The Relationship NCT: Is It Time To Give Your Love Life A Once Over?

Just like cars, long-term relationships require maintenances, says Victoria Stokes.

If you’ve ever driven a car you’ll know that they’re pretty adept at alerting us to when something is wrong. It only takes a funny din, a squeaky brake or the dreaded check engine light to come on for you to know your motor isn’t running just as well as it should be.

In relationships, knowing when you’re steering off course isn’t always as easy. Likewise, fixing a problem isn’t as simple as dropping your car off for a service. It takes an effort from two willing participants, not a rubber mallet or a spanner.

We put our cars through an annual NCT but rarely do we take stock of how our relationships are ticking over as often, but according to Annie Lavin, a dating and relationship coach who works with people both face-to-face and remotely to help them maintain healthy, meaningful relationships, it’s just as important to take a good abstract look at your relationship every now and again to identify any problems.

So what are some warning signs that your relationship could be in trouble and what can you do about them?

You’re arguing all the time

We’ve all been there, right? One minute everything’s rosy, the next you’re at each other’s throats, unsure of how the argument even started in the first place. Conflict is a normal part of a relationship – in fact if you aren’t arguing at all, experts say it’s actually a bad thing – but what if it feels like you’re fighting all of the time and nothing ever seems to get resolved?

“Conflict in a relationship can be healthy as long as it is not accompanied by fear,” Annie explains. “If fear is present there is a problem. You should never feel as though you have to choose your words with your partner or ‘walk on eggshells’ around them and if you are currently in this kind or relationship, research emotional abuse,” she warns.

“The reason conflict is seen as a healthy indicator in a relationship is because it signals independence between partners and is an opportunity to understand your partner’s needs as separate to your own. It signals that you both have different goals or values in conflict with one another.”

In other words, you’re not so completely lost in the relationship that you’ve forgotten your own needs and priorities and you’re not afraid to speak up and voice your concerns.

Still, even with that knowledge, fighting with your other half can feel pretty horrible, so how can you handle it better? Annie says to take responsibility for your end of the argument and be curious about what is happening for your partner.

“Ask them questions to understand why they are upset rather than pointing the finger of blame. Conflict is generally never about what it appears to be about on the surface.”

Another pro-tip? Many fights are the result of miscommunication and even when you think you’re being crystal clear, your partner may be hearing something completely different. It’s not always easy when you’re mid-fury, but slow down, clarify what you mean and also clarify what your partner is getting at. It leaves less margin for error when you’re both fighting so hard to be heard.

The clearer you are the more likely you are to have a productive argument, not a destructive one. The result? When you fight right, you’ll also fight less. A win-win really.

You’re not having sex as much as you used to

You couldn’t keep your hands off each other at the start, but times have changed. Now your time between the sheets is getting more few and far between and more likely to be spent watching Netflix than doing anything kinky. Is it a red flag or something that happens naturally over the course of a relationship? And can you start doing it more often if that’s what you so desire?

First of all, Annie confirms that, yes, it is totally normal for your sex life to decline over the course of a relationship – phew – and points out that discovering why you’re doing the deed less is the important part. A dwindling sex life can be down to lots of factors, loss of libido, relationship issues, an underlying medical issue and yes, even stress. Let’s face it, we’re constantly on the go these days and this not only leaves us more open to feeling stressed out and exhausted but also makes it harder to prioritise sex too.

If that sounds like you and your other other half, having more sex may simply be a case of just making it a priority again, but if you reckon the, eh, root cause runs deeper than that, there’s still loads you can do. Try building intimacy in other ways. Share everything and anything with your other half, embrace other forms of contact like kissing and cuddling and consider taking up a hobby you can do together to re-connect.

Next? Try changing your routine. You know how you find a song you really, really love, and play it morning, noon and night before eventually getting tired of it? Sex is kinda the same deal. You can’t expect to keep doing the same thing over and over again and find it just as exciting. Break out of that sexual rut by doing something you’d both like to try, be it a different position or even just having sex in another room of the house.

And if you’ve tried all that and you’re still not doing the deed as often as you’d like? “Identify your individual reasons and seek the professional help you need to re-establish sexual intimacy with your partner,” advises Annie.

Check back tomorrow for part two of the feature, troubleshooting more common relationship problems

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