There’s no way around it: Long-term relationships are hard work—and there will be bumps along the way. Even the best marriages go through ups and downs, but couples that last have one crucial thing in common: They know it’s them as a unit versus the problem, not one person versus the other.

Like most interpersonal relationships, most romantic couples experience some challenge at some point in their relationship. Some of these common challenges may include infidelity, loss of intimacy, communication difficulties, coping with stress challenges, financial pressures, boundary violations, difficulty balancing individual and couple expectations, divorce, separation and breaking up. Whatever the challenge, it is important to note that all dyadic relationships will experience some kind of distress at some point. We will examine some of the more common romantic relationship challenges below.

What are some of the challenges people face when in a serious relationship?

Some of the challenges people face when in a serious relationship

1* Overinvolvement

It often happens that you want to share every detail with your partner. Right from your daily routine to some random feeling or thought you want to bare it all! While it may seem unproblematic initially, issues occur when you expect the same from your partner and they fail to comply. You think they are not invested in the relationship as you are. This overinvolvement may often feel like you are imposing yourself on your partner. This may also give rise to unrealistic expectations and spell trouble.


2* Infidelity

Infidelity is increasingly becoming one of the most common relationship challenges in romantic relationships. The acts of infidelity or cheating can have devastating consequences on those involved. Having been cheated on can result in anguish, depression, fury and humiliation (Brand, Markey, Mills & Hodges, 2007). It has been suggested that infidelity is one of the leading causes of divorce and romantic relationship breakdown (Brand, Markey, Mills & Hodges, 2007).

Generally, infidelity is a violation of trust by one or both members of a monogamous romantic relationship that involves a third party individual, with whom one member has an improper relationship. Zola defines infidelity as an act of emotional and/or physical betrayal characterised by behaviour that is not approved by the other partner and that has contributed to considerable ongoing distress in the non offending partner. Infidelity can be in the form of an emotional affair, a sexual affair or a combination of both. Traditionally, men are considered to be primarily interested in sexual infidelity and women are considered to be primarily interested in emotional infidelity.

3* Keeping Score

Scorecards are terrifying in relationships. If you keep track of every mistake, slip-up, or flaw of your partner and bring it up now and then, it can be problematic for your relationship. This tendency can have two possibilities either you do not accept your partner for their personality, or you want to establish dominance in your relationship. This often stems from unresolved issues that gradually develop into resentment and cause bitterness.

4* Children

It’s very easy for parents to become polarised, with one being the good cop and the other the bad. Co-parenting doesn’t always feel co-operative when you have different styles. Often this happens as we have firm ideas that we get from our upbringing and assume this is the norm. House rules that you agree as a family can be helpful; presenting a consistent position on as much as possible can avoid the bad cop/good cop scenario. There’s lots of evidence that children pick up on parental conflict, so it helps them if you minimise this. Also remember that there’s more to your relationship than your family – you will be a couple even after the kids have left home. So try to find time for each other – it will benefit your relationship and that’s good for the whole family.

5* Intimacy

The word intimacy has taken on sexual connotations. But it is much more than that. It includes all the different dimensions of our lives. It involves the physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects as well as sexual components that can enhance the feelings of togetherness between the romantic couple (Larson, Hammond & Harper, 1998). According to Sternberg’s theory of love, intimacy includes emotional bonding and feelings of connectedness. Sternberg suggests that intimacy develops during the course of the relationship and will usually include decisions of loyalty to the relationship.

It is fair to assume that the quality of the romantic relationship will often be judged by the frequency of intimate interactions as perceived by each individual. It is these unmet intimacy expectations that can often affect the relationship negatively and pose challenges for the couple (Kirby, Baucom & Peterman, 2005). Therapists dealing with loss of intimacy in romantic relationships should help clients develop trust and communication skills that can help to overcome barriers to intimacy.

6* Interference From Past Relationships

You might share a great bond with your ex. Even if things have not worked out, the ex continues to be a part of your life. It may happen when children are involved, and you share a common set of friends, or because of how well you know each other. Your partner may find this problematic. It is because they might feel insecure about your ex still being in the picture and almost like an equal part of your relationship with their active presence. It is disrespectful and may strain your current relationship.


