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10 Signs You Have an Elephant in the Room

Elephant in the Room Blog Series

From the very subtle issues like sexual awkwardness and general bitterness to outright dishonesty and addiction, Cleary Counseling will explore the many things that couples deal with in therapy.  For some couples, awareness can lead to significant change, mostly for people who want to work to make things better.

Some couples require more action to revive their relationship. Contact us here at Cleary Counseling if you think your marriage or relationship would benefit from professional guidance.

Here is our list of 10 things to look for that might be your “elephant”:

  1. Constant Bitterness

Underlying anger in one of the partners that sparks inappropriately reaction to life situations (that is not discussed). Bitterness can reveal itself by way of sarcasm or outright anger. Depending upon what is going on with your partner, this “attitude” could be at different levels at different times. It takes a lot of energy to carry around bitterness. It can take time with some couples to even understand what is happening, least of all why your partner is behaving this way. Consider the “reasonable” reactions to normal situations and then put your partner’s reactions up against your experience.

  1. No Physical or Emotional Intimacy

This could reveal itself in constant complaints of loneliness with no resolve or support. Try to recall the time when you were first together. Think of a time in your relationship where physical touch or communication that included active listening (appropriate responses to conversations  – acknowledgment) was present in you and your partner’s everyday interactions. Is that missing now?

  1. Sexual Dissatisfaction

This would reveal itself as the inability to have a mutually satisfying sexual relationship. Do you feel comfortable enough with your partner to express yourself and what you want/need during sex? The correlation between sexual dissatisfaction and the “elephant in the room” syndrome is very prevalent. Intimacy thrives in an environment free of underlying issues. If sexual dissatisfaction exists for you or your partner, there may be an “elephant” you need to deal with.

  1. Lack of Honesty

A lack of honesty by a partner can eat away at the very fiber of the relationship but can be addressed in a positive way. Dishonesty reveals itself by inconsistent statements or inaccurate recollection of events and includes “white lies” when it seems to reoccur regularly. This “elephant” is one of the toughest to approach due to the difficulty of the perpetrator of the untruth to come to grips with their indiscretion.

  1. Unloving Behavior

This could be any behavior that addressed or not, still happens and does not change. This “elephant” can be rationalized easily by a partner. Regardless of acknowledgment of this behavior, getting to the root of the problem can dramatically change a spiraling relationship. Giving one example of this is difficult because it can more likely be a nuance rather than a defined action. And more often than not, it is inaction — neglect.

  1. Lack of Respect

Whether in verbal exchange of actions, disrespectful behavior is clearly defined. Uncaring and disconnected when it comes to the feelings and values of a partner. Constant disregard would be a proper assessment of this “elephant.” Was there a time when your partner put you first or your desires first over their own? An example would be that you have repeatedly asked your partner to try and be on time for certain things and he/she consistently disregards that request. Partners, spouses, significant other – should try to bring one another happiness, peace, comfort out of caring and love. The opposite would be causing stress, angst, even sadness.

  1. Lack of Action

It is typical for people with significant life stressors or stages of depression to become paralyzed – metaphorically speaking. If your partner is letting finances or bill paying lapse, spending and then hiding purchases, or generally not following through with the things they have committed to, could be a sign of an underlying issue.

  1. Fear-based Behavior

This reveals itself as projecting blame onto others, blaming excessively, not asserting or communicating but avoiding simple things at all costs. The fear could be anything…fear of being left, fear of having your partner mad at you, fear of being alone. We all have fears but they are sometimes hidden in “distracting” behaviors.  The biggest “distracter” is anger. Sometimes, what we think is anger in our partner , is really fear.

  1. Addictions

Addiction is one of the worst “elephants” in our list. Addiction in a relationship is rooted in “self.” Addiction, depending upon the history, is an elephant that is more about “me” typically, than “we.” Look for excessive behaviors that include watching pornography, abuse of alcohol or prescription drugs, gambling, shopping, etc. These are typical areas of over-endulgence that can work to chip away at your intimacy, respect and the emotional health of your relationship.

  1. Emotional or Physical Boundary Problems

Examples of this might be; getting too close to a co-worker, sharing family information with others, having an affair. The elephant is anything that is taking away from your relationship on an emotional and/or physical level. Although some may argue that an emotional affair is not as difficult to recover from, the fact is, it can prove to be more damaging for some couples.


Next up in our Elephant in the Room series: 9 ways to approach the “elephant” in your relationship.

This is a blog series we’ve named the “Elephant in the Room.” We will  continue to add stories and informative lists/strategies that we hope our readers can find useful.

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