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Relationships are never easy. There wouldn’t be millions of different TV shows, films, books and plays about them if they were. Like the TV show Veronica Mars once put it: “no one writes songs about the ones that come easy“.

In fact, we’re almost conditioned by the arts that relationships should be painful. They should be tragic; the stuff of legend, of longing looks, lost sighs and heartbroken kisses in the rain. The legendary lovers of storytelling are undeniably tragic, from Romeo and Juliet to Cathy and Heathcliff.


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In a popular culture that tells us these things are romantic (and even preferable), it can become easy to see your own situation as problematic. “So?” you find yourself thinking, “he and I fight – that means our relationship is passionate.”

You can find a thousand and one justifications for this kind of behavior; of explanations of your relationship difficulties. But here’s the thing: Romeo and Juliet ended up dead. Heathcliff dies. Sure, Cathy lives – but when your most romantic, famed quartet only have a one-quarter survival rate… maybe epic romance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Yet there is some truth that fighting with a partner shows passion. This whole relationship business gets pretty tricky at this point. It’s been observed that the opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference. If you’re still fighting, there’s a spark of feeling there.

So where do you draw the line? What are the things you should never accept from your partner, from your relationship? When does a relationship problem become terminal? There are a few signs to look out for…

  1. You Cannot Resolve A Singular Issue

If your relationship is generally good, then fighting over a single issue can seem like a minor thing.

Of course, all things are relative – and what you fight about is the key here. If you argue over who gets control of the remote or what takeout you have on a Friday night – fair enough. If, however, you argue about any of the following, then there might be an issue:

  • Children. This can be anything from how you parent existing children, to prospective parenthood and through to adding to your brood. It can also cover how you raise your children; if one of you is more strict than the other, this is an easy source of conflict.
  • Marriage. Does one of you want to marry while the other is ambivalent?
  • Faith. Dismissing the faith of your partner or critiquing the way they worship is a sure sign of fault lines.


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So, essentially, the life stages that are considered to be rites of passage.

It is possible for a couple to disagree on these issues and then one party sees the other’s point of view. It can be done respectfully. But if it continues to be a problem, month after month and year after year – then it’s a red flag. It doesn’t matter how good the result of the relationship is if you fundamentally want different things on such crucial issues.


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  1. Your Partner Doesn’t Help Themselves


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There is a lot to be said through supporting your partner through a difficult time. It’s all part of the vows we say: for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. Walking away at the first sign of trouble is a sign that you’re not committed to the relationship anyway.

However, there is a point when you have to question the situation.

Let’s take an example. Your partner has, on multiple occasions, been fired from a job for being late. His time-keeping is so poor that, despite a good skillset, he’s not viable as an employee.

The first time it happens, you launch into support mode. Maybe you buy him a nice watch, set alarms for him or help work out the quickest route to work.

But on the fifth time it happens – well, there’s nothing more you can do. Him losing his job for such a minor issue destabilizes your entire family setup, putting your lives in jeopardy and causing undue anxiety. Maybe he has a medical condition – for example, people with ADHD struggle with time-keeping – and it’s worth checking out. Or maybe, he just doesn’t care enough. Why should you keep caring if he doesn’t?



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It can be bigger issues than just time-keeping. Again, an example: your partner develops an alcohol dependency or other addiction. The first time, you check him into and offer all the love, support and prayer you can. If he slips up once – that’s okay, it happens. If he slips up for the tenth time, then your efforts are not being respected. Don’t fall down the slippery slope of convincing yourself this time will be different because, before long, you’ll be on the twentieth this time. You’re at the old cliche of “definition of insanity” point by then. And like most cliches, it has its roots in truth.

  1. You Start To Belittle Each Other


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So we established in the opening that arguments in isolation are not necessarily a bad thing. One of the less volatile ways of arguing is often referred to as “bickering”. This is just small, barbed arguments that don’t blow up into a full-fledged argument.

Again, bickering can be healthy. It’s an outlet for frustration, provided you both deal with the issue and move on. However, this style of argument can become problematic very quickly – if you start to belittle or slight each other.


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Taking the example above with the timekeeping. You’re at dinner with friends. Your husband announces he has a new job to general happiness. Yet you can’t help yourself, the words spilling forth before you have even thought of them: “yeah, if he manages to keep this one for more than 10 minutes!”

If challenged, you’d argue it’s a joke, that you’re making light of a bad situation. It’s just gallows humour!

Except, it’s not: it’s belittling. It’s insulting him in a nice, this-is-a-joke scarf. It will hurt his feelings even if he laughs along; you may notice that your friends’ laughter is a little frayed at the edges.

What you’re actually saying (or he is, if you’re on the receiving end of it) is: I don’t respect you. I think it’s amusing that this thing – this terrible, life-damaging thing – keeps happening. I think it’s amusing because I have to, otherwise it’d make me cry. You hurt me, and I am bitter about that.

  1. You Never Know Where You Stand With Your Partner


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One of the most basic rights that we are all entitled to in a relationship is to feel secure. It’s one of the primary reasons we get into relationships; to give us a partner against the world, someone we can create our own little universe with. It’s what keeps you together through thick and thin, a shared sense of experience and knowing you have each other’s backs.

It’s impossible to be secure if your partner is not forthcoming on various issues. If you’re dating and he just mutters and looks embarrassed at marriage talk, it’s going to spike your insecurity. Sure, if you’re bringing it up on the third date, that’s probably a reasonable reaction. But if you’ve been together two years and his reaction hasn’t matured, then you could be in trouble.

Even within marriage, your partner can undermine your sense of security. Jokes about a second wife can cut like a knife. Perhaps they have an eye for other women (, making you feel inadequate. They may even make reference to you having to do something – such as lose weight, dress better, do your make-up in a different way – to keep them around.

In isolation, the above are not so bad. He might be concerned about you for other reasons and is trying to make the point you should change something, only he’s doing it in a clumsy way. Or, he might genuinely feel like that. He may feel his affection, his trust, is something you have to continually keep earning rather than being able to rely on.

Some people can live with that. For some couples, an element of insecurity may actually make their relationship more dynamic and exciting. But for most of us, we can’t live like that. We need to know that when the chips are down, and our backs are against the wall, our partner is going to be there for us. The only way we can be assured in that is if they make us feel secure in the small moments of life – otherwise, how can they be there through the bad?


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On a final note: if you recognize your relationship in any of the above, you might be struggling right now. There are still options and ways you can work through this. You can seek spiritual help as a couple or go to conventional couples therapy. Or it can be as simple as ensuring you will change your own behavior and stop doing something that you now know is destructive. The most important thing is to take action. The issues above are not going to vanish overnight; do something while you can.