Relationship Problems Articles, Research & Resources

Kaia Koglin
Last updated:
Erin L. George, MFT
Erin L. George, MFT
Medical editor

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About Relationship Problems 

Positive relationships can have big benefits for mental health. (1) People in healthy, committed relationships produce less of the stress hormone cortisol and are less likely to develop depression. (2) Relationship problems, on the other hand, can lead to a decline in mental health. Studies have found that single people have better health outcomes than those who are unhappily married. (3) This means that resolving relationship issues is an important part of managing mental health. 

Relationships cover the connections a person has with everyone in their life, including romantic partners, friends, and family. Issues in any of these relationships can lead to stress, lowered self-esteem, anxiety, and social withdrawal. It can also intensify existing mental health concerns as support structures erode. 

The importance of relationships on happiness means that relationship issues are well-studied and understood by people who work in mental health. Help is available to manage marriage, family, and friendship problems. 

Relationship Problems — In The News
Divorce May Be More Likely When Wives Get Sick

THURSDAY, March 5, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- That part of the marriage vows where couples pledge to stay together "in sickness and in health" may be heeded more by wives than husbands, new research suggests. Although divorce rates did not increase when husbands were in poor health, researchers at Iowa... Read More

Straight Men More Prone to Jealousy Over Sexual Infidelity: Study

TUESDAY, Jan. 13, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A woman may have the reputation of turning into a green-eyed monster when her man sleeps with someone else, but new research suggests a man gets even more jealous in the same scenario. In a poll of nearly 64,000 Americans, sexual infidelity... Read More

A Bad Marriage Burdens an Aging Heart

THURSDAY, Nov. 20, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A bad marriage increases an older adult's risk of heart trouble, and that's particularly true for women, a new study contends. Researchers examined five years of data from 1,200 married American men and women, aged 57 to 85. People with spouses... Read More

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Common Marriage Problems 

In 2020 and 2021, the divorce rate was 14 divorces per 1,000 married women, the lowest level in 40 years. (4) Despite this statistic, people in romantic relationships still encounter issues. 

Although every relationship is different, research has found that certain problems come up regularly in unhappy marriages. One 2017 study listed "fading enthusiasm", "long work hours". and "lack of personal time and space" as the most-cited reasons for a relationship breakdown. (5) A separate study of people in couples therapy found that communication, emotional distance, and lack of physical affection were the most frequent problems. (6)

In addition to scientific research, many counselors speak openly about the issues they most frequently encounter with couples counseling. These include:

  • Communication: Different communication styles and preferences can cause conflict in relationships. 
  • Finances: Being dishonest about money can cause relationship stress, especially when it relates to debt or how to split expenses.
  • Infidelity: Cheating is a violation of trust that can be difficult to recover from and is believed to be one of the leading causes of divorce. (7)
  • Time: Not spending enough time together can lead to feelings of resentment. 
  • Intimacy: A lack of physical and emotional intimacy can cause distance between romantic partners. 

Common Family Problems 

For many people, family members are among the most important relationships they have. However, a sizable minority have difficulties with family members. Around 27% of American adults have cut off contact with a family member, and most of these are upset about taking that action. (8) Family issues can have a big impact on children, and resolving the problems can help people grow into mentally healthy adults. 

Common family problems include:

  • Parenting decisions: Couples often fight about how to raise their children, which can cause issues for the whole family unit.
  • Balancing work and home life: Children may feel distant from parents they rarely see and may resent a career that they think takes their parents away. 
  • Responsibilities: The chaos of multiple schedules, housework, and other responsibilities often causes friction in families.
  • Distance: It’s often difficult to be away from family, whether that’s a parent working away from home or a child away at college.
  • Illness: The injury, illness, or disability of a family member can cause stress as people learn to manage new circumstances.
  • Separation or divorce: Divorce completely disrupts the family structure, causing tension between the divorcing couple and everyone else in the family. 
  • Blending families: Children in a blended family can feel confused and apprehensive about a new parent and siblings.

Ways to Improve Relationship Problems 

Improving communication is one of the best ways to improve relationship problems. Talking openly and honestly about feelings can stop misunderstandings, build trust, and prevent arguments. This is true in marriages, friendships, and families. 

It’s also important to regularly maintain healthy relationships. It’s not enough to like posts on social media; spending quality time together is essential. This time should be interactive and intentional. This means making a plan to spend time doing something together. Although there’s intimacy in sitting quietly together watching a movie, it’s important to find activities where the focus is on each other. This could be walking the dog, trying a new restaurant, or exploring the farmer’s market to ensure the relationship is regularly strengthened. 

People struggling to make improvements on their own may wish to try therapy. Studies have found that couples therapy leads to higher levels of marital satisfaction and significant improvements in individual mental health. (9) Similarly, parents who participated in family counseling reported higher family cohesion and healthier parental practices. (10) Trained counselors can help people communicate truthfully about their relationship issues and find solutions that enhance closeness. (11)

How to Cope With Relationship Problems 

A relationship that isn’t going right can be a source of stress and anguish. Learning to cope with relationship troubles can help individuals manage their own mental health while negotiating with another person. Here are some tips for coping with relationship problems. 

  • Focus on self: People who concentrate on self-improvement see more improvements in their relationship. (12)
  • Practice self-care: Self-care can ease stress and help maintain a positive outlook.
  • Set boundaries: Boundaries help create trust and mutual respect.
  • Operate in the present: Don’t bring up past events or repeat arguments.
  • Express gratitude: Remembering the good things in life is another way to stay optimistic about the future.

How to Help Someone With Relationship Problems 

Whether it’s a mother helping her child through divorce or a husband showing support for his wife’s friendship troubles, helping someone with relationship problems is common. Listening patiently is key to providing assistance. Many people just need to talk about their problems to a third party. Other tips include:

  • Avoid giving direct advice: Someone who only knows one side of the story rarely provides helpful options.
  • Don’t get in the middle: Posting to social media or contacting the other person only escalates the issue.
  • Share experiences: It can help to know that others have had similar problems. 
  • Offer useful resources: Point them toward therapy, counseling, or other resources.
  • Encourage communication: Make sure the couple is continuing to talk to each other about problems. 
  • Develop a plan to leave: If the relationship is abusive, help them create a plan to safely leave the situation, and keep providing support after the relationship ends.
  • Support boundaries: It's important to know that ending a toxic relationship and cutting someone off is a healthy choice.