Are Relationships a lot of Work?


A client came to me distraught.

He had been struggling in his relationship. His fiancée was non-responsive to his needs. She was consumed with and depressed about a touchy situation at work and wanted to stay home, enjoy take-out and watch TV, preferably with but even without him. He accepted this for a few weeks, but it had been dragging on for months.

He tried to coax her into fun. He tried talking to her about getting focused on the wedding plans, but she wasn’t very responsive to his enthusiasm. Eventually, he would get frustrated with the situation and they would have a fight. This drove her further into withdrawal. Then, the cycle would repeat.

He confessed to his mother about having serious doubts about the relationship.

His mother told him, “Relationships are a lot of work.

This is a popular belief that bears some truth: Relationships can be a lot of work, especially when they are in transitions. Whether it is a transition phase for the relationship as a whole, or for the individuals in them, these times tend to stir up drama and are ripe for sorting things through. Some examples of relationship transitions are:

  • The testing period after the relationship becomes “real”, 3-6 months after falling in love
  • After moving in together and /or getting engaged
  • The first year of marriage
  • The birth of a child, etc.

Examples of transitions sparked by one partner within a relationship are:

  • Location changes
  • Major success or failure
  • Major loss: job, parent, etc.

This couple had a double whammy: the relationship was in a transition at the same time the woman was in one.

The work that is required in these times is about sorting through expectations and setting up the appropriate structures that will help each partner get their own needs met while attending to the needs of the team. A relationship that is too much work, i.e., filled with disharmony, fighting and processing about the relationship for a prolonged period of time, has probably crossed a line that has not been articulated, and something is not working that may never work.

People begin relationships with conscious or unconscious deal-breakers and non-negotiables in mind: “I can’t be with a smoker”; “I need someone who is financially solvent”. But living with someone can reveal non-negotiables you didn't know you had. Share on X

Once a non-negotiable has been articulated — for this man it was being with someone who wanted to withdraw for extended periods of time — it’s time to take a stand and put structures in place that will shift the dysfunction and enable your relationship to be about something other than suffering and hard work. Or, it could be time to make a break.

It’s a big risk to tell your beloved that you’ve found a deal-breaker in the midst of an established relationship. But consider the alternatives.

It is also an act of leadership. If he risks sharing his deal-breaker with his fiancée, it gives her an opportunity to do some real work on herself, and join him in love.

Does a relationship need to be a lot of work? Share on X Unless you are the type who likes to work on yourself and your relationship all the time, I say, no. Transition phases should be temporary and ultimately strengthen the couple as a team and give way to the joy and camaraderie that brought the couple together.

This is the 1st post in the Relationship as Team Series, next up: How to Keep a Relationship Moving Forward (with minimal “work”). For information on how to work with me as a couple, please click on the link or on Work With Blair from the menu.

Do you resonate? How do you lead in relationship? Leadership skills can help reduce drama and increase fun, creativity and satisfaction in our relationships. Want to learn how to stand in your authority in intimacy? Don’t miss your chance, in the Intimate Authority Online Course,  starting May, 18 2015!

6 responses to “Are Relationships a lot of Work?”

  1. Alli Polin says:


    Reading your post reminded me of a meeting I had with our clergy months before my wedding. My husband-to-be and I were talking about religion, commute and other things that were important to us. He told us this true story:

    He got a call from a couple that wanted to meet him to talk about the religion that they would raise their children since they are an interfaith couple. He said absolutely, he’d get out his calendar. The man on the phone implored him to make it ASAP since the baby was due next week!

    Making the unspoken spoken is so critical in relationships. Whether they are “meant to be” long term or not unless we’re willing to talk about our needs and expectations we’re sure to be let down when they’re not met.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Such a great and classic story Alli! Very true what you said about speaking the unspoken and how much work it becomes if we don’t do the work upfront to be clear. Thanks so much for another great AP addition!

  2. Terri Klass says:

    Relationships do take an investment of our time. And I think you are so right, Blair, that there are different points that a relationship is truly challenged.
    I think when my first daughter was born was the hardest for me. I felt so responsible in taking care of her and yet I didn’t want my husband to feel neglected.
    So being open and expressing the “pulls” can be helpful; at least for me talking it through was the key.
    Thanks for all you share with us!

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thanks for sharing the story about your first daughter. That is such a challenging time for most couples. I am so glad you had the type of relationship in which you could talk it through. What a blessing!

  3. Rhonda says:

    This article is very timely for me. Last fall, I had to walk away from a man I love because he just wouldn’t let our relationship grow. He knew all along what I wanted, but he was very hard to talk to. He then crossed one of those deal breaker lines, which was saying something hurtful to me in public. It took me a while to get it through my thick head, but I finally had a talk with him about where we were going. It didn’t end well. He doesn’t know what he wants. I have not heard from him again. I’m sure this is for the best, but it still hurts. Now I know what he really feels, and who he is. He just wouldn’t work with me to transition to a higher level in the relationship.

    • Blair Glaser says:

      Thank you so much for your comment. I am sorry that that was the way it had to end. I am glad you took a stand for what you deserve and what you wanted. As much as it hurts now, it would hurt much more if you stayed with someone who was not on the same train that you are, and who, as a result, kept pulling you off track.
      Best to you in your search for love.

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