Problems are a natural part of any relationship, including romantic relationships.
They can either help a couple grow stronger or end the relationship.
So how do you avoid the latter?
We asked 13 experts, “How to solve relationship problems without breaking up?”
See their top insights below.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
Solving relationship problems without breaking up requires an overall understanding that it is not humanly possible to have a perfect relationship.
In fact, it is quite “normal” for every relationship to experience “problems” as a result of two different human beings having two different and unique life experiences that shape two different and unique opinions about life.
We are all distinct and unrepeatable, which means that it is less important (because it is not possible!) to agree about everything and more important to learn how to value and respect each person’s unique childhood upbringing that wired up their personality in a unique way.
Every couple that comes into my office complains that “we are just SO different from each other, maybe it means we don’t belong together.”
I remind them of two things:
- you have both ALWAYS been this different from each other, and despite that, you made the decision to marry this person, and
- healthy, mature love is about learning how to navigate your differences by respecting each other’s uniqueness and finding the value in your partner’s specific life experiences that shaped his or her personality into the one that you fell in love with.
Read related article: Best Marriage Books for Couples
If on the other hand, either person sees their relationship problems as a reason to torpedo the relationship, it is another sign of emotional immaturity.
I’m not saying that some problems in a relationship may seem to be insurmountable and cause one or both partners to feel hopeless about whether or not the relationship will ever get out from underneath those problems.
But in that case, it behooves the couple to get themselves in front of some third party referee that come help them learn how to meet in the middle!
Finally, the one thing that is absolutely crucial for a healthy change to occur when a relationship is having problems—is for both people to have the willingness to change and identify their own blind-spots that get in the way of working things out.
This act of good faith sends a message to the other partner that blaming each other only bogs the healing process down and breeds mistrust.
Finding a way to meet in the middle helps to create an egalitarian partnership where BOTH SETS OF NEEDS are important and respected.
Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., Aka “Dr. Romance”
Psychotherapist | Author, How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together
During dating, you two may have felt that you agreed with each other on everything. But, after you married things changed.
You were probably shocked when you realized the object of your affections, your dream come true, the Prince or Princess Charming you fell in love with had different ideas about how life, love, home, finances, and children should be.
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation, or infrastructure, of clear thinking, problem-solving, and mutual support.
Any willing couple can learn to build a happy relationship if they stop reacting and learn to respond thoughtfully. As an individual you have ideas and beliefs about how certain things in life should be handled, and so does your partner; and we all tend to assume everyone, especially a person who loves us, will see it our way.
In forty years of counseling, I’ve spent many hours teaching couples the techniques and information that will allow them to communicate and solve problems, rather than fight endlessly about the same things.
In thirty-seven years of marriage, I’ve also learned from my own experience that there’s a big difference between the skills and attitudes one needs to date and fall in love, and what is needed to make married life, home and family work smoothly.
There’s a difference between being lovers and being partners, and on top of all that, keeping enough romance and fun alive to make it all feel worthwhile. Those of us who succeed are the blessed ones, the happy ones, and you can be, too.
Dr. Romance’s 3 Guidelines for avoiding divorce
#1 Calm down.
Couples often feel panicked when something goes wrong in the marriage.
Understand that problems are just opportunities to learn and grow, and to find a new and exciting way to do things.
You can’t think when you’re upset, so don’t talk when you are. Take a moment to calm down, take a deep breath, and talk rationally about what’s going on. Any problem can be fixed if you both focus on finding a solution.
#2 Avoid drama.
We often grow up with parents who create a lot of drama – fighting, cold silences, leaving and returning, court battles, child custody problems, and financial struggles.
Drama of that type is never necessary – it’s a result of adults acting like upset children. Avoid dramatic pronouncements, scenes, and ultimatums when problems arise.
Instead, learn to sit down as an adult, and talk about what the solution might be; think and act as you do at work when a problem.
Arises – most people can’t throw fits and keep their jobs.
#3 Get counseling early.
