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. 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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • 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

  • Mary

    March 11th, 2019 at 12:23 PM

    My husband and I haven’t had sex or any intimate relationship in over ten years. We live as roommates. I have been very dissatisfied and have talked to him several times about my feelings. He acknowledges it but nothing changes. I recently reconnected with my high school boyfriend after more than 50 years. We were very much in love but I broke up with him. He tells me he loves me, holds my hand, kisses me. It is intoxicating after so many years of no intimacy. I’ve told him I’ll not get a divorce for lots of reasons and we could never be more than lovers. Do I grab this or live the rest of my life without an intimate relationship?

  • H

    May 30th, 2019 at 7:49 AM

    Good Lord, woman, grab it! Mary, I’m suffering from a 25 year marriage to a man who is now an illegal drug user. He was never satisfied with what he had, always wanting to move or change jobs or houses or states. I wish I’d never had children with him. I got so sick with autoimmune illness after they were born but it started with the stress. It began the first night after the wedding, in fact. His personality changed and I kept believing he was just adjusting to being married, we were so young ( even though he was four years older ) and he needed to mature. Well, he’s 50 this year and since hitting his 40’s he was fighting the aging thing harder than any woman I’d ever met! He had surgery, bought all sorts of creams, pills, then got hypochondria as I ACTUALLY got so sick I was hospitalized. I had to take myself because he could care less about anyone besides himself. He then turned to alcohol and drugs and lost his job and our house. He said he’d changed and seen the truth. I was with the kids and my parents and was feeling better a tiny bit as 5 months went by. He used the money from our retirement and what was left from the sale of the house to buy a bad business. I believed he was doing well and he was in another state at the time. I was planning on divorcing him but needed my parents’ help. My mom is too sick with COPD and my dad became too stressed and told us to go when my husband bought the business. I don’t think even they could foresee the horror. He was on heroin when we landed on the doorstep in December. If it weren’t for my husband’s dad and my own husband’s sense of self preservation, he’d be dead. At that point, we had one car. My husband used it. I needed to see so many doctors not to mention all the requirements to get the kids registered. Oh. Long story. Husband still on Methadone. Illegally. I’m in the process of getting doctors for my needs. Husband wanting to take away the insurance I have and change to a weird co-op when I FINALLY have a CAR to do stuff. Mostly, I’m too fatigued and in pain to even get out of bed. I think it’d be different if HE weren’t always around. He’s in a bad mood all the time. Complains he has to work. He complained when he almost never worked that his job was just too emotionally stressful….I hear him on the phone all the time but most of it is complaining to his assistant, or his mom, or even his employees or clients about the other! Every Sunday, he goes to a neighboring big city to party with his drug dealer (former babysitter from childhood). (“She’s such a nice person! SHE doesn’t JUDGE me!) Apparently, I just don’t know how to have a good time anymore…..
    I am at the point where I WANT to be ALONE. Maybe you need to go somewhere for a bit and be alone. Are you afraid of just ending up alone? I’m in a situation that’s worse. My spouse only acts in his best interest EVER and strangers are more helpful and caring to both me and my kids. He has threatened to let the business fail and leave us destitute if I try anything…..

  • Paul

    June 4th, 2019 at 9:36 AM

    I was in the process of a divorce and was going through a very rough time in my life. Just started an apprenticeship program which consisted of working and going to school for 4 yrs. There was a lot of bitterness between me and my ex-wife and to top it all off we had a very young beautiful boy to raise. After several years of court and anger, i hurt my back and was in pretty bad shape. I met this woman who was in the medical field and she helped me. Emotionally, physically, mentally and eventually we moved in together as boyfriend and girlfriend. Prior to moving in with her, I was renting a room in a household filled with drama and it was taking its toll. Moving in with my girlfriend was a god send at the time. It gave me the opportunity to stabilize my life, finalize my divorce, fix my credit and complete the apprenticeship program. After months of meditation and reflection i decided the best thing for me and my boy was to just live on my own, near my son. I knew that did not want the quintessential family life and my girlfriend was itching to have a child. After finalizing my decision by applying for a co-op that was with in walking distance of my son. I felt this calmness about me that i never felt before. This feeling of, im finally doing what i want and its going to be great. The short term goal was to live simple and be around my boy throughout his Jr. high school years as much as possible. As soon as i closed on the co-op, my girlfriend told me she was three months pregnant. I was 43. my son was 11, she was 32. I ofcourse, jumped the gun, Sold the co-op in less then two weeks for a small loss, got engaged, renovated our place, bought a new family car, etc, etc. and pretty much spent all my savings on taking care of my girlfriend through out the pregnancy. I regret every decision. Although i have a beautiful girl who is turning 3 this summer. and a sweet boy who is graduating JHS, I find It extremely difficult for me to be happy. I dont have any real passion for my FIANCE and im pretty much stuck. I did not want more kids, or that life style. I find it difficult to do things that would not be an issue if i had just moved into my co-op. I cant help but feel that things would have been so much better for all parties if i had left and worked on our relationship in a different manner. Its destroying my soul. I dont enjoy going out as a family. Its just not me. My happiest moments are just doing things with my son. The most mundane things, such as laundry, or making lunch. There is so much i wanted to do with him, which is to difficult to do when you dont live near eachother and are dealing with two moms. On top of that i dont find my Fiance attractive (that is huge), I think she deserves to be adored and my kids deserve to see us hugging, kissing, holding hands and I deserve to be with someone i just love being around. I just dont feel that for her. I guess i never really did. She will not let me go and if i leave, it will be detrimental to many aspects of all our lives. Feeling Stuck and its such a shame. for both me and her. i dont understand, why she wanted to keep me. and i cant sleep, thinking about how trying to do what is supposedly the right thing, is tormenting me. I feel like there is a black cloud that lingers around all the beautiful in my life.

  • J

    September 9th, 2019 at 2:08 PM

    I love my boyfriend, I don’t trust that he’ll ever be what I really need. I’m a full-time working mom, I carry most of the financial burden of our relationship. I often wonder if he stays with me out of guilt.

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