7* Money

Financial pressures can be a burden for many, according to Relate’s recent report, “In Too Deep”, which found that one in 10 people argue with their partner about money, debt or finances at least once a fortnight. However, keeping issues such as debt from your partner can also cause problems such as mistrust. There is no right or wrong attitude towards money, and some people are more naturally savers or spenders. If your attitudes are similar, there’s unlikely to be a problem. But if they’re different, it could be a source of tension in your relationship. Many couples find it helpful to have some shared money for their shared expenses as well as some financial independence.


8* Communication

A good healthy romantic relationship is often characterised by good communication. Healthy couples speak openly and directly with congruent non verbal cues allowing them to convey the intended message accurately. Communication in romantic relationships connects and reassures partners and allows them to discuss and solve problems and share important information and views . Challenges occur when the messages we send to the other are misunderstood or misinterpreted.

It is not uncommon when a couple experiences problems in their relationship, communication becomes broken (Long & Young, 2007). Healthy, productive and effective communication is viewed as the binding tool for any romantic relationship. Problems and challenges in intimate relationships are often resolved through developing healthy, productive and effective communication. Therefore, the goal of enhancing communication skills may be a great starting point for the couple therapist.

9* Unrealistic Expectations

You cannot tailor a relationship to your liking. While a healthy relationship depends on efforts and dedication from both, unrealistic expectations can kill that in a moment. For instance, expecting your partner will always be romantic and never argue over anything, and everything will run smoothly these are unrealistic expectations. When your partner fails to meet such expectations, it causes conflict.

10* Traumas

Life events and external pressures can have an impact on your relationship. Some people cope by pulling together, but it’s just as common to find that events pull you apart. Try not to clam up and battle on alone. Let your partner know how you feel. For example, they may not realise that you’re awake at night worrying about your dad’s health and that’s why you’re grumpy in the morning. Try to see life stressors as something you face together as “team us”. But remember that in a long-term relationships, other things take priority at times and that’s OK.

11* Conflict

Conflict is part of any interpersonal relationship and occurs as a result of differences in opinions. People differ in values, dreams, desires and perceptions. Therefore, we are all bound to encounter conflict at some point in our lives. Conflict can range from less serious mild disagreements to more intensely heated arguments. Previous research has found that marital conflict often stems from unmet needs, wants, and desires. From this perspective, marital conflict is defined as a process of interaction in which one or both partners feel discomfort about some aspect of their relationship and try to resolve it in some manner (Hamamci, 2005).

When one person needs or wants something badly enough, and the other person is unwilling or unable to meet that need, resentment will often grow. Then, if one were to add the power of an unruly tongue, the situation will usually become ripe for very destructive forms of conflict. To look at it pragmatically, romantic relationship conflict will often happen when one member of the couple perceives inequity or experiences an imbalance in rewards or benefits from being in the relationship whereby it is perceived by one member of the couple that the other only cares about his/ her individual needs.


12* Growing apart

“Some couples change together, but it can be difficult when one of you seems to do most of the changing”

t’s normal to change over time. Some couples change together, but it can be difficult when one of you seems to do most of the changing. It’s important to think about how you can have a successful relationship with this “new” person and not spend your energy grieving over the person they were. This has the potential to be exciting, as you can discover new ways of being together. If you talk to each other and really feel you want different things as individuals, your relationship can still work, as long as you have enough that keeps you connected as a couple.


13* Substance Abuse

While substance abuse, particularly alcohol, has been associated with financial problems and health problems that contribute to relational distress, many people use it as a way of coping with the problems in their relationships. The first issue, of course, is money. Alcohol is expensive. Spending a great deal of money each day on alcoholic beverages is a serious problem that can put a great deal of strain on relationships. Alcohol can cause people to become less sensitive to the feelings of others too. Alcohol can make it difficult for people to distinguish between the other person’s emotions, and thus they may make incorrect judgments that negatively impact their relationship with their partner (Sharf, 2001).

Time is an issue as well. Drinking is not a “one and done” type of activity. It can take hours out of the day, hours that could have been spent as a couple. The imposition on couple time from excessive drinking can cause partners to emotionally drift apart often resulting in problems within the dyadic relationship. Because of these and other factors, alcohol abuse has been singled out as a contributing factor to divorce, physical abuse and lowered marital satisfaction.

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