“If dysfunction means that a family doesn’t work, then every family ambles into some arena in which that happens, where relationships get strained or even break down entirely. We fail each other or disappoint each other. That goes for parents, siblings, kids, marriage partners – the whole enchilada,” quote from American poet and essayist Mary Karr’s book The Liars’ Club.
There is nothing constant in life, we all have our own share of ups and downs. Strained relationships are a part of the package deal called life. Whether it be at your workplace, friendships or casual relationships, each of these is subject to change, liable to become strained.
Quite often, the issues from a strained relationship overflow into other aspects of your life. Sarah, 31, speaks of one such instance in her life, “Every time after a call with my combative father, I would become irritable and snap at people around me. My interactions with him were affecting my relationship with others too.”
As we have seen above, another word for ‘strained relationship’ is a relationship that is ‘tensed’ or ‘troubled’. This definition of strained relationship is not to be restricted to just internal problems. So, what do strained relationships really mean? And how can you best cope with them? Let’s delve deeper into the intricacies of a strained relationship to help you understand.
5 Signs Of A Strained Relationship
Whether you term it as a strained relationship or use another word to make it sound more palatable, the fact of the matter is that this relationship not only has problems but is also troublesome for your mental state. We now examine 5 common signs of a strained relationship:
1. Strained relationships erode trust
One of the most repeated axioms in the world of sociology, we know that ‘relationships are built on trust’. Building up that trust takes time and effort. Destroying, or at the very least eroding that trust, takes one or two incidents.
When there is an erosion of trust in a relationship, it becomes difficult to interact with the other person and you can no longer depend on them. If you cannot regain the trust, the relationship may move from strained to broken.
A simple example of a strained relationship and erosion of trust would be the long-running gag from the TV show F.R.I.E.N.D.S. After Rachel and Ross have the initial fight about whether ‘they were on a break’, Rachel finds it difficult to trust Ross. Through various situations in the following episodes, this becomes a bone of contention between them and jars their relationship.
2. There is a communication breakdown
If you are irritated or have problems with someone, it is not easy to communicate with them. In a strained relationship, egos and emotions start playing a part in your interactions, and sarcastic or aggressive comments can cause instances of emotional flooding.
It can become difficult to have a rational, straightforward conversation. You might want to stick to speaking only the bare minimum required, avoiding any casual or light conversation with this person.
This can be especially troublesome in intimate relationships, where a lack of communication especially affects other parts of your relationship. Whether it be a strained marital relationship or a strained relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend, this kind of situation can greatly add to your mental stress. After all, your partner is who you share most openly with, and issues with them will bother you.
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3. Lack of concern/disrespect
In a healthy relationship, there is a measure of mutual respect. Extending to close-personal relationships, this also develops into a degree of concern. But a strained relationship is rife with the possibility of a lack of mutual respect and/or concern, which, in turn, makes interactions increasingly difficult. Barbed comments and hurtful remarks rear their ugly head when your relationship with someone is no longer in a comfortable place.
This holds beyond the realm of personal relationships. Having strained relationships at the workplace can be extremely troublesome too. If an employer no longer has the respect of their employees, their business may start seeing customer attrition, a decline in profits, and even clients switching to a business with healthier workplace relations.
Cait, a 23-year-old stylist, speaks about her experience in a strained relationship with her ex-boyfriend, “My ex-boyfriend used to regularly poke fun at my profession and did not understand how important it was for me. After a while, I got tired of his incessant remarks and broke up with him. I told him that if he cannot respect someone’s work, then they will never be happy with him.”
4. You find yourself distancing
When you know that communicating with someone is going to be problematic, you often try to limit your interactions with them. Avoiding casual conversation, you try to stick to only matters which require urgent attention.
In a strained marital relationship or one with your partner, you might find your partner doing activities that deviate their attention away from you. You both might avoid speaking of contentious topics, make more plans with only your friends, or have sex less often. Distancing is a sign which calls for immediate redressal of your strained relationship, lest it deteriorates further.
