By Blair Glaser for

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 holds some truth: Relationships can be a lot of work, especially when they’re in transition. Whether it’s 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’s 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’s 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.

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? Unless you’re 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.

How does this resonate with you? Join the conversation and tell me about it in the comments.

I explore these ideas further in my Relationship as Team Series. For information on how to work with me as a couple, please visit

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  • Relationships Can Help Boost Cancer Survival …

    <a href=”” target=”_blank”>A just-published study</a> published in the <em>Journal of Clinical Oncology</em> suggests that marriage may help improve cancer survival rates. According to the findings, men and women who were married were about 20 percent less likely to die of cancer during the three-year study period, regardless of how advanced the disease was (although it’s worth noting that the benefits appeared to be stronger for men).

    The “why” isn’t clear, and the study does not establish cause and effect, but researchers hypothesize that having someone who cares for you and who helps you understand your diagnosis might be behind the connection. And it’s not the first study to show a link; <a href=”” target=”_blank”>a paper published in November 2012 </a>found that socially isolated women were more likely to die of breast cancer than their counterparts with close social ties.

  • … And They Can Help You Cope With Cancer.

    Last spring, the same researchers who looked at how social ties may influence breast cancer survival published a study that found that breast cancer patients who regularly have positive social interactions — and who have strong support overall — are better able to deal with the associated emotional stress and pain <a href=”” target=”_blank”>of cancer</a>. “Social support helps with physical symptoms,” study researcher Candyce Kroenke, an investigator with Kaiser Permanent’s Division of Research said <a href=”” target=”_blank”>in a statement</a>.

  • Being Social Can Combat Cognitive Decline …

    <a href=”” target=”_blank”>As <em>Time</em> reports</a>, a 2011 study that followed a group of more than 1,000 older adults, (whose average age was roughly 80) found that the most social seniors had a 70 percent reduction in their rates of cognitive decline over several years, versus their least social counterparts.<a href=”” target=”_blank”> According to <em>Time,</em> </a>the same team of researchers previously found that sociability also decreased the likelihood of becoming physically disabled.

  • … And Strong Social Ties Can Boost Longevity.

    A 2010 review of roughly 150 studies measuring the frequency of human interaction and health outcomes, found that having strong social connections can improve a person’s odds of survival by 50 percent. Conversely, so-called “low social interaction” was found to be more harmful than not exercising, twice as harmful as obesity, and the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Psych Central reported</a>. Why? “When someone is connected to a group and feels responsibility for other people, that sense of purpose and meaning translates to taking better care of themselves and taking fewer risks,” one of the study authors told that publication.

  • Friends Can Help You Lose Weight.

    When it comes to relationships and weight, the overall picture is a bit complicated: Some studies suggest that <a href=”” target=”_blank”>women are likely to gain weight after getting married</a>. But as <em><a href=”″ target=”_blank”>The Daily News</a></em> reports, a 2012 study found that friendships can influence weight in more positive ways. High school students were more likely to lose weight, or gain it at a slower rate, if they had a slimmer group of friends. However, that same study also found the opposite to be true: students with friends heavier than they were were more likely to gain weight.

    What we take away from this is that surrounding yourself with people who have healthy lifestyle habits can help you emulate them. Worry less about how small or large your waistline is, and more about using your social connections to motivate yourself to exercise and eat well.

  • Motherhood Can Make You Act Healthier.

    <a href=”″ target=”_blank”>A BabyCenter poll</a> of more than 20,000 moms found that once women entered into motherhood, 83 percent said they ate more healthfully, or were trying to improve their diets, while 65 percent said they were exercising more (or planned to) and 69 percent said they were keeping a closer eye on their mental health. That last one is extremely important, as motherhood can also have negative effects on women’s mental health, namely, through postpartum depression. According to the <a href=”” target=”_blank”>Centers for Disease Control and Prevention</a>, between 8 and 19 percent of women report experiencing frequent postpartum depression symptoms.

  • Marriage Can Help Your Heart (In More Ways Than One).

    <a href=”” target=”_blank”>As LiveScience reports,</a> a preliminary study presented last August found a link between marriage and reduced cardiovascular risk factors, like high blood pressure, among women specifically. And the longer the marriage, the bigger the benefits appeared to be: Every 10 years of continuous marriage was tied to a 13 percent decrease in cardiovascular risk, <a href=”” target=”_blank”>LiveScience explains</a>.