When my husband and I first married, in 1982, we made a deal: If we couldn’t solve a problem on our own in three days, we’d go for counseling.
In the first few years, we had a few sessions, which were very helpful in teaching us how to be effective with each other.
All these years later, we are happy and haven’t needed counseling in many years.
Getting counseling early, before the drama sets in, will help you create a successful marriage together.
Margaret Paul, PhD
Author | Relationship Expert | Co-creator, The Powerful Inner Bonding
Unless there is physical or verbal abuse, breaking up is a waste of time, because each person takes themselves with them and will likely create some problems in their next relationships.
Relationships trigger all that is unhealed and staying in to heal the underlying issues can bring about much healing of the relationship.
Relationship problems stem from one primary source: self-abandonment.
There are four major ways people emotionally abandon themselves and avoid responsibility for their feelings:
- They stay focused up in their mind, ignoring their body, which is where their feelings are.
- They judge themselves harshly to try to have control over getting themselves to do things ‘right’ in order to try to get love and approval.
- They turn to various addictions, such as food, alcohol, drugs, nicotine, TV, sex or porn, social media, spending, and so on.
- They make their partner responsible for their sense of self-worth and safety.
Once they abandon themselves in these ways, they then need to try to control their partner into them the validation and attention they are not giving to themselves.
They try to get love rather than being able to share love, which they can do when they learn to love themselves rather than abandon themselves.
They might also abandon themselves financially – making their partner responsible for their financial safety; spiritually – making their partner their higher power rather than learning to connect with their own higher source of love and wisdom; organizationally – being messy or always late, which causes problems with a neat or on time partner; physically – not taking care of their physical health and becoming unattractive or dependent on their partner; and relationally – trying to control their partner with anger, blame, compliance, or resistance.
All of these forms of self-abandonment and forms of control create relationships problems.
These problems all get resolved when at least one of the partners learn how to love themselves and take responsibility for their feelings, rather than continue to abandon themselves. When one person does this inner work, the system changes.
Virginia Williamson, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Collaborative Counseling Group, LLC
Set aside time to talk about the tough stuff.
As an ongoing practice, set aside time weekly or every couple of weeks to talk about how you’re both feeling about the relationship specifically.
Keep the discussion time limit limited so that one or both partners do not become saturated. Each person should have an opportunity to speak without interruption, while the other listens with an open mind.
Take the conversation outside of your home if possible to reduce the chance of escalation or becoming distracted and avoiding the conversation due to other tasks that need to be attended to.
Choose a time when stress is relatively low, i.e. not at the end of a long workday or when either of you is rushed.
Going into these discussions, each partner can ask themselves, “If my partner only comes away from this conversation having a better understanding of one thing, this is what I most want them to hear.”
Prioritizing honest communication in your relationship means that neither partner is left wondering when they will be heard or trying to find the right time to spring something potentially unpleasant the other.
Remind yourself that you are on the same side.
The elements that we choose to focus on come into the foreground and everything else in the frame becomes blurry and distant.
Think about the ways in which you have handled difficult situations in the past successfully. Notice if your partner makes your coffee in the morning or moves the laundry into the dryer when it was forgotten or encourages your child to write you a note or draw you a picture after a particularly challenging work week.
In very few instances are people deliberately withholding loving acts so even if your significant other is missing the mark, be sure to take stock of their efforts.
If you are approaching one another as if you are on opposite sides, you may have your walls up and may be acting in ways that show you are waiting for the next attack.
While this may prepare you for a fight, it may also block anything good that’s happening from getting through or discourage the other person from even trying to connect with you.
Be direct and assertive about your needs.
We would all love it if others could anticipate our needs and meet them seamlessly, with no conversation or reminders, however, this is unrealistic and sets us up for disappointment and frustration.
The truth, from my perspective in observing couple dynamics, is that we tend to offer others what would be helpful to ourselves, which may not always be what our partner is seeking.
