The Challenge Conundrum: Every Relationship Has One.

So where does your relationship land on the workable (or not) scale?

image by Pavel Badrtdinov from

Believe it or not, every single long-term relationship has some ever-present challenge in it. Some are more prominent than others, but all of them have it.


Because when you put two very different people together, with differing temperaments, different values, varying background experiences, complex feelings, yearnings, wants, goals, and dislikes, you are going to have certain things in the relationship that will be challenging.

And if it hasn’t happened yet, it will.

Challenge is not a problem in relationships. It can be. It isn’t automatically, though. What makes this a problem or not depends more on the degree of challenge, as well as what you do with it.

What makes a relationship good or not, and what makes a relationship healthy or not, depends on where your relationship falls on the workable (or not) scale.

Many challenges over long-term relationships are very workable.

Others are a bit more difficult, though are absolutely workable.

And then some are going to result in significant strife and emotional unhealth for one or both parties involved over the long-term, in which case, this is not workable.

When I think of every romantic relationship that I know of, those of my own close friends, friends of my mom’s, acquaintances in my life, friends I’ve had over the years, family members of friends, and other loved ones, almost all of them have some consistent challenge that is ever-present in their relationship. A few of these relationships are not especially great or healthy ones. Most, though, still seem to be pretty dang good overall and just have this particular challenge present.

Drs Julie and John Gottman, two top relationship psychologists, claim that something like 69 percent of the conflicts present in any given romantic relationship will never be solved. This means that most of the conflicts in your current romance are still going to be there ten years from now.

It doesn’t mean they cannot be worked on and improved, but they are likely to still be somewhat, if not fully present over the long-term.

The Gottman doctors, as well as other relationship psychologists, have also said that challenges and even disagreements in relationships are not a bad thing. In fact, they are normal. This is because when you put two different people together over the long-term, there are going to be things over which they clash, things over which they do not agree, things over which one feels hurt or disappointed by the other on occasion. This happens in friendships and familial connections too.

The keys are: how often is it happening, what is the nature of the challenges, and thus, is it workable or not?

Here are some examples of challenges that are not likely to be workable over the long-term:

One person wants children while the other does not

One person has strong racial or religious views with which the other person strongly disagrees

Anger issues

Addiction issues


Lack of interest, investment, or effort in the relationship

One person wants to marry and the other does not

Two people who have radically different values (such as, one person is lazy, loves to smoke a lot of pot, eats horribly, and isn’t particularly motivated, while the other person is more ambitious, is not approving of the drug use, is more active, and cares about health)(Two more examples: one person is a Trump supporter while the other is against Trump. And someone wants to and loves working 60, 70, 80 hours every week and their partner is a major family person and values a lot of together time).

And then you have an endless list of challenges that are not uncommon and land on different spots of workability:

Sexual differences (one person likes to have sex far more often than the other, one person wants to be more daring sexually while the other does not, one person is more open with their sexuality while the other is more buttoned-up)

Varying temperaments (one person is introverted while the other is extroverted, one person is more adventurous while the other prefers stability and safety, one person is more rigid while the other is more relaxed, one person is anxious while the other is laid back, one person is lazier while the other is more ambitious and motivated, one person likes a lot of personal space while the other enjoys frequent togetherness, one person needs and loves socializing while the other prefers far less of it)

Communication styles (one person is direct while the other beats around the bush, one person likes to talk about their feelings while the other one struggles with it, one person is a poor communicator while the other one is quite good at it)

Love languages (one person needs verbal affirmation while their partner struggles with this and is more into acts of services, someone likes a lot of physical affection while their partner doesn’t prefer it so much)

All of these can and almost certainly will result in times of challenge in a romantic relationship. And because a lot of these are an innate part of who someone is, they are likely to remain present challenges over time.

Some of them, over time, can chip away at and cause significant problems in a relationship, while others (if we choose not to let them bother us so much or we get creative in how we approach working on them) are not as big of a deal.

A significant part of that depends on each of you. What can you let go, versus the things that are too important to you or bother you too much.

Another part of how workable these are or not depends on both people’s level of interest in personal development and growth. It’s true, you should not enter a relationship with the hope of changing someone and that then things will work well between you two. No. You should enter the relationship accepting and knowing that this is likely who they are. Assuming you can change someone isn’t healthy and will likely result in misery for both parties.

Yet, it is also true that healthy individuals are interested in and open to personal growth. We all have weak points. We all have traits and behaviors that are not so great, that can frustrate and upset others, some of which might even be unhealthy or hurtful to others at times. Healthy people are interested in and put effort towards growth and healthy personal change over the course of their lives because they know this. They know that every single person has areas in which they can stand to improve, do better, and grow.

And lastly, truly great relationships help one another grow. They do not just enable one another’s areas of poor behavior. They do not just accept everything without any prompting of growth where a person could stand to do so. Instead, they lovingly pick and choose areas and moments to point out to their partner and challenge where they see their partner can stand to grow.

It’s a delicate balance.

Accepting someone for who they are, loving them as they are, while also sometimes promoting growth in places they could use it.

So how does one know where to prompt and where to leave alone?

One rule of thumb can be this: if the area of weakness in someone is one that sometimes causes hurt to that person or to others in their life, or if it sometimes hinders that person in their life, or if it can result in damage to other relationships in their lives, or if it’s a behavior or trait that serves in holding them back in certain ways, these are all indicators it might be a good time to lovingly speak up and try to elicit that growth in your partner for this particular trait.

Every single long-term relationship is going to have some challenges within it. This, in and of itself, does not necessarily indicate a problem in a relationship.

And the question is not whether each of you has areas in which you could stand to grow personally. Because both of you certainly do.

Thus, the questions, instead, are these:

Are our challenges (when they arise) ones we can work with or not?

Have both of us shown grace and the ability to compromise and be flexible at times?

Are some of these challenges more trivial things I can let go of? Or are they more significant for me?

Does my partner show an interest in growth and personal development with their behavior and actions?

Are they open to constructive feedback?

Do we mindfully pick the areas in which we challenge one another to grow? Or do we just nitpick constantly over everything? (the latter is likely to chip away at a relationship over time)

In what areas can I stand to grow? And am I putting effort toward doing so?

Is our relationship, for the most part, a happy and healthy one?

Every relationship has or will have some challenges within it. This is not an issue in and of itself. The question is how we handle those challenges and if they are workable for each person or not.

Fervent writer. Ravenous reader. Impassioned with words. Relationship researcher. Social Scientist. Social Justice Advocate. Author.

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