Ask the average couple what would put their relationship most at risk and they’re likely to answer infidelity.
If only it was that simple.
The truth is, there are danger points in every relationship that are as innocent as a birthday celebration.
Forget torrid affairs – these are the four most challenging times for couples.
Tracey Cox has revealed the most challenging times in every relationship which include significant days, milestone birthdays and life-changing events (stock image)
Significant days – like Christmas
‘I opened my eyes, kissed my boyfriend who was sleeping beside me and thought, “Surely he’ll choose today to propose”. We’d been together nearly two years, it was Christmas morning and both our families were going to be together.
‘Instead, he was abnormally quiet all morning and when I asked what was wrong, gave a sad little smile, sat me down and told me our relationship was over.
‘Why now?’, I sobbed. ‘It’s Christmas day!’
‘That’s what made me realise,’ he said. ‘Everyone’s expecting me to propose. I want to make everyone happy but I can’t. My heart’s just not it.’
That heart-warming story comes compliments of my friend Alana – one of (sadly) quite a few people I know who have been dumped on significant days.
Valentine’s Day, Christmas day, New Year’s Eve, anniversaries. It’s not just exquisitely bad timing to dump your partner at a certain stage, age and date in their lives. It’s because they force us to think about where our lives are going and where we’ve been.
HOW TO GET THROUGH A CHALLENGING TIME
Worried your partner might be rethinking your relationship?
Talk about it.
If you notice your partner withdrawing or looking conflicted, call them on it. Sticking your head in the sand when you can feel things unravelling simply guarantees it will.
Get some perspective.
A lot of the time, it’s a hiccup not a mountain to climb. Don’t overreact. It’s normal for people to get a little depressed on significant birthdays, for instance – especially if they’re not where they thought they’d be. Encourage your partner to articulate their feelings and come up with some new goals for them to aspire to.
Give your relationship a regular MOT. Relationships aren’t static: they’re moving, living, breathing things. You’re both changing as human beings – separately and together – which means how you behave and what you both need and want from each other also changes. Constantly.
Check in once every few months. Make sure you’re both happy and speak up if you’re not. The early you voice concerns, the less likely it is to fester into a big problem.
Most therapists and counsellors are now doing video call or phone sessions which can be a lot less threatening than sitting in an office. An experienced professional can look in on your relationship from the outside and see things more clearly, as well as offer solutions you may not have thought of.
Find one at cosrt.org.uk, bacp.co.uk and relate.org.uk.
Savvy people appraise their relationship progress on a regular basis: others get so caught up in the daily rituals of living, that’s all they do.
If you go through life on autopilot, significant dates are like a wake-up call: they finally reflect on what happened the year before and decide they can’t bear another one like the last.
It’s the equivalent of someone screaming at them through a loudspeaker, ‘For God’s sake. You’ve been unhappy for ages. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!’
So they do. Right there and then.
Turning 21, 30, 40, 50 – any milestone birthday – is also a time of introspection.
If you’re just about to enter a new decade, you’re highly likely to reflect on your life, give it a score and identify what’s missing.
If it’s travelling the world for you and a child and a wedding ring for your partner, it’s crunch time for both of you.
We all have a life plan, things we want to have achieved by a certain age, even if we don’t religiously stick by it or are particularly conscious of conforming to a timetable.
Marriage and children are by far the most likely to have a deadline attached to them. Time waits for no man and, unfortunately for us, it doesn’t wait for women either.
Other people’s life events also affect our own relationships.
If your best friend gets engaged on Valentine’s, it forces you to think about it. Realising you could never get up there and say the whole sickness and health thing to your partner, can make you realise the relationship’s going nowhere.
Moving in, marriage, having a baby
We perceive all three through a rose-tinged, air-brushed glow of romanticism but it’s a rare couple who gets through each stage without horrific arguments and sudden doubts.
No matter how many nights you spend hanging out at each other’s houses, it’s light years away from actually living there and having nowhere else to go.
There’s a massive adjustment period.
You’re two individuals with different ideas on how to run a house and your lives.
You’ll fight about the housework, sex, general cleanliness, moan about money and who takes the rubbish out. Each of you will be struggling for power, trying to be the one who’s boss.
Make it through that and you (may) have marriage to cope with – the ‘most romantic day of your life’ is often anything but.
Agreeing on where, how and how much to spend on the wedding can cause arguments so fierce, it can be all called off before it’s even begun.
Actually being married sometimes throws a bucket of icy water over your relationship.
Even if you’re not the marrying kind, we all have preconceptions of how a husband and wife behave. It can come as quite a shock if your partner seems to change personality overnight.
But Tracey (pictured) has also given her top tips on working through the danger points together as a couple
Dodge the bullets to make it through to procreating and there’s another shock in store: just how disruptive a baby is to the healthiest relationship.
Sleep deprivation, feeling pushed aside for the baby, strained finances, new responsibilities – and that’s before they even reach the terrible twos or moody adolescence!
Phew! You’re through all that so surely can relax?
The reality is, relationships have danger points right up until death do you part.
When life circumstances change dramatically – one of you gets a new job or gets the sack, your children leave the nest, you retire, someone close to you dies, you suddenly come into money or lose it – your perspective on your relationship changes.
‘I’d been stuck in a stale marriage and mind-numbing job for years,’ one 41-year-old woman told me.
‘When I started work in a new, highly social company, it dawned on me that I’d been sleep-walking. It opened my eyes to what kind of life I could be having – one that was exciting and vibrant. I left my marriage and haven’t looked back. If I hadn’t changed jobs, we’d still be together.’
Different circumstances change our attractiveness levels and pulling power. If you’re suddenly less well off, you might appreciate the ‘simple things’ more – like a partner who isn’t into material possessions. Or realise they’re already looking for someone else who can continue to provide them.
If you’re desperately sad over the loss of a parent, that’s the time you’ll notice how unaffectionate and uncaring your partner is. It’s when the ‘through hard times’ bit kicks in that people show their true colours.
But it’s also unexpected ‘good times’ that cause stress.
‘My husband got made redundant four years before retirement. It was a great pay-out so we should have been rejoicing. But we weren’t ready. I felt invaded, he felt useless and unwanted. All the negatives in our relationship surfaced and we ended up divorcing.’
Feeling rather anxious about what Christmas and New Year might bring?
Take comfort in the fact that couples with deep, emotional bonds and good problem solving skills, often find they emerge stronger after making it through challenging times.
They aren’t just the breaking of us, they’re the making of us!