Rather than telling your partner what to stop doing or hinting at what you would like, make specific requests. For example,” I’m feeling like we haven’t really spent any time together lately. I’d love it if we could go to dinner or get tickets to a comedy show this weekend.”
Sometimes we are not even clear about our own needs so how can we expect the other person to know us better than we know ourselves.
Spend some time thinking about what is meaningful to you and don’t be afraid to ask for it. This doesn’t make it any less romantic, it shows a commitment to you and your happiness that they will honor your requests.
Don’t lose yourself.
With all of the demands of everyday life, it’s easy to experience a sense that there is just not enough time, however, relationships can deteriorate when we hold the other person responsible for our own lack of fulfillment.
While there may be real dissatisfaction about certain parts of the relationship, we cannot expect another person to completely fill us up.
We all need outside endeavors that we are passionate about and add to our vitality, and it’s our responsibility to prioritize some individual time toward the other pursuits and relationships that we value.
Know when to seek professional help.
One of the greatest challenges as a couples therapist is that couples often wait to enter into therapy until it may be too late, too much water under the bridge, resentments too high and too ingrained to be broken down.
Therapy can be a preventative and proactive measure. Your relationship may require the insight and guidance of someone outside of the couple to get to the sticking points and help you understand one another and move toward solutions that will meet both of your needs.
There is tremendous value in doing this when you still have good will toward one another. It is a loving act not a sign of defeat.
Angel M. Hoodye, MS, LPCS, CART
Owner, Flourishing Hope Counseling
#1 Acknowledge Feelings
When there is a disagreement between you and your partner a great, way to make a positive change without breaking up is to acknowledge each other’s feelings.
Take some time to reflect and then acknowledge the person’s feelings. This small change of recognizing how the person may feel about the situation can help to really set the tone for positive communication.
When you take the time to acknowledge your partner’s feelings they feel supported. This small change is also a great way to disarm the strong defense that we sometimes put up when conflict arises.
Take the time to acknowledge your own feelings about the situation too. This helps you to center yourself and get to the root of the issue between you two.
#2 Communication is a Two-Part Plan
Communicate, communicate and communicate we have all heard this before!
It’s true, take the time and share with your partner your feelings, thoughts, and concerns. Also be willing to hear your partner out.
A huge part of communication is not just the talking but listening. Don’t build up your attack while the person is talking. Listen to what they are saying and work to understand their point of view.
Each one of you must be able to share expectations, hurts as well as joys and passions. This healthy behavior increases your chance of having a supportive relationship.
#3 Give it Time, Don’t Be a Hot Head
It takes time. Patience is a major point of working through couples conflict without breaking up.
Remember that it takes time for us to get into the groove of a healthy relationship. A simple blow up doesn’t have to be the end of the relationship.
It does let you know there is still room for improvement. Give yourself a time out to reflect. Give your partner some time to let off some steam. Come back with a calm heart and a cool head.
#4 Have a Team Approach
If you are in this thing together then be willing to mutually do the work necessary to have a healthy meaningful relationship.
Instead of using words like I and me use words like we and us. This builds in that teamwork approach. If you want a healthy relationship you must be willing to work for it. It takes two!
#5 Be Willing to Compromise
Part of having a healthy relationship is being willing to compromise. This means having a unified approach where you mutually feel supported, understood and heard.
Investing in your relationship by compromising allows for you both to receive what you need from the relationship. When both people are happy you both win.
A great question to ask to prompt the compromise is what can we do that will allow us both to feel pleased with this situation?
The start of a great compromise is willingness. You must be willing to work together for a successful relationship.
Licensed Clinical Social Worker | Licensed Alcohol | Drug Counselor
The first step is to acknowledge that the problem exists.
In many relationships, a problem may exist but it is never openly addressed, and feelings about the issue are not directly expressed.
Holding back feelings can build up resentment and then feelings like anger and frustration spill over into the relationship in the smaller day to day disagreements like someone not doing the dishes when in reality, the problem is much greater.
Therefore, it is critical that partners can safely speak about their feelings about the problem, and be able to address their needs.
