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How to identify chronic relationship patterns

couple talking

And steps to help improve recurring issues

Relationships can be demanding work. Sometimes it’s challenging to find common ground with your partner, and it feels like you’re speaking two different languages. Identifying chronic relationship patterns is key for those moments because it can help couples move forward together or realize that the differences are too vast, and they might be better off apart.  

The first step to identifying repetitive problems in your relationship is to conduct an honest examination of your life with your partner. This means reflecting on what’s working and what isn’t working and noting the behaviors that continuously pop up. An example of this could be examining a recent argument from both sides. Is there something you or your partner says or does that triggers a response? Acting out in a way that you know will provoke your partner could be a pattern if it’s something that you’ve done in multiple situations. 

Another example of identifying chronic relationship issues is reflecting on your emotions and understanding the root cause. What prompts jealousy? What provokes anger? These triggers could be something you need to discuss with your partner to help navigate relationship woes.  

Once you’ve spent some time reflecting on your relationship, it’s time to have a meaningful conversation with your partner. Before diving into this discussion, it’s best to set expectations from the beginning. This will help to alleviate any arguing or veering off course from the point of the conversation. You and your partner need to both want to work toward bettering your relationship and realize that the problems that you’re having are just that, problems. It’s both of you versus the issue, not you versus your partner. 

couple talking through recurring issues

Follow these steps to identify and recognize a pattern in the relationship: 

  1. Define the problem.

Every problem needs to be called out and addressed. But how do you do this without upsetting your partner or making the situation worse? This can be challenging, but if there is a problem, it’s best to sit down with your partner and agree to have an open discussion about the issue. Try to define it as well as you can. Meaning, instead of saying, “I feel jealous sometimes,” say something more descriptive to help your partner understand better, a phrase like, “I feel jealous of your relationship with your attractive coworker. It upsets me when you spend time with them outside of work without me.” That sentence tells your partner the emotion you’re experiencing and what is causing that emotion. 

For effective communication, your partner needs the full story of the problem which means including a specific example to help them understand. Now that the problem is out in the open, you and your partner can work together to address it.  

  1. Identify the pattern.

Now that the problem is known by both parties, it’s time to identify the pattern. Is this problem a one-time thing or is it a chronic issue? It can be difficult to figure out how to recognize patterns in relationships but working through this together as a couple can strengthen the relationship.

A common chronic problem is with communication. Maybe there comes a point in every argument where you or your partner shut down. They stop responding, they don’t want to keep discussing the issue, they may even take time to cool off. Shutting down in a relationship during a moment of communication can be detrimental to solving any issues. If you or your partner do this regularly in times of conflict, then this would be a chronic pattern. Once you’ve identified that the issue occurs often or regularly, now it’s time for the teamwork to begin. 

  1. Work together to identify how you or your partner may be causing the problem.

Here is where it’s time to get deep and personal. It’s hard for people to take accountability for their actions but in the long run, it’ll help the relationship grow. It’s time to reflect as a team on how you or your partner are ultimately contributing to the problem. Is your partner always shutting down during arguments? Are you going through your partner’s phone behind their back? What are the actions or behaviors that you or your partner are doing that trigger the relationship pattern? This is something that you and your partner need to discuss as a couple and own up to the responsibility for your part. 

  1. Forgive each other.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. The foundation of this relationship is the love that you both have for each other. Forgive one another and congratulate each other for working together so well. At this point, you’ve found the pattern and accepted your role in the situation. That deserves some recognition. Remember that this is a hard conversation for both you and your partner, so be kind to one another. 

Not only can forgiveness play a big role in moving forward from arguments, it can also be good for your health. If the chronic pattern is frequent arguments about the same topics, then it might be helpful to practice forgiveness with your partner and work on letting things from the past go. 

  1. Take action. 

Now back to the problem at hand. It can be easy to apologize and go about your day, but it takes commitment on both sides to truly change a relationship and move past a pattern. Patterns can be ingrained from a childhood trauma or years of behaving a certain way. The conversation that you’ve had with your partner is great. It’s such a good first step, but change rarely happens overnight. You or your partner is going to be faced with the same situation that caused this pattern to begin with. It’s up to you both to actively work on developing better habits and putting them to use instead of falling into old ways.  

The process can be quite difficult to manage as a couple. Sometimes, it takes having an outside, non-judgmental person to help hold you both accountable and get this relationship back on track. At Shoutout, we offer convenient online educational coaching groups that cover family and relationship concerns. Our Master’s level marriage and family therapists can help you and your significant other with many issues including chronic patterns. We want your relationship to succeed as much as you do. 

Chronic patterns aren’t the only issue that relationships can face. There are many things that can come up while dating or even long into a marriage that you aren’t comfortable with addressing. Setting boundaries, experiencing infidelity, or financial concerns are examples of other topics that may be troubling in a relationship. Here are some other tips for a successful relationship: 

  • Communication is key! Make sure to communicate regularly and honestly with your partner. 
  • Trust is essential. If your partner has done something to break your trust it can be very difficult to build that trust back. Discussing boundaries and deal breakers early on in a relationship can help couples know what actions would break their partners’ trust. 
  • Date nights and special time together is important. Let your significant others know that they are loved by you. 
  • Be dependable. Be someone that your partner can rely on and make sure they know that they are a priority. 
  • Keep your life balanced. Make sure to spend time by yourself and keep up with your hobbies and social life. Keep your individuality and independence.

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