Couple crisis: what are the warning signs and when to contact a specialist

Couple crisis: what are the warning signs and when to contact a specialist

Publication date: 16-10-2023

Updated on: 16-10-2023

Topic: Mental health

Estimated reading time: 1 min

The couple relationship is a key aspect of psychological well-being. Relationship satisfaction has an important impact on an individual's quality of life. Are there any signs that let us know when the couple is actually in crisis? When is it time to seek professional help? 

We talk about this with Dr. Paola Bernuzzi, a psychologist at Palazzo della Salute-Wellness Clinic, where you can find a support service for couples, that aims to offer qualified help in dealing with and resolving difficulties of life.

What are the signs of a relationship crisis?

"Each couple has its own specific balance, however, there are certain signs, common to all couples, that allow one to understand whether one is experiencing a real crisis or whether instead the difficulties experienced originate from temporary tensions. These include:

  • frequency with which arguments and mutual attacks occur has greatly increased or conflicts have been replaced by silence;
  • lack of intimacy due to absence of desire or related sexual dysfunction;
  • difficulty in feeling comfortable with the partner;
  • presence of prevailing feelings of anger, resentment and disappointment;
  • excessive jealousy with controlling behaviors;
  • forms of physical and/or verbal violence. 

Even a generic lack of motivation to experience moments together, seemingly unmotivated nervousness, excessive emotionality, difficulty in communication and fatigue can be the first symptoms of a couple crisis," explains Dr. Bernuzzi. 


"It is also very important to consider the factors that may be at the origin of a couple crisis, which impact the stability of the bond and test its adaptability. The most common are:

  • internal changes by one or both members (change of perspectives, divergence of values, change of priorities, unbalanced personal developments);
  • uncontrollable external factors (illness, job loss, bereavement, catastrophe)," the expert continues.

COVID impact on the couples

"An example of an uncontrollable external factor that affected the relationship of the couple was the pandemic. There are several scientific studies on how restrictions in the pandemic period affected the relationship. 

A particular study conducted by the University of Turin on a sample of 410 subjects, observed between December 4, 2020, and January 10, 2021, showed that restraint and forced cohabitation were found to have had a particular negative impact for 32% of the Italian population surveyed, while only 18% reported a positive impact, and the remainder of the participants reported no impact. 

Participants reporting negative impact tended to be younger, with work problems, without children and with shorter relationship duration than other participants. The group of people who experienced the social changes of the pandemic negatively on their couple dimension also demonstrate higher levels of anxiety and depression

A good couple relationship, therefore, seems to act as a protection even in the face of change and to be less predisposed in developing syndromes of posttraumatic stress disorder.

The study then highlights how much an individual's mental health is affected by the quality of the couple's relationship while in turn affecting the romantic relationship itself."

When to refer to a specialist?

Couples' lives change over time, evolving both because personalities evolve and because external conditions influence relationship dynamics; therefore, it is natural to incur conflicts and tensions. The couple may need external intervention to overcome the crisis when: 

  • the crisis becomes so deep that the bond is questioned;
  • adequate communication channels are not found;
  • the couple's internal resources are not perceived as sufficient.

Many couples wonder whether it is really necessary to contact a psychologist or whether it is too late to recover the relationship, but when feelings are strong, even those of anger, shame and frustration, then there is a good scope for action because you are motivated to change. 

The desire to change, as well as the need, are important levers to restore balance and renew the couple's serenity. "The psychologist's function is to help the couple to: 

  • becoming aware of one's situation;
  • supporting the process of reparation by fostering communication and mutual understanding," Dr. Bernuzzi continues.

How psychological support for couples works?

Couple psychological support is helpful in overcoming deadlocked situations and recovering a more satisfying communicative and relational dimension. 

"Active participation of both partners and a genuine desire to resolve conflicts is necessary, so a recovery of the relationship becomes difficult if there is already a decision to separate or there are parallel lives. Couples who seek specialized help achieve a significant improvement in their quality of life. 

The psychological pathway also proves useful for functioning couples who feel the desire to: 

  • improve internal communication;
  • strengthen bonding;
  • better cope with major changes, such as becoming a parent, or overcome difficulties related to stressful events.

The overall duration of the course varies according to the issues, nature and intensity of the difficulty or conflict, and is defined jointly. It's a shared therapeutic accord, specific to each case," Dr. Bernuzzi concludes.

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