So many of the people I treat in my practice come to therapy because their relationships are suffering, and so they are suffering. It could be a teenage boy whose severe social anxiety prevents him from spending time with his friends, a woman with depression makes it hard to be the partner she wants to be, a father whose expressions of anger have put distance between him and his kids, or the college student whose alcohol-fuelled behaviour has alienated her friends. It’s hard for our relationships to thrive when we’re hurting.

The following 8 underlying devils cause relationship problems and are difficult to fix on one’s own:

  1. Greater presence.
Our presence in a relationship proves to be one very important factor since we cannot really “relate” to someone who is not there. One of the biggest complaints about partners that I hear in my practice is that s/he is not there for me. Sometimes the person means quite literally that their partner is absent—always travelling for work, for example. Just as often the problem is that even when the person is there in body, his or her mind is elsewhere. Next time when your partner talks to you about something, bring your full attention to “presence” to what is said. Practice to see the person as though for the first time and really focus on them and what they’re saying.
  • Less anxiety
When we are overwhelmed by anxiety, we cannot be our best selves. It is therefore understandable that untreated anxiety disorders take a toll on our closest relationships. For example, the need for a “safety companion/supporting partner” when a person panic or fear to drive a vehicle lead to strain as the supporting partner has to adjust his or her travel route or time schedule to accommodate the other person’s travel needs. Similarly the chronic worry in generalised anxiety to tension and irritability, causing conflict between partners not doing what you actually want but to constantly make adjustments to suit the partner’s needs. It is not always what one partner does but an underlying cause. The best way to overcome this challenge is to get professional help.
  • Improved mood.
As with anxiety, untreated depression creates intense fatigue and irritability in a relationship.  It is a struggle to be the partner we are able to be when we have no energy, no sex drive, little enthusiasm and other symptoms even for activities we would normally enjoy.   After a typical therapy course of 5-6 sessions for mild depression the average person will not only feel substantially better but will be able to function much more effectively. It is true that happier individuals make happier couples.
  • Healthier Thought Patterns.
Even if we’re not dealing with a diagnosable condition like anxiety, depression, insomnia, or a substance abuse disorder professional support can have powerful effects on relationships. Most of the successful help is based on an understanding of the connections among thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  When our thought patterns are aligned with reality, they generally lead to positive feelings and behaviors. However, when our thoughts become distorted in some way, they start to work against us, including influencing our relationships. For example, we might notice that our partner left his clothes on the floor and think, “He expects me to pick up after him. He thinks I’m his maid.” The result might include a fight driven by resentment and defensiveness. Or we could think that our partner seems distant and tell ourselves, “She’s unhappy with me and our relationship,” leading us to withdraw in turn. Most of the therapy used would focus on one’s behaviour and encourage us first of all to notice the thoughts we are telling ourselves; oftentimes they happen so quickly and automatically that we don’t even recognize the story our mind is creating. Once we are able to identify the thoughts we can test them out to see if they’re accurate. Maybe our partner’s clothes on the floor say nothing about his view of us or expectations. And perhaps our partner’s preoccupation has nothing to do with our relationship and everything to do with her worries about her boss at work. With practice we can replace distorted and destructive thoughts with more accurate and constructive ones.  Importantly, cognitive techniques are not about fooling ourselves or pretending things are better than they are. It would be important to know if our thoughts are actually valid so we can deal with the situation directly.
  • Happier kids.
When a child is struggling with intense fears (e.g., phobias) it can lead to tremendous stress for the family. Parents inevitably feel the strain when a child is refusing to go to school, struggling socially, or having problems at bedtime. As the saying goes, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child.” Furthermore, most couples have somewhat different parenting styles with one partner more lenient and the other more of the disciplinarian parent. A child’s intense struggles will tend to amplify these differences, leading to conflict between the parents. At the end of the night when the kids are finally in bed and both parents just want to unwind, they may instead find themselves arguing about how best to help their child. Thus they may feel like their reserves are exhausted, with little left to give their child or each other. There are several illnesses and reasons such as bedwetting that could put enormous stress on a family and they all require professions intervention, usually the sooner the better. Challenging children could push an already vulnerable partner relationship over the edge.  
  • Better sleep.
As many as 23% adults suffer from bad sleep. When we do not sleep well we tend to be irritable and impatient which is definitely not a recipe for the best interactions with the people who love us. Furthermore a condition such as insomnia can turn the bed into a place of worry and stress which interferes with a relaxed night’s sleep beside our partner. Professional treatment is typically 4 to 6 sessions and is the best way to cure insomnia. The therapy would help the person to fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.  Better sleep helps with pretty much everything.
  • Healthier relationship with alcohol.
Problematic drinking can kill a relationship. Alcohol abuse is tied to higher divorce rates, greater intimate partner violence, lower relationship satisfaction and a host of other problems.   Professional interventions can effectively change the thoughts and behaviors that maintain problems with alcohol, and replace drinking with healthier ways of coping. Interestingly, the treatment with the strongest research evidence is with both the patient and his or her partner actively involved in the treatment. For many individuals with an alcohol use disorder, lifelong abstinence is necessary. However, there is now “modest support” as a treatment program that includes the possibility of moderate alcohol consumption for some people.
  • Greater being our best significant other. 
All of us want to be the best significant other we can be. We want to be attentive, supportive, generous and more tolerant. And like anything else, the road to impoverished relationships is paved with the best of intentions.  If we’re not deliberate about living out our values, we risk leaving them in the abstract and intentions we are not able to live out. For example, we might tell ourselves, “My family matters to me more than anything,” and then live as though family is our last priority. We might idealise presence in our relationship yet attend more to our phone than to those around us. We might plan for instance, to turn off our phone during dinner and focus on our conversation. The goals and activities can be anything that’s important to us in our relationship we wish to do. It can be very beneficial to collaborate with our partner in the process by asking what they need more from us. This is not as simple to improve as it seems and skilled professional help would assist us in being our best significant other.  Our partner and family deserve to be with the best “me” possible. Try it: Can you have a conversation with your partner this week about your relationship and who you want to be for your partner? From there, make a specific plan to move toward your goals. Check how successfully you are able to implement what you have discussed and agreed upon.