11 Signs You Are In A Complicated Relationship

Dating experience | | , Game Designer & Writer
Updated On: May 22, 2024
complicated relationship

Relationships are invariably complex. When two people come together to embark on a shared journey, there is bound to be some friction, disagreements, and ups and downs. However, when you find yourself in a situation where you don’t know where you stand with an intimate partner, that connection veers into the territory of a complicated relationship.  

Whether your relationship is new or you’ve been together for a long time, you’re dealing with a quintessentially complex love equation if you struggle with poor communication, lack of boundaries, mismatched expectations, and goals. The longer a couple stays in this state of limbo, the harder the toll on their mental health and emotional well-being. 

That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of complicated relationships and understand how to deal with them. With insights from psychotherapist Dr. Aman Bhonsle (Ph.D., PGDTA), who specializes in relationship counseling and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, let’s understand the complicated relationship meaning and how to navigate it skillfully.   

What Is A Complicated Relationship?

When people find themselves in relationships that are hard to define or put in the box of couple dynamics we’re familiar with, they usually respond with, “It’s complicated.” “While the specifics may vary from situation to situation, the complicated relationship meaning invariably boils down to this: a partnership that is hard to define because the people in it have differing, often clashing, boundaries and expectations,” says Dr. Bhonsle 

Since the goals and expectations are not in sync, there is a lot of tip-toeing and very little openness in such relationships. This results in many gray areas where partners send each other mixed signals, play hot and cold, and struggle with labels. The result? A lot of confusion, anxiety, and uneasiness leaves you wondering, “Why are relationships so difficult?”

Related Reading: Power Struggle In Relationships – The Right Way To Deal With It

What makes a relationship complicated

Talking about what makes relationships complicated, Dr. Bhonsle says, “Human relationships are always layered and complex but they’re not inherently complicated. When two emotionally mature people practice honesty and openness, they can build a healthy relationship. In the absence of these fundamentals, complications begin to take hold.” 

As you may have noticed, there seems to be a recurring theme: a lack of honesty and transparency coupled with misaligned expectations, goals, and core values, results in difficult relationships. Based on this understanding, let’s take a look at some factors that make relationships complicated:  

  • Unhealed emotional wounds: Complicated relationship dynamics can often be traced back to problematic behavior patterns stemming from unhealed emotional wounds of the past. Abandonment issues, fear of commitment, and insecure attachment styles are some common factors behind the making of a challenging relationship 
  • Suppressed emotions: The inability or unwillingness to share emotions is another common reason why people find themselves trapped in complicated relationships. More often than not, this is a result of your vulnerability having been exploited in the past. While clamming up can be a natural defense mechanism in such situations, it impedes your ability to forge healthy bonds 
  • Uncertainty: If you’re not sure about your feelings for a partner, the relationship dynamic naturally becomes complicated. This is what, typically, leads to toxic cycles like on-again-off-again relationships
  • Circumstances: Sometimes, the complications in a relationship can be caused by your circumstances or some external factors. For instance, being in a long-distance relationship, falling in love with someone while you’re in a committed relationship, one-sided feelings

11 Signs Of Complicated Relationships

Often, when we’re in the thick of a situation, it’s hard to view it objectively. Even if the signs of complicated relationship are staring you in the face, you may fail to recognize them or simply may not want to. However, this denial or ignorance isn’t sustainable. After a while, your complicated relationship status will begin to gnaw at your peace of mind and emotional well-being. You will tire of asking, “Why are relationships so difficult?”

That is a wake-up call that it’s time to stop sweeping your issues under the rug and tackle them head-on. The first step for tackling any problem is acknowledging it. To help you do that, Dr. Bhonsle lists the following signs of complicated relationships: 

1. You’re not sure how they feel about you

Lack of clarity is one of the top signs of complicated relationships. You’re not sure how your partner feels about you. And this isn’t just true of new relationships, where you haven’t had the define the relationship conversation or agreed on labels. In a complicated relationship, you can feel this way even if you’ve been together for a long time. Perhaps because, 

  • Your partner doesn’t show affection
  • They don’t practice openness and vulnerability 
  • If you make an effort to build deeper emotional intimacy, they push you away and become distant and withdrawn 

2. You’re not sure how you feel about them

difficult relationships
When you’re unsure about your feelings, it’s time to ask some tough questions

Perhaps because of your partner’s emotional detachment or other reasons such as having feelings for someone else, you just don’t feel a strong desire toward your partner anymore. Either way, this lack of certainty can give way to a challenging relationship. “Don’t brush your feelings off. If your conviction about the relationship is wavering, it’s okay to look at it with fresh eyes. It’s also okay to ask yourself and your partner tough questions to see how things are really going in the relationship,” says Dr. Bhonsle. 