5. Strained relationships exhibit contempt
Owing to a lack of trust and loss of mutual respect, strained relationships are characterized by sourness and a palpable sense of contempt. Distancing and communication breakdowns cause major damage to your relationship, and eventually, you might start questioning the relationship.
However, as we know, relationships are not a game of logic. Emotions and feelings play a major part, and once you let the bitterness seep into those, contempt takes root. Research done by Dr. John Gottman’s Institute calls this one of the four horsemen for relationships. In fact, it is often the most damaging one.
At this stage, external help may be required. Couples or group therapy is a helpful option. A study by Dr. Nili Sachs recommends treating this symptom deeper like you would a ‘root canal’. You have to find the roots of this feeling and address it.
Related Reading: 8 Things That Ruin Relationships And You Don’t Even Realise it
12 Ways To Fix A Strained Relationship
A strained relationship, whether in a professional or familial setting, can greatly disturb and disrupt your life. Nobody likes having negative interactions, they only bubble up feelings of anger and resentment, leaving a bitter taste. A strained marital relationship or a strained relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend may affect your psyche, and definitely sets the tone for the rest of your day or week.
Dealing with a strained relationship is not easy, but there are a few things you can do to alleviate, or even improve the situation. So, if you are wondering, “how to fix a strained relationship”, here are a few tips:
1. Have a friendly and casual interaction
Speech is one of the most powerful tools that we have in our arsenal, especially in today’s world when most of our problems are psychological, not physical. So use it. Try having a simple, friendly conversation. Don’t make it formal and stiff, rather focus on keeping it casual and playful.
Sometimes, having a normal dialogue about nothing distracts your attention from hostility. Don’t try to push it, start with a simple greeting, continue to a common interest and be casual.
2. Target and analyze the cause of your strained relationship
Like we discussed, another word for strained relationships is a tense one. So you, being the mature and rational person we know you are, can think and recognize what is causing this tension. Figure out what instances and subjects lead to the rise of that negativity in your interactions with your partner.
Once you can put a finger on the cause, analyze why this negativity is arising. You should not disregard your emotions rather see why those particular ones are bubbling up. Try and understand the reason, and work on it, do not let it strain relationships. Keeping your clever analysis in mind for the next interaction, try and keep the unnecessary negativity out.
3. Reset the emotional tone of your interactions
Having resentment or bitterness toward someone you otherwise had a good relationship with weighs on your psyche. Your interactions with your partner affect your emotions, and gradually those emotions affect future interactions with that person.
Rather than getting stuck in that cycle, try resetting the emotional tone when you realize which emotions are arising from negative interactions, and affecting you. Before the relationship got strained, you had better interactions with your partner.
Try and connect with those feelings, analyze the tone your interactions have had recently, and provide a healthy atmosphere to express your hurt and anger.
4. Avoid pushing their buttons
In a strained relationship, as we discussed above, we set a negative emotional tone. Occasionally, you may get carried away and say things that you know will annoy or irritate your partner. Passing sarcastic comments or making snide remarks might give you a little satisfaction in that riled-up moment, but will hurt your relationship greatly.
Throw that negativity out of your life. If you wish to improve your strained relationship with your boyfriend, avoid pushing your partner’s buttons. Sometimes it could be certain actions, like leaving their room door ajar, which could annoy them. What you should be aiming for is to present a positive, friendly attitude.
5. Break the routine which causes the strain
In addition to the above point, there may be certain monotony that may be souring your relationship. Besides taking certain inflammatory actions, the predictability of sitting together and going through the same motions can also cause negativity. Research shows that boredom is linked to stress. At work or home, try to change the routine which is causing the negativity.
A strained marital relationship sometimes arises from a rut. Even doing the same activities many times in the same way with your partner can cause a strained relationship with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Try changing things up, go out to a fancy place, indulge in a new activity. Sometimes, switching things up can alleviate tension and enliven your spirit.
