Relationship Issues Outline

  1. How Relationship Issues Can Affect Mental Health
  2. Communication
  3. Finances
  4. Family of Origin
  5. Past Relationships
  6. Conflict
  7. 3 Tiers of Relationships
  8. How Therapy Can Help With Relationship Issues

How Relationship Issues Can Affect Mental Health

Relationships are a central part of our lives, and how we relate to others: friends, family and partners, directly impacts our sense of self and daily well-being. When we struggle with our relationships, it can be for a variety of reasons and to varying degrees. When problems with relationships begin to interfere with daily life or healthy functioning, it can be beneficial to seek the help of a counselor or therapist.

Some people choose to address relationship issues together through couples therapy or family therapy, and some people choose to address relationship issues alone through individual therapy, applying what they’ve learned to their relationships. Therapy can be especially beneficial when relationship conflict contributes to mental health conditions in one of, or both partners. Therapists can identify and treat existing mental health conditions, as well as help patients learn to cope with difficult emotions and distress resulting from interpersonal conflict. Mental health risks linked to chronic or severe relationship issues can include:


Communication is one of the most common reasons that people seek counseling for relationship issues. Effective communication is the cornerstone of healthy relationships, and it is also one of the hardest parts to get right. Issues that couples tend to struggle with when it comes to communicating include poor listening, use of inflammatory language, secrecy, misinterpretation, failure to understand another person’s point of view, and stonewalling.

A trained therapist can help get to the bottom of harmful communication patterns and teach couples to pinpoint important or problematic topics and then discuss them in a healthy way. Some treatment techniques might include:

  • Active listening
  • Mediated communication
  • Respectful communication
  • Opening lines of communication


Money is a widespread source of conflict in relationships. Because it is such a big part of everyday life, it is crucial to understand how both you and your partner relate to it.  People have different needs and values when it comes to money, and partners often come into relationships with different histories surrounding money, and in turn, different spending habits and goals.

Conflict about money can arise in relationships regarding sharing, saving, managing and spending. Another common source of controversy is “fiscal infidelity,” a term referring to when one partner has “cheated” on the other in monetary matters, leaving them feeling deceived or betrayed. Examples of fiscal infidelity include lying about one’s salary, claiming to be looking for work without actually doing so, lying about spending, spending money on drugs or gambling, or helping out friends or other family members financially without the consent of the other partner.

Counseling from a mental health professional can help couples to better cope with feelings of stress, resentment, betrayal, and anger related to money issues, as well as give both partners the tools to communicate about money in a more constructive way. A counselor or therapist can help simply by giving both partners a safe space to openly discuss their habits and goals when it comes to money. The sooner into a relationship that a couple can have this discussion, the better. A mental health professional can also provide techniques that help couples create financial goals to work toward together as a team, turning financial conflict into an opportunity, allowing them to discuss and work on their financial issues and set a precedent for truth and honesty in the relationship moving forward.  

Family of Origin

Your family of origin, or the family you grew up with, is responsible for shaping many important facets of who you are today. Communicating, processing emotions, your value systems, your belief systems, and more, are all learned from your family of origin. Some families are more functional than others, and most people carry both good and bad family traits with them (consciously or subconsciously) into adulthood. When entering into new close relationships, and especially when starting a family of your own, the effects of a dysfunctional family of origin might begin to negatively impact you, causing you to experience difficulties in your relationships.

When unaddressed family of origin issues are brought into adult relationships, the results can be be damaging to the relationships and overwhelming to everyone involved. A therapist can help explore and confront the ways in which your family of origin and childhood experiences affect your adult relationships. Seeking counseling for family of origin issues can help you to understand the “why” behind problematic behaviors and communication styles, and learn how to change and evolve to better your relationships.

Past Relationships

For many people, one of the hardest things to deal with in a relationship is their partner’s past relationships, or “relationship baggage.” While there are some people out there who truly believe that their partner’s past romantic relationships have nothing to do with them and are none of their business, there are also many people who struggle greatly to hear or even think about their partner’s past romantic life. Dealing with your partner’s past relationships can cause unhealthy rumination and bring up negative feelings, such as:

  • Jealousy
  • Fear
  • Insecurity
  • Anxiety
  • Inadequacy
  • Lack of control
  • Uncertainty
  • Anger
  • Helplessness
  • Sadness

It can be tempting to want to know things about your partner’s past, but it’s important to think about the reasons why you want to know them. Be wary of nosiness for the sake of comparison. Try not to compare the place you have in your partner’s life to that of his or her exes, as this can lead to personal torment, and usually comes from issues within, not having to do with your partner, but actually having more to do with yourself and wanting to feel more special and important in your relationships. This type of jealousy can often lead to arguments and resentment between partners.

