I wouldn’t think twice about getting my car MOT renewed or having a survey on a house I’m thinking about buying, but when it comes to a relationship, this massive, long-term commitment doesn’t seem to get the same attention. A piano or a guitar gets a regular tune-up and the garden gets pruned and mowed…so how do we keep a relationship in good shape?

Most couples undertake routine activities together: watching a favourite TV programme, cooking, maybe sharing an interest. There’s the joy, trials and tribulation of bringing up children for those that do, the annual holidays and shared family experiences…and as valuable and important as all these activities are, they are outward-facing experiences, not inward, face to face dialogue…the times that couples reflect back to each other with emotion is likely a smaller percentage of time: and some of this time inevitably, might be time spent arguing.

This is where I have a personal belief about the value of counselling - I don’t think you need to be in distress to benefit from counselling, as is evident in the United States where having a therapist is far more common for talking through everything from careers to relationships to future decision-making. But try saying to friends in the UK “We’re having relationship counselling…”, and watch their expression: an immediate look of concern, the raising of eyebrows. 

The subject bodes of potential break-up, difficulties  and dissatisfaction. However, “We’re having a relationship MOT” sounds less alarming, logical even. In my experience, a relationship counsellor would happily welcome couples wanting to have a tune-up. Maybe I’m making it sound too easy and of course, the sticky issues around responsibilities and resentments are not always simply aired. But that’s where a good relationship counsellor comes into play. Being able to hold the space, with fairness and equality, safety, confidentiality and care. It’s worth saying there is often humour and warmth and an opportunity to express appreciation in very real terms too.

So, this year, maybe considering some time aside to MOT your relationships, would be time well spent. A relationship MOT might take as little as two or three sessions with a therapist – you set the goals and the contract right from the beginning, so you both know where you want to go (and in fact, where you don’t want to go!). You’re both doing the driving and the therapist will offer you a map and various routes.