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Why ignoring problems in your relationship can just make them worse

Dirt being swept beneath a rug
Sweeping stuff under the rug is about more than just cleaning (Alamy/PA)

Sweeping issues under the carpet can make them tougher to tackle.


Sometimes it’s easiest in relationships to just ignore problems, sweep them under the carpet and pretend everything is wonderful.

But all too often that issue is still lurking – or festering – beneath the surface. It could end up causing bigger problems between you, and when you are finally forced to face it, it might be much tougher to tackle.

Sound familiar? Well, perhaps now could be the time to spring clean some of those long-ignored problems from your life. We spoke to experts to find out why dealing with them could boost your relationship and wellbeing.

Why do we ignore relationship problems?

Liz Ritchie, an integrative psychotherapeutic counsellor at St Andrew’s Therapy, explains much of our avoidance of problems, in our relationships and in other areas of our lives, is rooted in fear. The issues we avoid, she says, may be “intimate, uncomfortable or overwhelming things”.

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

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

He continues: “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.

“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.”

A couple arguing and ignoring one another
Ignoring your issues with someone will not make them 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.

Kenny says: “You may ignore ‘banter’ even though you find it 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 is a bald white man with blue eyes
John Kenny is a relationship specialist (PA/JamPond Photography)

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.

Kenny says: “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.

“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?”

How can hiding problems affect my family?

Dadsnet experts and Diffability podcast hosts 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 then explodes into a big argument, and it’s not the way forward – especially with the sleep deprivation from looking after the boys.”

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. As parents to children with additional needs, it’s important to talk about issues that could be building up; as parents you don’t always agree on what’s best for your children, let alone non-verbal children.

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

Any other tips for tackling hidden problems?

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.”


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