Overall, retrospective jealousy, (jealousy about your partner’s past) is a common issue for couples. If these feelings are beginning to take a toll on your relationship or your mental health, you might benefit from the help of a mental health professional who specializes in therapy or counseling for relationship issues. A therapist can help you focus on growth in the present, realize that your feelings are normal, cope with negative emotions, and come up with strategies to help you prevent harmful thoughts cycles from ruining an otherwise healthy relationship.


Conflict in relationships is inevitable. While some conflict is normal and healthy, severe and increased conflict can have harmful effects on the relationship and the mental health of those involved. When you care about someone, emotions, opinions, and reactions tend to be stronger, which is why conflict is so common in relationships. There are both good and bad parts to conflict, as arguments and dissent have the potential to strengthen or weaken a relationship.

Good parts:

  • Positive outcomes can improve a relationship
  • Both partners are given the chance to make sure that important needs and thoughts are heard
  • Conflict resolution can result in Increased closeness
  • Disagreements can be resolved  
  • Arguments can become a platform for meaningful and open discussion

Bad parts:

Conflict can have negative emotional outcomes, including:

Conflict tends to be worse when confrontation results in harmful communication, such as personal attacks, critical and accusatory language, or sarcastic, biting comments. Yelling or shouting also tends to add to the intensity of arguments. How conflict is handled has a lot to do with one’s family of origin. Each partner in a relationship has separate family values and communications styles that were learned and observed during childhood. These experiences shape how conflict is handled in adulthood, and may lead to communication style clashes between partners during conflict. Avoiding conflict altogether is another negative communication style, and it can be equally problematic to shouting matches, as disagreements never end up getting settled, and it can make one or both partners feel like their needs and opinions are insignificant or “not worth it” to the other.

Seeking the help of a mental health profession can help teach couples healthy conflict resolution skills, as well as stress management strategies, and coping and relaxation techniques for times of conflict.

3 Tiers of Relationships

Another part of relationships that can be especially difficult is navigating the depth or “tiers” of your relationships. All relationships, including those with friends, family and romantic partners hold different meanings in our lives, and those meanings can change over time. There are 3 tiers of relationships: primary, secondary and tertiary.

  • Your primary relationships are your most important relationships. These are your kidney donors, soul mates, bffs, etc. This is your inner circle; the people that you are most close to.
  • Your secondary relationships are your friends, and the people that you like to hangout with. Maybe you know that these people don’t truly know you, but you have fun with them, enjoy their company, and like going out for drinks. There are more people in this group compared to your primary group.
  • Your tertiary relationships are the highest in quantity, but the lowest in quality. These relationships are your Facebook friends, the people whose photos you like on Instagram, your co-workers, etc. These people are in your life, but you aren’t particularly close to them.

One of the hardest things to deal with in relationships is that people move around within these tiers. It is a normal, natural part of progressing through life, but many struggle with the fact that relationships change. A therapist trained in relationship issues can help you cope with and change maladaptive or distorted thoughts about the need to hold onto people. If you are struggling to let go of toxic or unhealthy relationships, or accept distance in your relationships, you are not alone. This is a common issue and you might benefit from the support of a mental health professional.

How Therapy Can Help With Relationship Issues

Therapy can be very beneficial for working on relationship issues. Counselors are objective, trained professionals who are unlikely to take sides or encourage a couple to split up. A therapist will start by working with the couple or individual to identify specific problems in the relationship, set goals and objectives for counseling, and focus on realistic solutions. A trained therapist will help partners to not only communicate their needs, feelings, and thoughts more clearly, but also to listen to their partners’ needs more carefully and respectfully.

If you are struggling with relationship issues in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area and would like to seek professional help, contact us today. At our counseling practice, Identity Counseling Psychology PLLC, our experienced clinicians specialize in treating relationship issues and are passionate about working with people to strengthen their relationships and achieve their goals.