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8 Ways to Spot Cracks in Your Relationship (Before They Become Canyons)

A woman said she was sick of her partner.

His habits annoyed her, they had little fun, less sex and constantly niggled at each other over trivial things. She had begun to wonder if she could do better. “Actually, I don’t care about that — I’d be just as happy on my own.”

But would she? Breaking up a relationship — especially when there are kids involved — is a high stakes game. It can change everything: family dynamics, financial situations, living conditions, friendships.

While there are very clear cases for leaving — such as an abusive relationship, having your trust broken irredeemably or going through a trauma that neither partner can recover from — many relationships are worth more investment.

So when you feel the burn of dissatisfaction, hit pause and know you are normal. Almost no-one floats through an entire relationship on a golden cloud. Even couples celebrating their diamond wedding anniversaries will list “tolerance” (or gin) as the secret to their togetherness.

All relationships go through times when (hopefully) it’s great, times when it’s okay; and times when it’s all a bit crap. So before you toss your relationship on the scrap heap — especially one with a long history to it — consider if a little more effort might make a difference.

8 Ways to Spot Cracks in Your Relationship (Before They Become Canyons)

If you’ve squared away the most common problems — time, money, chores, sex and blended/extended family — run these eight tests to see if your relationship needs some TLC. And if it does, try the tips to help.

#1. The I’ve-Got-News Test

Something great — or just interesting — happens during the day/on the news. Your partner used to be the first person you’d rush to tell. But you no longer do that. Has someone else replaced your partner, even just in your thoughts? Tip: Be honest about who you most enjoy talking to; who you go to with your best news/gossip. Is that something you need to change? Quickly?

#2. The Free-Time Test

You finally get a free weekend and your partner is free too. You know you need some time together BUT you’re not sure you’d rather spend the weekend with him/her. You’d rather be with someone else (heed an extra warning if it’s a specific someone else) or see your friends or even be alone. If this is you, be careful — especially if you’re aware your relationship needs attention. Tip: Create a window of time just for your relationship (even a coffee date is a start) and then do your best to be fully present during it…or be prepared for the distance to creep in.

#3. The We-Don’t-Talk-Anymore Test

You go out for the evening and you find yourself with little to say to each other beyond work, family and domestics. You take a short term focus, no longer making enthusiastic plans for yourselves — or your future. Communication problems are a thorn in any relationship — and one of the most common reasons it starts to unravel. So start talking — and listening. Tip: ask your partner a decent question beyond what you would normally cover. See what comes back to you. And follow-up on it!

#4. The What-Was-That-Again Test

You tell your partner a story or some news or you update them on your day/life. Then you have to repeat yourself because they didn’t hear you — their mind is somewhere else. Or perhaps you’re the one who looks at them blankly? Everyone gets distracted from time to time but if it’s a repeat pattern, it gets boring — and it’s dangerous for your relationship. We all want to feel heard and understood by our partners — and none us want to feel boring. Tip: Don’t multi-task when your partner’s talking. Look at them. Respond to their statements (to show you’ve heard). If you really struggle with distraction, learn some mindfulness tricks for keeping your head in the present moment.

# 5. The My-Phone-is-More-Interesting Test

One (or both) of you is always on your phone or device. You tell yourself it’s entertaining, it’s useful, it’s a time-filler, it’s a distraction from the daily grind. Honestly, it gives you more than your partner does…..hmmm, there’s a warning bell clanging. Tip: Set (agreed) boundaries around your use of devices. Even a couple of e-free hours in the evening is a good start. Reward yourselves for sticking to it.

#6. The Niggle Test

You find yourself picking fights over things you later realise are trivial. Be careful: conflict is okay if the reason is fair and you are able to address it in a healthy way. If your niggling leads you to bring up big old wounds or historical problems you’re heading for trouble. It’s not fair, either. Tip: keep your criticisms current and specific — try to avoid attacking your partner’s personality at all costs. Behaviour can be changed but personality traits are a lot harder to change.

#7. The Not-in-Front-of-the-Kids Test

You try not to fight in front of the kids but you struggle to contain it. This makes you feel worse because you know it’s not good for them. But you know stony silences aren’t either. You’re right. Research tells us that kids take a psychological hit with both unresolved conflict and silence. Tip: You’re just people so conflict will arise from time to time. It can be healthy to raise and sort things out too. But remember you’re modelling your ability to resolve conflict to your kids so, if your emotional management and conflict resolution skills aren’t sound, make it a priority to learn some.

#8. The Lonely-in-a-Crowd Test

You feel alone even when you’re together. You don’t feel your partner’s got your back; you’re not sure you’re up for protecting theirs. You don’t laugh and have fun together. You can’t feel the connection anymore. Tip: We’re treading serious turf now so sit down and talk honestly to you partner. It’s possible he/she feels it too? Make a joint plan to address it. Avoiding problems can take you into an even darker place.

All relationships develop cracks over time — and many of them can be filled before they cut too deep for repair. So if you spot fissures in yours, don’t jump blindly over them. The landing on the other side might not be so sweet.

Enjoyed this? Check out my new book Busy as F*ck , a DIY approach to therapy in a stressed-out world. Available as an ebook or in paperback at Australian and New Zealand bookstores. Other territories coming soon.

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Clinical psychologist, writer. Editor of On the Couch: Practical psychology for everyday life.

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