Five relationship pitfalls and how to avoid them

The vast majority of couples argue sometimes. All couples have disagreements. But it is often the way in which couples manage their disagreements that can be a deciding factor for whether the relationship will be successful in the long term.

This article explores five relationship pitfalls that can lead to unhappiness and resentment in relationships and how to avoid them.

1. Needing to be right!

Couples can spend a large amount of time battling over who is right.

“I’m always doing the kids’ bedtime.”

“That’s not true – I did it last Friday when you went out.”

Does that sound familiar?

Instead of trying to objectively work out who is right and who is wrong, it can be more effective to get to the heart of the problem and communicate this from a softer, less attacking position.

Try “I’m feeling a tired and stressed at the moment, would you be able to do Wednesday and Friday night bedtimes so I can have a bit of down time please?”

2. Seeking control

It feels uncomfortable when life is stressful, we are unsure of ourselves or things aren’t going as we would like.  Some individuals in these situations tend to focus on trying to control the people around them in order to feel better. However, anyone with kids will know that control is just an illusion.

Controlling your partner can either be direct or indirect. Direct control can come across as constant micromanaging such as “you need to do this”. More extreme versions include threats, intimidation or even physical aggression.

Controlling behaviour in relationships can lead to resentment building up, and damaged self-esteem. It generally makes it harder for couples to function as a successful team when one partner is controlling. Control can also be communicated in an indirect way which might look more like manipulation.

If we want something from our partner, we are more likely to get a positive response if we accept that they don’t have to do want we want, and instead turn our desire into a request.

3. Uninhibited expressions of emotion

There is a misbelief in relationships that all sharing is authentic and strengthens relationships. However, this type of sharing isn’t helpful as it can lead to partners feeling dumped on and burdened by the other. This typically occurs when one partner feels they have the right to share their emotions as much as they want to when they want to, and in whatever way they choose. 

Instead, it can be helpful when you’ve had a bad day to say “Can I have 10 mins to vent about my day?”

Thinking about why you might be feeling the way you are feeling and expressing this from the “I” perspective is also helpful. Try saying “I’ve been thinking about my reaction to this and I need a bit of help working out what is going on for me”. Your partner is far more likely to offer their time and energy in a generous and non-resentful manner.

4. Retaliation

This is a feeling that all humans can have – “I want them to feel what I have been feeling” in an attempt to experience some sense of justice.

However this can be very damaging to the relationship.

This type of behaviour can include passive aggressive digs along the lines of “you’re just doing that because you don’t care about me”. It is important to recognise that retaliation takes us further from being the person we want to be in the relationship and makes relationships more emotionally ‘unsafe’.

A more helpful starting point might be to express hurt honestly and openly without attacking the other person. ‘When you stayed out with your work colleagues late the other night I felt really sad and lonely, and I got a bit scared about what might have happened as I didn’t hear from you.’ Instead of giving them ‘some of their own medicine’ and staying out late another time.

5. Withdrawal

Withdrawal can appear in different forms, from one person going quiet and shutting off (some couples don’t talk for days), saying “I’m not going to talk about this anymore”, to saying “screw you”, walking out and slamming the door.

Withdrawing often comes from feelings of resignation, helplessness or fears about how you might respond if your emotions get even bigger.

If you do need to withdraw due to frustration and anger getting to the point that you say things you regret afterward, you can plan to use responsible distance taking.  For example, by making a plan ahead of time and deciding you don’t want to continue the negative cycle that has developed in the relationship. It may involve saying “I’m starting to get really angry so I need to take a break, I want us to resolve this because it is important  – but I need to do it when I’ve had a chance to calm down a bit.”

There are many strategies to successful relationships – but if individuals strive to be present with their partners; listen and speak in an open, respectful and vulnerable way – they stand a much better chance of successfully navigating the challenges that arise.

If you are experiencing issues in your relationship please get in touch with our team. We can assist you in developing a closer, less reactive and more secure bond with your partner.

Written by Dr Sarah Hartley, Clinical Psychologist.

More information

If you would like to learn more or book an appointment with one of our experienced clinical psychologists, contact our friendly client team by calling 6143 4499 or email via our contact page.

Lawson Clinical Psychology LCP monogram


Ph: (08) 6143 4499
Fax: (08) 9200 5696

Monday to Thurs 8:30am - 7:30pm
Friday 8:30am - 4:30pm
Saturday 8:30am - 2:30pm


6 Outram Street
West Perth, 6005 WA

36 St Quentin Avenue
Claremont, 6010 WA

In the spirit of reconciliation, Lawson Clinical Psychology acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their Elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

Lawson Clinical Psychology celebrates the extraordinary diversity of people’s bodies, ability, genders, sexualities and relationships that they represent.

Copyright © 2024 Lawson Clinical Psychology. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy.