5 Relationship Problems That Aren’t!

A couple learning how to connect in Couples Therapy in Pasadena, CA
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Dr. Chris Tickner

They’re Actually Bids for Connection

Clients often come to couples therapy in Pasadena at California Integrative Therapy with a laundry list of relationship problems. They tell us about how their partner has broken their trust or let them down, how one partner is constantly blaming, nitpicking, and criticizing the other. They tell us how their partner always
shuts down, leaves the room, and refuses to engage any further.

They see problems. But we see something else. We see a very human and important need for connection!

Every couple is unique, yet there are some common struggles and relationship problems we all face when trying to connect.

Sex and Intimacy Issues

Dissatisfaction in the bedroom is one of the most common intimacy issues that walks through our door. Couples get caught up on talk about sexual preferences, different sex drives, and spicing it up, but sex is rarely just about sex. It’s about – you guessed it – connection. When a partner reaches out for initiate sex, oftentimes they’re really reaching out to feel closer – to feel loved and desired. Just as often, though, despite a partner’s desire to reciprocate, when they aren’t “in the mood,” they can become buried by guilt for letting their partner down, only further dampening their libido. But when we understand a bid for sex as a bid for connection, we can start to use the opportunity to turn toward one another, rather than away.

Constant Fighting, Criticizing & Threats of Divorce

When we see couples fighting until the cows come home, we often stop and think, “Wow are those two connected to each other!” It might be a funny way to think about it, but when having vulnerable conversations is hard, sometimes fighting is the only way we know how to connect, especially because when you hurt or get a rise out of your partner, at least you know you still matter to them. The same thing goes when it comes to threats of divorce. While really sitting with the option of divorce is a serious moment for many couples, constantly threatening to leave is moreso a way of saying “show me I matter enough to care.”


An affair is one of the most painful relationship problems a couple can go through. Many don’t recover, but those who do are often able to do so by taking a hard look at what was going on in the relationship and what we often find is that the betrayal was really a cry for help. Sometimes you’ll even hear the partner who was unfaithful say things like deep down they were hoping they’d get caught. It’s never one partner’s “fault,” but when previous needs and attempts at connection fail, partners often find their way to infidelity as a last resort. By healing and increasing the connection between partners, most find they don’t feel the need to wander again.

Emotional Distance & Shutting Down

How could distancing and shutting down possibly be an attempt to connect, you might ask? It might sound counterintuitive, but sometimes shutting down is the only way a partner knows to stay safely connected. They worry they’ll say or do the wrong thing and risk making it worse or losing their partner, and often their internal anxiety is so high they become overwhelmed.

Alternatively, some partners intentionally use things like the “silent treatment” in order to guilt the other into filling their need for validation and connection. When these needs aren’t met otherwise, sometimes we go to extreme and unhealthy lengths to satisfy them.

The dishes

That’s right, even arguments about the dishes can be a bid for connection! Every time a partner feels upset the other isn’t carrying their weight or disagrees with “their way” of doing something, they’re really saying “I want you to see me” or “I want to know you care.” When we get into arguments where we want to prove we’re “right,” more often than not we’re really just looking for validation from our partner. It’s a lot easier to agree to disagree when we feel like our partner understands us and still cares about our side.

We All Need to Connect!

It’s important to acknowledge that we all need and long to feel connected with our partners – it’s simple 
attachment science. But when we have a hard time communicating these needs with words, we often resort to communicating them with our behavior. Couples therapy in Pasadena at California Integrative Therapy can help you better understand the indirect ways you and your partner are currently expressing your needs, while also slowly learning healthier and more vulnerable ways to communicate them and lovingly respond.

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