The problem that many relationships face is that problems are discussed in a way that leads to a tit for tat match where one person ends up being angry and making the other person feel like they are being attacked, thus resulting in the other person being defensive and closed off.
This dynamic keeps the relationship stuck and the problem unresolved. In order to stop this cycle, both parties need to take a step back, breathe, and enter the conversation knowing that they are both playing for the same team and this is not me vs. you, but rather us working together to resolve the problem.
Both parties need to be able to take responsibility and accountability that they each may be contributing to the problem somehow.
Active listening is a very important skill that can help couples move forward in an argument.
Active listening is all about listening and taking in information in order to understand where the other person is coming from, what they are feeling, and what they are trying to communicate they need.
In many cases, partners hear what the other person is saying but they are not taking it in with understanding, empathy, love or compassion, but rather, use the information to fuel a defensive response or to try to prove why the other person is wrong or at fault.
In order for couples to be able to practice healthy communication and active listening skills in the midst of an argument, safety has to be built into the relationship.
Certain boundaries such as an agreement to keep voice and tone calm, no screaming or yelling, no name calling, having the ability to time-out or ask for space from the conversation when needed, to name a few, may need to be out in place during a neutral time in the relationship, so that couples have a safe game plan for navigating tough periods of conflict.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin
Certified Imago Relationship Therapist | Founder, The Marriage Restoration Project
The most helpful way to process what’s going on in your relationship is learning how to have safe conversations.
Couples that learn the Imago Dialogue can learn how to have a safe conversation by “mirroring” back or repeating what the other says without interjecting their own opinion, validating their partner by letting them know they make sense and empathize with them by imagining what emotions they may be experiencing.
This will help the other feel that there is a real caring relationship.
Once they feel safe and connected, they will be able to focus their attention on a more productive resolution to the problem.
Having a deeper understanding of each other’s point of view and compassion for the other’s story will take them off the defensive and enable them to be more sensitive and flexible towards finding a win-win solution.
Rosalind Sedacca, CLC
Dating In Mid-Life Mentor, Women Dating After 40
The key to solving ALL relationship problems always starts with LISTENING first.
Listen until you really GET where your partner is at and what is upsetting them. We can’t solve conflict without first understanding the other person’s perspective on the issues.
So after listening, paraphrase back what you believe you heard and let your partner clarify, correct or emphasize the most important points.
Before stating your own response to the problem, take a moment to acknowledge your partner’s feelings.
Even if you don’t agree you can find something that makes sense for you to validate:
“I’m sorry you’re so upset about this.”
“I can appreciate how hard you worked and how disappointed you are with my response.”
“I can only imagine how hurt you’re feeling right now.”
“Thanks for letting me know what’s really going on for you.”
These comments open the door to a healthier level of communication. It reflects care, compassion and empathy within you which can solidify the relationship despite differences of opinions.
Validating your partner’s message and feelings can diffuse some of the tension they are feeling enabling them to hear you and acknowledge your different perspective on the problem.
It can make the difference between healing the relationship versus giving up and breaking up!
Chief Wedding Officiant | Premarital Counselor | Owner, MARRIED by REV ROXY
#1 “I” language is a classic way to communicate in a way that is not accusatory.
It leads nicely into a request from your partner rather than blaming them for something they did or did not do.
It also sets your partner up to not be on the defense and promotes listening from a partner or spouse. This can also be helpful with work relationships such as with a boss or coworker as well.
#2 Consider their love language before planning when and how to speak to them about something important to you.
If their language is physical touch then make sure you in a space that allows you to be close or periodically touch your partner during the discussion. Also, ensure that you are comfortable as well.
Read related article: The 10 Best Books on Body Language to Buy
#3 Try something new!
Life can become pretty stale with routine. Although routine brings comfort sometimes relationships need to be shaken (in a good way) in order to be reminded why they have been formed in the first place.
This point is very much helpful after the problem has been discussed in a comfortable space.
