Some problems in relationships can be tackled as a couple: Not spending enough kid-free time together? Call a babysitter. Prioritizing screen-time over quality time? Kindly escort your cell phone out of the bedroom.
Other problems are a lot harder to solve. Below, marriage therapists share eight weighty relationship problems that just can’t be fixed.
1. You have contempt for each other.
Make no mistake: If left unchecked, finger-pointing, sarcasm and contempt will chip away at the foundation of your marriage, said Bonnie Ray Kennan, a psychotherapist based in Torrance, California. (Contempt is so bad, renowned marriage researcher John Gottman has identified it as the single best predicator of divorce.)
“This kind of behavior creates a culture of disconnect,” Ray Kennan explained. “If one or both partners are unwilling to soften the marital conversation and stop fighting, the problem will get worse until there is no coming back.”
2. Your partner is needlessly argumentative.
There will be times when your opinion on an issue is so starkly different from your spouse’s, you’re downright shocked. Let it be and agree to disagree. As a couple, you need to recognize that no one wins when one of you always has to be right, said relationship coach Lisa Schmidt.
“It’s a problem if one or both partners provoke arguments and then look for reasons to not forgive the other,” she said. “What makes it worse is when the inability to forgive is followed by a refusal to discuss the issue further.”
3. There’s chronic infidelity.
Being in a relationship with a serial cheater is nothing short of exhausting. The relationship can be repaired, but only if the unfaithful partner is honest about what happened and fully prepared to leave the affair behind. If not, heartbreak is inevitable, said Marcia Naomi Berger, a psychotherapist and the author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love.
“People vary in how willing they are to put up with this,” she said. “Many eventually give up on trying to fix the relationship; they simply decide they have had enough broken promises. They realize that enough is enough.”
4. Your partner is distant or secretive about where they go when you’re not around.
While time apart is essential in any relationship, what your partner does with their free time shouldn’t be some great mystery. There’s a difference between privacy and secrecy, said psychologist Susan Heitler.
“Too much secrecy can leave you feeling abandoned emotionally as well as physically, even when your partner is home,” she said. “A marriage needs sharing and openness.”
5. You have incompatible sex drives.
Don’t shortchange yourself: For most people, a mutually fulfilling sex life is incredibly important in a long-term relationship. That’s exactly why you should establish your sexual compatibility early on, Heitler said.
“If your spouse has zero interest in sharing sexual pleasures but you treasure your sexuality, your partner might end up feeling less interesting to you. And you may begin to feel that a marriage without sex is unacceptable. “
6. Your partner pushes you away.
We all have attachment styles that affect our behavior in relationships. If you feel comfortable being close and intimate, but your partner has an avoidant and dismissive attachment style, it’s going to be difficult for you to bridge that gap, said Marni Feuerman, a couples therapist based in Boca Raton, Florida.
“It can be maddening to be with someone who is highly avoidant,” she said. “In fact, it can turn a normally calm and self-assured person into a bundle of neediness.”
She added: “It chips away at your self-esteem to be with someone who shows you no affection or compliments, engages in mechanical sex and has no desire for closeness with you.”
7. Your partner is truly a narcissist.
If your partner truly has narcissistic personality disorder (as opposed to someone with narcissistic traits), maintaining your relationship is going to be an uphill battle, said Carin Goldstein, a marriage and family therapist based in Sherman Oaks, California.
“It is not uncommon for the narcissistic partner to sometimes throw a bone here and there, giving the other partner hope that they’re finally beginning to evolve in a way that will save the relationship,” she said. “Unfortunately, it’s usually just crumbs. Most of the time, they criticize you for making their life miserable.”
8. You can’t open up to each other.
You need to feel comfortable laying bare your problems and frustrations with your partner. It’s problematic if one of you prefers to keep your emotions bottled up, said Marie Land, a psychologist based in Washington, D.C.
“If you’re not expressing your feelings, you may start to feel anxious or disappointed in the relationship,” she said. “You don’t want to end up distancing yourself from your partner, giving up on them prematurely, or feeling straight up depressed about the state of the relationship. That’s exactly how you’ll feel if one or both of you don’t express what you’re feeling.”