says he feels nagged and controlled when I try to get him to cut back. We're not too bad at the start of the month, but by the end we're at each other's throats.'
Money plays an important part of life, but the thing to remember is that money is never just about money. It can be a real power issue in a relationship, with each partner wanting to organise and spend their money their own way. The problems start with our different attitudes- we've all inherited different spending patterns from our parents and the different ways we deal with it can lead to problems.
Cash action plan
- Look back at how you were taught to handle money - then swap notes. The more you appreciate each other's attitudes to money, the less you'll row.
- If one of you is earning far more than the other, they shouldn't therefore hold all the control; value each partner's contributions, whether they are financial or not.
- Work out a way of managing your finances that gives you both some money that you alone control - such as a joint account for housekeeping plus 'spending money'.
- If neither of you are good at budgeting, seek expert help. Call National Debtline on 0808 808 4000.
- If money arguments have suddenly erupted, ask why; how has the power balance in your relationship altered in recent months? This could be what's triggering the arguments.
Read: Stop fighting about money by Corinne Sweet, (Hodder & Stoughton, £6.99).