RMT Certified Coach
You and your partner have been together for years, but when you’re tired of the rejection, the control, the lack of parity – is there really any other way than breaking up?
When you’ve invested years in a relationship, it’s difficult to let go. You have a choice, as does your partner.
You first need to find out if your partner wants the same. If the answer is YES you both want to make this work, continue reading.
When was the last time you felt loved by your partner? It’s probably been a while. This lack of connection will only become worse over time, so be sure to address issues sooner rather than later.
How do you feel loved by your partner? Identify how you feel loved in your relationship. Some people feel loved with receiving compliments. Others feel it with a hug.
Determine how you feel loved and share it with your partner, and have them share the same with you.
A great tool to use is a book called “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. Each partner can read it and be prepared to come to the table to discuss. You may learn something about your partner you never knew before.
Be sure to create polarity. Polarity is the opposite energies that create attraction – like a magnet.
For the women, remember how you felt as a carefree young girl. Dancing, twirling, creating… doing all things that came naturally to you. FEEL your energy.
This is the feminine energy you may have put aside in favor for a more “adult” energy that comes along with other adult responsibilities.
For the men, step into your masculine energy like the CRIME FIGHTING SUPERHERO you are! Take ownership of your adult self, supporting and helping your partner, and be there to hold her when she needs you.
Demonstrate your vulnerability. Share your concerns, needs, fantasies, and dreams. If you truly want to keep your partner in your life, you’ll need to figure out creative ways to fix and make dreams come true.
You each need to give 100% to your relationship.
There will be days when one partner is 120% and the other 80%, and days when it’s the opposite. It’s learning how to balance each other and share the responsibility of the success of your relationship.
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C
Director, Baltimore Therapy Center
Even when relationship problems seem insurmountable, breaking up is not the only option.
In the same way, you might go seek professional help with a medical issue you are having, you can get professional help for a relationship issue you are having, namely, couples counseling.
Frequently people balk at the idea of seeing a counselor or therapist, feeling that they should be able to “work things out on our own” or that something is wrong with them if they need help with their relationship.
But in fact, just as it is hardly a sign of fault or weakness to see a doctor, it is no shame to see a couples counselor either.
Nobody teaches us the rules of relationships as we grow up – we just kind of pick them up as we go along.
Many of us had poor role models to learn from, and negative experiences with others that colored our perspectives. Really, we could all use some relationship help in our lives!
Couples counselors are trained to help you find solutions to your relationship problems that work for you. It’s not about finding someone who “knows” what the answer is.
There is a wide range of problems they can help with, including many you might not think would be solvable – infidelity is one that many people view as a red line, but many couples counselors work frequently with such situations and can attest that change is possible.
Don’t give up on your relationship – if you can’t figure out how to make things better, seek out someone who can help you do so.
Health and Wellness Expert, Maple Holistics
Communication is one of the fundamental aspects of any relationship.
When you’re both able to be open and honest about the problems in your relationship and what’s bothering you it sets a foundation of trust.
This is an opening to solve the relationship without necessarily breaking up.
#2 Couples therapy
Some people think that going to therapy as a couple signifies the end of a relationship.
Contrary to popular belief, couples’ therapy is a way to encourage communication between a couple who is struggling to pinpoint the cause of their relationship problems.
Therapy proves that you both care about this relationship and want to fix it.
By respecting each other you give each other a non-judgmental space to express yourselves.
Whether this is making a request rather than an accusation or listening rather than defending, respect is a necessary component in solving a relationship without breaking up.
Kimberly Friedmutter, CHt
Relationship Expert | Author, “Subconscious Power“
Angelicize vs. Villainize your partner.
When you come from the attitude that we are all doing the best we can at the time, that attitude casts the light of possibility on the solution. Many couples are quick to rush to blame, victimizing themselves and villainizing their partner.
All unnecessary for moving forward. However, when your assumption and position is that your partner is doing the best for you and themselves at the time of the argument, you allow for transformation.
We all deserve to bask in the light of innocence and when you do that for your partner, they will do it back for you!