How to Improve Your Relationship and Get Out of the Cycle of Trouble

We all get into relationships with the best of intentions. But sometimes, we find ourselves wondering if our relationships are as healthy as they could be. Moreover, we can wonder what a healthy relationship even looks like, especially if our earliest relationships were unstable or, worse, traumatic. 

Trouble in relationships can be anything from taking things out on your partner, shouting, or blaming your partner. Often trouble in relationships happens in a cycle.


What is the cycle of trouble?

  1. Tension builds up

First, there can be a buildup of tension. On the surface, this looks like stressors piling up over time. We all have things that cause stress, from parenting to work to traffic. But instead of managing stress in healthy ways, we take this out on our partners. 

This leads to the next phase, where the trouble erupts. 

  1. Trouble starts

This could look like shouting, throwing things, or can even escalate into various forms of violence.  When people aren’t taking responsibility for their actions, this leads to the next phase.

  1. False resolve

This phase is characterized by minimizing, denying, defending, and blaming the other person for what just happened. Sometimes people will say things like, “it’s all in your head,” or “if you hadn’t done this, I wouldn’t have done that,” or “I wasn’t yelling.” 

  1. Walking on eggshells

Finally, there is a phase of walking on eggshells. Sometimes this is described as a honeymoon period. Things look normal, or promises have been made that the trouble will never happen again. But the underlying issues are still bubbling under the surface, ready to spill over into the buildup of tension phase all over again. 


How to break the cycle

Luckily, there are exit points! 

To avoid tension building up, we learn how to calm our stress. This means becoming more aware of where our stress levels are, naming our feelings and needs, and taking time to do self-care. It can mean learning what our triggers are and how to manage them. It can also mean taking a time out and making a safety plan if needed.

Breaking the cycle of trouble doesn’t mean that conflict disappears completely. But, in a healthy relationship, we fight fair. That means there is no name-calling, blaming, or assuming what our partner thinks or feels. The goal is to understand our partner’s point of view.

When things go off course, we can take responsibility for our actions. We do this by tapping into our core values. We choose to care for ourselves and others rather than try to control them. We can set boundaries and communicate those assertively.  

Finally, we embrace a model of shared power. Instead of one person deciding unilaterally when an argument is done, we take time to listen to each other and decide together when and how to move forward.  


Our therapy groups

In our 16-week Healthy Relationships and Strive groups, we explore how our relationships get into trouble and how we can get out of it. 

Each 4-week module corresponds to one aspect of the cycle of trouble. You’ll discover how you can relieve your stress, fight fair with your partner, and tap into your values (and value yourself!). You will also learn about power dynamics and how power can be shared. You'll learn from some of the experts in the field, as well as from each other's lived experience, all within a safe and confidential environment.

It’s always so exciting when someone reports back to the group that they’ve been practicing healthy boundaries, walking away when they need time to cool down, or learning to validate their feelings and their partner’s. 

The groups focus on romantic relationships, but the skills can be applied to many different kinds of relationships in our lives, from family and friends to the workplace. 

There are two groups, one for women or women-identified folks, and one for men or men-identified folks. We welcome people to attend whichever group feels most comfortable. While we realize that unhealthy dynamics can flow any number of ways, we also realize that how we are socialized as men and women can play a part in unhealthy dynamics. Though it doesn’t always fall along binary gender lines, there are some common themes in what we’re taught it means to be “a good woman” or “a strong man.” We explore this in the groups too!   

To learn more about these groups, you can attend a free info session


Read more on healthy relationships:

7 Ways to Make Your Love Last and to Build a Happy, Strong Relationship

6 Steps for Better Communications With Your Partner

5 Tips for Setting Boundaries in Relationships


Heather Frayne, BSW, RSW, RTC

MA in Expressive Arts Therapy

Community Based Mental Health Therapist