Relationship Resilience: How to Spot Signs of Trouble

When you’re in a relationship for a long time, it’s easy to miss the signs that the wellbeing of the relationship isn’t all-that great. This is why Brent Bradley, PhD, an Associate Professor of Family Therapy, and James Furrow, PhD, is Professor of Marital and Family Therapy, have written about the warning signs of relationship trouble – and ways to build a more resilient relationship through complementary wellness – in their book Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy For Dummies. So what are the signs your relationship is in trouble?


  • Arguments Go Unresolved: According to Bradley and Furrow, ‘Most couples have common issues they argue about, but when couples find they can’t get to a resolution of key issues in their relationship, the relationship is in trouble.’ Do your arguments involve criticism, defensiveness, and contempt? Bradley and Furrow explain, ‘When conflicts take on patterns that include attacks against a partner’s character, mind reading, counter-complaining, and insults or name calling, damage is being done to the emotional security of the relationship.’
  • You Walk on Eggshells: ‘If you find yourself avoiding topics and protecting yourself from conflicts in your relationship, this is a sign that there is a lack of safety in the relationship,’ Bradley and Furrow note. ‘If you no longer trust your partner with emotional vulnerability, your relationship is at risk… Shared vulnerability is how partners show and share intimacy. When partners stop depending on each other, their relationship loses its importance and closeness is lost.’
  • You Don’t Spend Much Time Together: ‘Partners who chose to spend less time together without purpose are often enacting emotional disengagement,’ say Bradley and Furrow. ‘Time is a crucial resource for sustaining intimacy.’
  • Anger and Frustration Has Become Apathy and Indifference: Bradley and Furrow warn, ‘Partners who give in to apathy and indifference are moving away from the relationship. Active acceptance of an unresolved difference or disagreement is purposeful. Giving up on an issue can be a step toward giving up on the relationship.’
  • You Try to Control the Circumstances: ‘Controlling actions are a common way in which injured or fearful partners respond to insecurity in their relationship,’ Bradley and Furrow comment. ‘These efforts at control undermine efforts to rebuild trust.’
  • You Fear Criticism Towards Your Personal Thoughts: Bradley and Furrow point out, ‘A common sign of insecurity is fear of your partner’s lack of care and concern. Managing this fear through withdrawal is a short-term solution to eroding trust, which can threaten a long-term relationship.’


If these things sound familiar, or you just want to strengthen your relationship, Bradley and Furrow provide the following tips for relationship resilience.


1. Be Available and Responsive to Each Other’s Needs: Bradley and Furrow assert, ‘Being responsive when your partner needs you to listen after a tough day, or needs you to pick up the kids in a bind — these types of things show that you care.’


2. Tell Stories About Ways You’ve Overcome Difficulties as a Couple: ‘Taking a look at what you’ve overcome together pinpoints your successes,’ note Bradley and Furrow. ‘Negatives can steal away the positive accomplishments if you aren’t careful.’


3. Face Fears and Share Needs as a Couple: Bradley and Furrow detail, ‘The most successful couples confide in each other when life throws a real curveball. If you’re scared that you’ve really hurt the other, for example, step up to the plate and admit it, and then share that you don’t want to be that kind of a person.’


4. Reminisce: Invest ‘in memories and activities that remind you how important you are to each other,’ Bradley and Furrow instruct. ‘Make a list of places and activities that you enjoy together, and act on it.’

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