Why ignoring problems in relationships can make them worse

Sometimes in relationships it can be tempting to just ignore problems, sweep them under the carpet and pretend everything is wonderful.

But all too often issues can lurk beneath the surface, festering away until they multiply or increase in size until they can’t be ignored any longer. This often means they are much tougher to tackle when you are finally forced to face them.

If this sounds familiar, we spoke to experts to find out why dealing with issues and problems straight away could boost your relationship and wellbeing.

Why do we ignore relationship problems?

Psychotherapeutic counsellor Liz Ritchie explains that much of our avoidance of problems, in our relationships and in other areas of our lives, is rooted in fear.  The issues we avoid may be intimate, uncomfortable or overwhelming feelings.

But by doing this, we are creating greater discomfort for ourselves in the long run.

According to life and relationship coach John Kenny: “When issues are not resolved to the satisfaction of both parties, then emotions can begin to simmer under the surface.

“This can lead to, what would normally be normal conversations or disagreements, escalating to arguments as the real problems are not resolved and the feelings from these go unaddressed,” he advises.

“Resentments can build, leading to a loss of respect for each other as you try and rebalance things in your favour due to what you are still holding on to.”

Read: Who’s guilty of talking without listening?

A couple arguing and ignoring one another
Ignoring your issues with someone will not make the problems go away. (Alamy/PA)

Does ignoring smaller problems in my relationship really matter?

There may be things your partner does that you ignore, despite it upsetting you, because it isn’t worth arguing about.

Mr Kenny says:  “You may ignore certain jokes even though you find them upsetting or insulting [or] that they don’t seem to consider you when making decisions or acting in certain ways.

“These are usually called ‘pink flags’, as they are things that may not necessarily be a deal breaker, but if they escalate can soon become red flags.”

John Kenny
John Kenny is a relationship specialist. (JamPond Photography/PA)

What if my partner thinks there’s a problem and I don’t?

Conversely, it may feel confrontational when your partner challenges behaviour that troubles them but seems unimportant to you. However, they may have been sweeping the issue under the rug for so long they feel they can’t ignore it anymore.

“No matter how small something may seem to you, it may be massive for someone else. Hearing how someone thinks and feels will enable them to feel listened to and this may be all they need,” Mr Kenny says.

“If it is a small thing to you, then why not change it so that they feel better, not because you have to, but because you care enough for them?”

Read: Signs your partner really supports you

How can hiding problems affect my family?

Dadsnet experts Paul and Michael Atwal-Brice, who have two sets of identical twins together, admit that in their experience, dusting problems under the carpet can be damaging for a family.

Michael says: “We found over the years that letting issues mount up often leads to an explosion into a big argument, and it’s not the way forward – especially with the sleep deprivation from looking after children.”

Talking openly about any problems, works much better, he adds. “We have found the best way to be with ourselves and each other is to be completely honest, open, and transparent.

“We have found speaking to others in similar situations and spending time for ourselves can really help us. Even simple things such as pottering in the garden. Making this time isn’t easy, but we wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”

Read: Why do family estrangements happen and can they be fixed?

Any other tips for tackling hidden problems?

Ms Ritchie says it’s all about about acceptance and communication.

“Accept that something is affecting you. There is a massive cost if you cannot be open; it reduces your sense of self worth and damages your confidence and identity,” she explains.

Then set aside time to talk about it, she says. “Have a goal, a point where you know you have addressed the issue. We downplay a lot of really important issues. We shouldn’t have to repress things.”

– With PA

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