Identifying Problematic Behavior in a Partner

Learning that a loved one is engaging in problematic behavior can be emotionally taxing, especially if it has previously been nonexistent. Unfortunately, problematic behavior can surface in any relationship – no matter the type. Whether a problematic individual is involved in an intimate relationship, familial relationship, or friendship, it’s crucial to become familiar with how to understand, identify, and manage problematic behavior, so it doesn’t progress to a more severe action in the future.

Understanding Problematic Behavior

Relationships require two individuals to work together as a team. At times, a partner can develop problematic, abusive, or unhealthy behaviors that could progress if actionable steps aren’t taken to make a change. Negative behaviors can appear in various forms, and while it’s important to become familiar with each type, the first step of behavior change is acknowledging and recognizing the problem. Below are a few examples of problematic behaviors that can exist in today’s relationships:

  • Addiction or excessive use of alcohol, drugs, etc.
  • Dishonesty and lying
  • Excessive or explosive anger
  • Controlling or bullying tendencies
  • Emotional withdrawal
  • Infidelity
  • Frequent, critical or insulting remarks
  • Contempt or condescension
  • Lack of respect
  • Violence or verbal abuse
  • Rudeness or bad manners
  • Defensiveness
  • Selfishness
  • Inability to show kindness, care, or support

How to Address Relationship Problems

Discovering problematic behavior in a partner can be overwhelming and emotional, especially if one individual doesn’t recognize it. Individuals in a relationship should feel comfortable addressing these negative behaviors as resolving the issue will likely strengthen a weakened connection. Every relationship is different, meaning the strategies for addressing problematic behavior vary depending on what works best for the couple. Read on to learn about a generalized five-step approach to resolving relationship problems effectively.

Identify and Define the Problem

It’s best to take time and clearly define the root of any problem before taking steps to fix or resolve it. When partners can work through this process collaboratively, it helps establish understanding and define emotions from each perspective. Once this occurs, the couple can take actionable steps toward a compromise. Many actions contribute to a healthy relationship, such as:

  • Conflict resolution
  • Respecting boundaries
  • Communication
  • Establishing trust
  • Showing respect
  • Practicing self-care
  • Taking a break
  • Seeking agreement 
  • Equal treatment
  • Dealing with anger

Account for Contributing Patterns

When recurring problems happen in relationships, there’s likely an underlying pattern or common contributing factors that are the root cause. It’s recommended to take  time to identify  the recurring, relationship problems. More times than not, there are common themes in each problem that may appear unrelated on the surface. During this stage, it’s recommended to brainstorm healthy responses for each problematic behavior as this will help hold each party accountable.

Pinpoint How Each Party May Be Contributing

Often, a partner may feel the problem(s) occurring in a relationship are one-sided. However, it’s essential to explore how each partner may be contributing to the issues at hand.  Pinpointing how each party may be contributing to the bigger issue is a helpful step as it encourages each partner to take responsibility for both actions and inactions that are allowing the problem to emerge. It’s recommended for each partner to set a list of actionable goals that will help alleviate the recurring issues and help recognize when contributing actions are taking place.

Organize a Plan of Action

Both partners are encouraged to work together to organize a plan of action to mediate problematic behavior once cues are recognized. Exceptions to each problem should be identified, such as circumstances when the problem isn’t occurring compared to a situation or environment that triggers the problem. It’s helpful to recognize exceptions, whether internally or externally, so each partner can mindfully intervene at the start and mitigate  problematic behaviors from progressing further. Along with learning how to recognize and account for exceptions, dedicating effort to reach actionable goals through positive reinforcement and other exercises is also helpful.

Seek Guidance From a Third-Party

Unfortunately, there are times when problematic behaviors occur too frequently and become  too dangerous, or  challenging for a partner to manage without added support. In certain situations, problematic partners may have difficulties finding the desire to change or openly discuss recurring issues. Seeking guidance and advice from a third-party figure like a relationship counselor, can help couples address such issues in a productive manner.  These individuals will help each partner navigate the relationship problems, communicate with one another, and choose the best course of action. Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness,  but rather  a display of commitment and motivation to strengthen, build, and maintain a healthy relationship with one another. If problems persist, seeking an experienced family law attorney may be the next step.

Gaining Awareness of the Signs Is Helpful

Individuals in any relationship experience self-growth and reflection. Each party needs to be held accountable for both positive and negative actions so that the relationship can remain healthy. Though it can be difficult to recognize, problematic behavior can occur at any time. Using available resources and learning the signs of problematic behavior can help effectively diffuse and  manage these situations. If problematic behavior persists, individuals in a relationship should work together to prevent escalation  and alleviate the situation with actionable, realistic goals. 

This article contains general legal information and does not provide legal advice. For legal advice, please contact M. Sue Wilson Law Offices directly.