Living With Frustration in a Relationship

Unhappy woman and sleeping man lying in bed

Many couples I work with come in with a large amount of stress and difficulty. The causes vary, but the behaviors people use to respond to the upset are often predictable. People who start out loving each other sometimes find themselves so burdened by stress and difficulty that they end up feeling frustrated in the relationship.

No one starts out being frustrated. Frustration comes after being unhappy, sometimes for a long time. Often, couples with the best intentions end up not being able to explain themselves to each other, or they won’t say what they really want to say, and as a result they feel tense, stressed and oftentimes frustrated.

Frustration can appear in many ways. It may come out as a curt answer to a question. Maybe it’s a rolling of the eyes, or a “whatever” response to a partner, or no response at all. Frustration can also be felt when one person ignores the other altogether.

Sometimes frustration is a slammed door, or a sigh. It’s a sign of exasperation from the frustrated person to the other telling them something is very wrong. It also broadcasts unhappiness and discontent. And it’s a problem. It keeps the frustrated person trapped in difficulty and leaves the other partner in the dark regarding the source of the problem.

What would be helpful is to discover how to talk about what doesn’t feel good in the relationship. Unfortunately, this is often difficult for couples who have not communicated with each other for a while.

If you find yourself answering your mate with frustrated gestures, you might want to think about what is happening to you. I am sure you did not start out being unfriendly to your beloved. I am pretty sure you used to have very soft, loving responses in the early days. Maybe as time passed you found yourself unable to express your thoughts and feelings to your partner without worrying how he or she might react. It’s possible you may even have started keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself, not wanting to bother your mate. But the more you kept your thoughts and feelings inside without speaking them, the more you might have felt yourself becoming stressed and uncomfortable.

This is the body’s natural response to too much tension. This tension is a clear message about what it feels like when you can’t express yourself and you keep your feelings inside. You might have a sensation of all your feelings being trapped inside your own body and you can’t let them out, like you are frozen. You keep yourself suppressed and you suffer. At first you might be able to manage your increased stress. Maybe you exercise more or take up an activity. Maybe you yell at the kids instead or a co-worker. Perhaps you overindulge; too much alcohol, drugs, or food. You do what ever you can to find ways of letting off steam and tension.

This helps you survive difficulty and maintain, but it doesn’t help repair the problems between you and your mate. The more you figure out how to manage your challenges, the more you might be looking at your partner with disdain. You may start to believe that he or she just doesn’t care about what you think and feel. That’s when people start with the one word answers, or the disinterest, or the shaking of the head. These behaviors tell the other person you are not interested in them. These reactions indicate that you are unhappy.

If you are unhappy in your relationship, take stock of how you are feeling right now.  Ask yourself, “Am I stressed and unable to talk to my partner about what is bothering me?”  If you answer yes, start looking at the ways you do talk to your mate. Are you short and abrasive? Do you dismiss him or her? Do you just not bother because you don’t think anything will change?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you just might be living with frustration.

So how do you change your situation? You just took the first step; you recognized it. From here you might want to talk to someone: a friend, family member, religious mentor, or counselor. Get your long held feelings from inside yourself outside of your head by communicating them. Try to understand what is preventing you from talking to your mate about these feelings. Learn why you stay silent.

You will likely feel better even after just a few sessions. You could also learn different ways to communicate your feelings that may give you confidence. When you leave your old behaviors – the eye rolling, sarcastic responses, non answers – and replace them with true expressions of your feelings, a number of things might also happen. Your stress and tension may decrease, and it’s possible you might even begin to experience some happiness, and that might feel pretty great.

© Copyright 2011 by Linda Nusbaum, MA, MFT, therapist in Long Beach, California. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • AmyH


    November 3rd, 2011 at 3:41 PM

    Yeah, I know that a lot of times when I react to my spouse im frustration it is not actuallt because I am frustrated with him, but perhaps with myself over something that has nothing to do with him. I know even when I am doing it that it is wrong and that he is not responsible for what might be going on with me, but I take it out on him nonetheless. I have to say that I am quite fortunate to have a husband who can usually tune all of that out and not take it personally. But there are many who can’t do that and I know that has to cause undue strain on the marriage.

  • mallory


    November 3rd, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    frustration-a very common thing now.I have reflected on this topic in the past and what I feel is that 99% of the times the frustration is not due to what is happening in the present but due to an earlier bad memory with the person or due to a different thing may be frustrated with your partner,but how many times is it purely because of what has happened right at that moment?chances are it is because you were already frustrated and something little actually pushed it over you or that there is something else in your mind that is making you frustrated with your partner.

    it is mainly because we are not too efficient with handling and letting go of the past and keeping different things separated.once we learn to do these this sort of a frustration will cease to occur.

    this is my understanding of the topic of frustration and anybody viewing this is free to comment on it.

  • Jessica


    November 4th, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    there are simply too many good fish in that proverbial big sea to waste my time in relationships that only give me frustration

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