Going Through A Relationship Rough Patch? Here Are 3 Tips To Help Ride Them Out

There is nothing new about conflicts and confusion in long-term relationships. The path to their resolution, however, can be novel.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | June 6, 2022

Most people will tell you about certain challenges that will arise sooner or later in long-term relationships. In most cases, it is enough knowing that you are not alone and rough patches are natural.

However, there are times when the issue prompts you to question the very foundation of your relationship. Luckily, there is extensive research and literature in the field of psychology that can give us some clues on how to answer the deeper, more unnerving questions relationship issues can sometimes pose to us.

Here are three hallmark hurdles that you might face in a long-term relationship and some research-backed advice to help you combat them.

#1. The desire to change something about your partner

An alteration in what you expect from a significant other in your relationship over time is natural. But asking them to change can be a delicate and potentially damaging process.

Being asked to change can evoke some intense emotions for the changing partner (the partner being asked to change). To make the incorporation of the change relatively easy and less stressful for your significant other, researcher Natalie Sisson of the University of Toronto gives a couple of tips:

  • Make an effective change request: A clear and direct change request (as opposed to one that is vague or implicit) communicates that there is an issue in the relationship and may help changing partners determine what they can do to meet their partner's request.
  • Be supportive: A change request should also be balanced with support and validation, given that we know change requests are difficult for people to hear. It is also important that changing partners feel supported during the change process and that requesting partners provide feedback about how things are going.

#2. Hitting a sexual plateau in your relationship

Any activity that is repetitive and lacks newness can feel obligatory. This is especially true in the case of sex, which is usually portrayed as an aspect of the relationship that 'keeps things exciting.'

Psychologists suggest that couples can (and often do) engage in 'maintenance sex' to keep their sex lives active.

Maintenance sex refers to sessions of scheduled sexual activity in a relationship wherein at least one or both partners may not desire the sexual activity they are participating in due to various reasons including a lack of sex drive.

Researcher Cory Pedersen of Kwantlen Polytechnic University of Canada says that indulging in maintenance sex can help couples as partners begin to develop a deeper understanding of each other's needs which often translates into better sex.

A more long-term solution to the problem would be to inculcate and express more gratitude in the relationship. A study tracked 118 couples' gratitude and sexual satisfaction level over the course of three months and found out that people were sexually satisfied to the extent that they expressed and received a high degree of gratitude with their partners.

"Maintaining sexual satisfaction is a critical, yet challenging, aspect of most romantic relationships," says psychologist Ashlyn Brady of the University of North Carolina. "Results from these studies suggest that experiencing and receiving gratitude increased the motivation to meet a partner's sexual needs."

#3. Your relationship with yourself begins to suffer

It can't be said enough that a poor relationship with the self almost always translates into a poor relationship with your partner.

One's relationship with oneself could suffer because of immediate reasons such as a low self esteem due to a failure at work or it could be a chronic issue such as depression or an insecure attachment style.

Lifestyle medicine and positive psychology are massive resources when it comes to improving or repairing your relationship with yourself. Here are some tips from both fields to help kickstart your self-love journey:

  • On the lifestyle medicine side, researchers recommend spending eight hours per night in bed without a device. They also recommend increasing your daily consumption of plant-based foods and doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise or walking 10,000 steps per day.
  • On the positive psychology side, researchers suggest going out of your way to give someone a genuine compliment every day. They also suggest spending 15 minutes a day reflecting on things that went well and taking time to forgive people who have hurt you.

Psychologists also warn about the dangers of being in a relationship with a partner who turns out to be abusive or narcissistic. Your relationship with yourself suffers in such a scenario due to certain red flags about your partner such as gaslighting, manipulation or even exploitative behavior.

In such cases, it is best to seek out help through a loved one or a licensed mental health practitioner.

Concusion: Love and romance are usually portrayed as mysterious and elusive experiences that human beings have little to no control over. The field of therapy and psychological research argue, however, that with effective communication, patience, and effort there are no relationship problems that two people cannot deal with.