3 Signs Your Relationship Is In Trouble And How To Begin Getting It Back On Track

By Kerrie Lumbewe

Too often when things aren't going well in our relationship we begin to think we may be better off leaving, starting again with someone else, or even being single again.

It makes sense, no-one wants to spend their life in an unhappy relationship. The truth is that there is not a whole lot of difference between happy and unhappy relationships. Research shows us that happy couples really only do 'small things often' to nurture and maintain their relationship harmony.

Here are three common relationship problems, and three 'small things' that you can do to start getting your relationship back on track.

1. You’ve come to expect the worst from your partner

The truth is that if you look for problems you will see them. The mind is incredibly powerful - it has the ability to develop laser sight focus. Have you ever noticed that when you buy a new car, you all of a sudden see that same car everywhere? Now in reality, that new car of yours did not just all of a sudden appear in the hundreds, on the roads surrounding your home and your trip to work – they have always been there. 

If your mind has been really caught up on 'those' problems in your relationship then that is all that your mind will see. Your mind will also begin to collect evidence about the existence of these problems, all the while it is not collecting any evidence to support the contrary – that there are positive and admirable things that your spouse is also doing each day (there is actually research evidence to support this). So we need to shift our focus and begin to build a positive perspective of our spouse.

Quick Tip to Shift Focus

Look out for one thing each day that your spouse is doing either consistently, neutrally or positively and focus your attention on that. Make sure you also tell your partner what it is that you have observed and appreciated about them. They will like this, but more importantly your laser sight will begin to shift focus.


2. You’ve given up on raising problems in your relationship

Often we tend to think that a relationship is in trouble when there is a lot of conflict occurring. However, if you used to fight a lot and now you don’t bother, this could be a strong indicator that your relationship is in more trouble than it was when you were going at it every other day.

When couples ‘just don’t bother’ raising problems in their relationship because ‘it’s just not worth it’ – they are essentially saying I have lost faith in you, me and us, and our ability to work things out together.  This leads to one or both people in the relationship trying to sort it out themselves. Team work, togetherness and we-ness breaks down and the result of this is emotional distancing. If left unmanaged this can often lead to infidelity and/or relationship breakdown.

Quick Tip on How to Raise Issues

Start with a small problem and raise it very gently with your partner. For the first three minutes of this discussion, keep your voice kind, gentle and calm, keep the problem small and in perspective and do not criticize or blame your partner for the problem. Ask for what you need (positively) and specify the positive outcome that you envisage.

“I have been missing you a lot lately because we’ve been so busy and we haven’t had much time together. I would love it if we could go out and have a coffee at the park next weekend that would really help me to feel close to you again.”

3. You are often thinking that the grass is greener

When you find yourself fantasizing about being in a relationship with someone else or being by yourself this is a sign that your relationship is in trouble. At least one of the Seven Principles that Make Marriage Work (Dr. John Gottman) is not being met. It could be that you don’t feel emotionally close to your partner, it could be that the romance and passion has gone out of your relationship or it could be that there is too much painful conflict in your relationship. This is a hard place to be in a relationship. 

Here are a two pieces of research that we hope will motivate you towards looking inside your relationship for the happiness that you are seeking versus looking outside of your relationship:

  • Research tells us that 69% of the problems that we all experience in our relationships are unresolvable or perpetual problems. This is true for happily versus unhappily married couples.  So the problem is not that we have conflict, it is how we do conflict that makes us happy or unhappy in our relationship. And, we can all learn how to do relationships better.
  • Research also tells us that whilst we have an average 50% chance of getting divorced the first time we get married, if we divorce and remarry the odds become even more dire, with 65% of second marriages ending in divorce. The answer therefore, lies not in moving on from one relationship to another, but in learning the skills you need to make this relationship work. 

Quick Tip for Seeing the Green in Your Own Grass

Water your grass, feed it, and let the sun shine on it. 

Watering and feeding means to tend to your relationship, go back to those things you did when you were dating, compliment one another, make your greetings and departures meaningful with a kiss, a cuddle and learn something about each other’s day. Let the sunshine on your relationship by opening your eyes up to the things that your partner does for you and your family – the things that you would miss if he or she was no longer around.


If you would like to learn more about how to repair, restore or strengthen your relationship then come along to our Gottman workshop, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and learn what it is to really love.



Kerrie Lumbewe  Principal Psychologist and Director.   Click to learn more about Kerrie

Kerrie Lumbewe
Principal Psychologist and Director.
Click to learn more about Kerrie

Adrian Lumbewe  Principal Psychologist and Director.   Click to learn more about Adrian

Adrian Lumbewe
Principal Psychologist and Director.
Click to learn more about Adrian



Reference: Gottman, John, M. and Silver, Nan. (1999). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.