3. You’re not sure about the future of the relationship 

You seem to want different things in life and avoid talking about your future. Maybe you can’t even picture a future with them or they don’t figure into the picture you paint for your future. Perhaps, your partner avoids any conversations about the future like the plagues. These are all red flags that bear the makings of difficult relationships. 

“Unless two people are in a mutually agreed upon short-term relationship, a hesitation to discuss future goals must be investigated further. You need to check in with each other and reevaluate where you stand and where you want to go from here,” says Dr. Bhonsle. 

Related Reading: Communication Problems In Relationships – 11 Ways To Overcome

4. Poor communication

Another one of the tell-tale signs of a complicated relationship is bad communication, which is characterized by, 

  • Passive-aggressive behavior
  • Talking over each other 
  • Cutting each other off 
  • Silent treatment and stonewalling 
  • Inability to resolve conflict 

Explaining why difficult relationships and poor communication go hand in hand, Dr Bhonsle says, “When there is a misalignment or even a clash of expectations, needs, and desires, and in the absence of healthy boundaries, communication is to be expected. All of these are rampant in complicated relationships.”

5. Lack of commitment

Complex love dynamics of a complicated relationship are characterized by commitment issues or even a willingness to have a conversation about labels, exclusivity, and commitment. Dr. Bhonsle says, “In such cases, you have to investigate if you’re even in a relationship in the first place.

“I’ve seen it all too often, that two people may have been in each other’s life for a considerable amount of time but when you ask them what they are, they say, “Oh, we haven’t really put a label to it yet. Well, labels are important. If you don’t label the sugar and salt in your kitchen, you might just end up with salt in your coffee and sugar in your meatloaf. That’s why these conversations matter.”

Infographic on Signs Of Complicated Relationships
What a complicated relationship feels like

6. Imbalanced involvement in each other’s lives

A complete lack of or excessive involvement in each other’s lives are both telling signs of a complicated relationship. Enduring relationships are built on a healthy interdependence between partners, where you preserve your individuality but also lean on each other for support. But if you don’t make an effort to share each other’s interests or even spend time together, it signals a degree of detachment — which can complicate your dynamics as a couple. 

On the other hand, excessive dependence on one another can also make relationships complicated. If you don’t maintain parts of your life independent of each other, start relying on each other for things you should be doing for yourself, no longer do things for yourself, or spend time alone or with your own set of friends, you may begin to lose the sense of where your partner ends and you begin. This level of enmeshment, of course, serves as a breeding ground for complications. 

7. Conflict is a constant in your relationship

Some amount of fighting in relationships is normal. However, if you find yourself fighting way too often about petty issues, there may be some larger underlying problems at play, which in itself is one of the signs of a complicated relationship. It’s time to stop avoiding the issue and start reflecting, especially if the fights are getting ugly or abusive. Remember, abuse doesn’t only come in physical form. Emotional abuse is just as big a red flag. 

Related Reading: 5 Signs Of Emotional Abuse You Should Watch Out For, Warns Therapist

8. You feel unhappy

When you’re unable to form a real connection with your partner, and are unsure about where you stand and what the future holds for your relationship, it’s natural for discontentment and unhappiness to seep in. Add to that the constant fights and emotional distance, which leave you wondering, “Why are relationships so difficult?” Being trapped in this cycle can suck the joy out of your life, leaving you deeply unhappy as you try to navigate the challenging relationship you find yourself in. 

9. You keep falling back into the same pattern

You’ve been through the same strokes: breaking up and getting back together again. Maybe you both are codependent and can’t move on. This is one of the definite signs of a complicated relationship. If it’s not healthy anymore, then it’s time to break the pattern.

signs of complicated relationship
Repeating unhealthy patterns is a sign something is amiss in your relationship

“Repeating relationship patterns is exhausting and toxic for all parties concerned. There’s no point being miserable all the time. Think about why you keep falling back into the old ways and then take serious action to get yourself out of this relationship rut,” says Dr. Bhonsle.

10. You’re scared to voice your expectations

The complex love dynamics of a challenging relationship may leave you feeling anxious and on edge around your partner all the time. You expect certain things from them, but deep down, you also know how they’re going to react, so you learn to clam up, swallow the hurt and pain, and hold on to the hope that things will get better. 