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6. Brainstorm on how to improve your strained relationship
Most of our relationships are built due to a certain connection and commonality. Before the relationship got strained, you used those things to develop a healthy repertoire with this person. So go ahead and sit down with this person, put your heads together and figure out what you can do to make things better.
Yes, this may not be possible with everyone. But say you are watching a movie on the television with your mother or having a coffee with your colleague. These are good instances to have a general chat and try and bring up the negativity in your strained relationship. Figure out the ideal method and solution for the two of you. After all, it is a loss for both of you to have this strained relationship.
7. Apologize to improve a strained relationship
“Why should I apologize? I didn’t do anything wrong. Besides, the other person is also so wrong!”
We know this might be running through your head. But sometimes it is better to swallow the bitter pill, apologize and move on. In a strained relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse, an apology is not a victory or a loss for anyone. It is a reconciliatory, empathetic way to redress the issue you have. You may be at fault, or not, but if you can recognize that it is just egos that are causing the clashes, you have the solution with you.
Of course, you should not be just a doormat and accept ill-treatment from anybody. It is better to leave those kinds of strained relationships behind. But if you know that the strain on your relationship is just driven by ego or pride, use your awareness to see that apologizing and moving forward would be the best thing in the situation.
8. Release control and move toward positivity
A lot of our negative interactions with others, and our own self, arise from the need to have control. By having control, you feel more balanced and powerful. This is a general human tendency. It inhibits your feelings of anxiety and boosts your self-confidence. That is all well and good, but sometimes this need to have control overreaches and can make you seem condescending or haughty in your interactions.
Think about your interactions and see if you have been pushing your need for control has been causing more harm to your already strained relationships. Your partner may be understanding or may chafe from your actions. By releasing some of this control, you can show your partner that you care about them and resolve the negativity in your strained relationship with your boyfriend or girlfriend.
9. Enforce personal boundaries in relationships
In the same way that your need for control could hamper your strained relationship, your partner’s actions may affect you. As important as the other person may be to you, you must remember that the one you have to take most care of is YOU.
If certain actions, words or indulgences disturb your boundaries or principles, you should be clear and communicate this to your partner. By enforcing your boundaries, you can become more comfortable in the relationship and resolve any tension caused by overstepping in a strained relationship.
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10. Give the other person some space
Yes, this may seem counteractive or even akin to distancing. But what we are speaking of here is to recognize that not everyone will deal with issues in the same manner. Maybe your partner has some personal problems which they aren’t keen to share. Maybe they just need a little space.
It is better to avoid being persistent or repetitively trying to address the issue in this situation. You can ask your partner if they need some time, whether they wish to discuss something or just need space. In a way, this is like listening to them. This could give them some time to reflect too, and may improve your strained marital relationship.
11. Build relational agility
If you see things improving, it means that what you are doing is probably working. However, you must also recognize the fact that your strained relationship has gone through this period of strife, and grow from it. You should try and understand why there is a strain on your relationship, and be able to react to such situations in the future.
Doing this is a sign of personal growth. Rather than resorting to the default ‘digging in’ response on encountering trouble in a relationship, you will learn how to manage such situations better in the future. This is a way of not only making current strained relationships better but to being a better person in all relationships in the future.
12. Letting a broken relationship go
Despite all your efforts, sometimes a relationship could be under too much strain and tension. This situation will probably lead to a negative outcome, breaking you or the strained relationship with your boyfriend. Sometimes, it is wiser to walk away from a broken or strained relationship before it causes harm to both of you.
Rebuilding or bettering a strained relationship is an unlikely possibility. Whether it be a professional position or a problematic personal strained relationship, sometimes walking away can leave you with a decent, but distant, relationship with that person. Although it may hurt at first, it is better in the long run.
Experiencing difficulties in a relationship is never easy, but being better equipped makes you better prepared to deal with a strained relationship. By using some of the above tips, we hope you can resolve and improve your strained relationship.