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What Does a Rough Patch in a Relationship Mean?

How to get through a rough patch and reconnect with your partner

Hitting a rough patch in a relationship is a common hurdle many couples face. Unless you’re still in the honeymoon phase — or have just been incredibly lucky — ups and downs with your partner are pretty much inevitable. 

After all, even couples in healthy relationships have arguments. When handled with patience and open communication, conflict can actually strengthen your relationship. But sometimes it’s tough to tell arguments and a rough patch apart. 

If you and your partner have been having a tougher time than usual, read on to know if your relationship is going through a rough patch and some tips to get through it.

What does being in a rough patch mean?

A rough patch in a relationship is a time when things feel tense, strained, or like there’s less intimacy between the partners. Do these scenarios sound familiar?

  • Everything your partner does seems to annoy you more than usual. 

  • You fight about everything, even the small stuff.

  • There’s a breakdown in communication.  

  • You share loving or intimate moments less frequently. 

  • You feel distant or disconnected from each other. 

Thankfully, most rough patches are temporary, and you can definitely work through them.

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What causes rough patches in relationships?

Long-term relationships require care and maintenance — especially when outside factors start to affect them. Think work, family, friends, money, etc. Sometimes, it’s just really hard to focus entirely on your loving relationship when you’re stressed, tired, or going through a major life event.

Put simply: a rough patch might be the byproduct of life getting in the way. Once you start to experience a difficult time with your partner, it could signify that an outside influence has started to affect your relationship.

“When we get embroiled in the daily routines of our lives, romance can easily get lost in the shuffle of schedules, commutes, and chores,” says Natalie Moore, a licensed marriage and family therapist. 

Maybe your relationship is simply suffering from the hustle and bustle of daily life. But when does a short rough patch turn into something more worrying?

Are rough patches normal in a relationship?

Is a rough patch in a relationship normal? Absolutely. Real-life relationships suffer ups and downs — but that doesn’t mean you’re at a crisis point or have to break up. In fact, working through those times together can make you stronger as a couple.

But sometimes, you might wonder when a rough patch signals future trouble. When you’re in the middle of a bad rough patch, you might struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So when should you start to be concerned?

How long do rough patches last in a relationship?

Rough patch timescales vary. You might fix things after a few days — or it might be months until you feel back to normal.

Factors that influence the length of the rough patch include the cause, your circumstances, and how much effort you both put in to fix things. For example, things might take a bit longer if you’re going through a rough patch after having a baby. 

How do you deal with a rough patch in a relationship?

Think about what is causing you to have a tough time in the first place. Acknowledging the problem and actively working on it is typically the best way to go about it.

How you deal with the rough patch also depends on how long it’s been a thing. If you’ve been going through a rough patch in a marriage, or you’ve tried to fix things before, then you might benefit from outside help, like a couple’s therapist.

Whether you decide to work on it together or with a third party, you’ll probably experience times of conflict. Remember that you’re in this together — it’s in both your interests to fix the issue.

Mark Goulston, a psychiatrist, suggests putting yourself in your partner’s shoes should conflict arise. “To stop any conflict before it becomes an argument, ask yourself, ‘what's it like for the other person right now?’ because you'll find that you can't be curious and furious at the same time,” he says.

What are some ways to get over a rough patch in a relationship?

Here are three things you can try to overcome a relationship rough patch.

Make time for intimacy

There are various types of intimacy that each contribute to a happy relationship. During a rough patch, you might feel like intimacy is lacking. To rebuild an intimate relationship, try the following tips:

  • Build physical intimacy, from holding hands and cuddling in bed to kissing and cuddling more

  • Improve emotional intimacy by talking openly with each other about your worries, hopes, and insecurities

  • Create experiential intimacy by helping each other with chores and projects around the house.

This may take effort at first, but building intimacy into your relationship will help you feel closer and ready to face challenges together.

Communicate about your relationship issues

A rough patch can feel like a rollercoaster of emotions. One minute you feel fine; the next, you might be in a full-blown argument.

One of the best ways to get through the rough patch is to open up channels of communication with your partner. Talk to them openly and think about the following:

  • Is this a new rough or has it happened before? How did you fix things last time?

  • Are you both being completely honest and vulnerable with each other?

  • Are you both willing to have the tough conversations needed to fix things?

While this level of communication might feel daunting, it’s the best way to get to the root of your issues.

Schedule quality time together

Rough patches can make life feel monotonous, so try mixing things up. Schedule some time to spend together, just you and your partner. Forget about social media, work, and responsibility for a couple of hours and just be present together.

You can also organize a date night out of the house. What did you do the first time you went out? Maybe recreate that, or go to your favorite restaurant. If you’re physically apart, think of some things to do in a long-distance relationship that might spark your romance back into life.

Whatever the issue or situation, spending quality time together can help you see the relationship in a positive light. You’ve hit a rough patch,  but talking and spending time together can help get you back on track.

Want more ways to reconnect with your partner and strengthen your relationship? Download Paired and get access to relationship questions, quizzes, games, and exercises designed by experts.

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