The partner who is more emotionally invested (and yes, the dynamics of complicated relationships are always lop-sided) may continue to walk on eggshells around the other, lest they say or do something to push them away. Unless things improve, this path leads toward immense emotional turmoil. 

11. You feel out of sync with each other

As you navigate through an emotionally challenging relationship where you don’t quite know where you stand with your partner, you may begin to feel more and more out of sync with them. Their reactions and responses may begin to surprise, even appall, you. And you begin to wonder, “Is it even possible to build something meaningful with this person?”, or, “Is it even worth trying to fix this complicated relationship?” Over time, you feel more and more disconnected from your partner, and may even become indifferent toward them. 

How To Deal With A Complicated Relationship

The warning signs of a complicated relationship make it amply clear how emotionally exacting and insufferable such an equation can be. If you could relate to even some of the signs listed above, you must focus your energies on ascertaining how to deal with a complicated relationship. Dr. Bhonsle offers the following tipis:  

how to deal with a complicated relationship
You need to work as a team to fix a complicated relationship

1. Ask yourself if it’s really working

Before you invest a great deal of effort in figuring out how to deal with a complicated relationship, take a pause and assess if it’s worth it. Do you see a future for this relationship? In some cases, introspection may lead you to the realization that it isn’t meant to be. If your gut feeling is really strong about that, it might be time to trust it. If you do feel that your relationship, for all its flaws, still has potential, there is plenty you can do to turn things around. 

2. Communication is key to dealing with difficult relationships

“Through clear communication, you need to establish what you are to each other and where you see this relationship going,” says Dr. Bhonsle. There is just no alternative to talking to each other about your respective relationship expectations, goals, wants, and needs and discussing what’s working and what’s not. So, 

  • Initiate a dialogue with your partner 
  • Tell them what you need from this relationship 
  • Allow them to state their needs 
  • Then, decide whether you can arrive at a common ground to uncomplicate things or if it’d be best for you to part ways  

Related Reading: How Do You Set Emotional Boundaries In Relationships

3. Set clear boundaries

Lack of healthy relationship boundaries is characteristic of a complicated relationship. So, naturally, working on establishing and enforcing boundaries is an important step in your journey of figuring out how to deal with a complicated relationship. 

  • Clearly state what this relationship means to you and set goals for the future
  • Openly talk about what’s acceptable and what’s non-negotiable to you
  • Establish what you need to feel secure and loved 
  • Discuss what dishonoring each other’s boundaries would mean for the future of your relationship

4. Commit to putting in work

If you see potential in the relationship, then working through your issues is completely worth it. However, this effort will bear fruit only if both partners are committed to putting in the work required to turn things around. 

5. Seek support to deal with a complicated relationship

on complicated relationship

You might need to have multiple conversations over a course of time before you break new ground. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may find it hard to make any headway in the right direction. In such cases, it becomes important to seek help from outside the relationship. You can talk to close friends or family for some much-needed perspective or even go into therapy to work through your issues. If you’re in need of help, Bonobology’s counseling services are at your disposal. 

6. Show that you care

If you’ve decided to stay and work on your relationship, it’s important to make the effort to let your partner know they’re loved, cherished, and cared for. Healing takes time. In the meantime, do little things for your partner to express your love and show them how much you care for them.

Key Pointers

  • A complicated relationship is a partnership that is hard to define
  • Mismatched expectations, different goals and values, unhealed emotional wounds, and uncertainty are some reasons why relationships become complicated
  • Not being sure of your feelings, uncertainty about the future, lack of commitment, unhappiness, and conflict are all signs of a complicated relationship
  • The answer to how to deal with a complicated relationship lies in improving communication, setting healthy boundaries, putting in the effort to repair the bond, and seeking help if necessary

Whatever may be the complication or the outcome of dealing with it, it is always better to work on removing uncertainty from a relationship, rather than simply label your relationship as “complicated” and let it hang in the balance. We hope you can identify what is going wrong in your relationship, what is the reason for your unhappiness, and figure out what to do next.


1. What is called a complicated relationship?

A complicated relationship is when you may love/like the other person but are not sure if you want to be in a relationship with them.

2. Is a complicated relationship troubled?

Yes, absolutely. And both the partners are pretty troubled as well. A complicated relationship means that the partners aren’t in this relationship with both feet in and have to figure out a few things before they are absolutely committed to one another.

3. What is the meaning of a complicated relationship on Facebook?

On Facebook, a complicated relationship means that you do have somewhat of a connection or romance with someone but it is not a full-fledged commitment to call it a proper relationship. However, you are also not single yet since your heart is involved somewhere else.

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