Relationship difficulties
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What are relationship difficulties?

Most of us want to have happy, unified, long-term relationships in our lives. Whatever our sexuality, culture or age, the idea of a "significant other" is, for many, a sign of a fulfilling life. A breakdown in that relationship can often lead to great discord, even divorce. Sometimes the spur is a revelation – of an affair, debt or secret – but the problem usually lies deeper than that.

The following information is framed mostly within the idea of a couple relationship, and there are of course many different configurations of important relationships – you can read about relationship diversity here

According to Relate, 25% of people are in distressing relationships, characterised by issues around sex, money, trust and communication. Only 1 in 3 people report being satisfied with their sex life with their partner, with many others detailing issues around loss of libido and intimacy. Studies have shown that our relationship health is intimately related to our individual mental health: Relate's research found that those who reported being happy in their relationship were less likely to report experiencing emotional and mental health difficulties, such as depression. Only 22% of the individuals interviewed said they would reach out for professional help if their relationship was under strain.

Common causes of relationship difficulties

There are typical patterns that develop in couples, whether married or cohabiting. These include: 

  • neglecting to spend enough pleasurable time together due to such pressures as work and parenting
  • conflict that is allowed to simmer over time
  • failure to manage the difference between the two individuals
  • withdrawal of affection or sex
  • breach of trust (infidelity, secret gambling, telling lies)
  • significant communication issues
  • when one or both partners has difficulty with their attachment style (you can read about attachment styles here, below the information about attachment disorder)

Common reasons for seeking help

Women are more likely than men to seek help with their relationship and, according to Relate, they are looking for a chance to improve communication with their partner, whereas men are more likely to agree to attend counselling sessions in the hope that a permanent break will be averted. Situations that prompt the decision to find someone to talk to include:

  • the discovery of infidelity 
  • redundancy, debt, major life crisis such as a death in the family
  • adult children leaving home

How couples counselling can help

What used to be called marriage guidance is now called couples counselling or relationship counselling and has its own distinctive training; it can be very effective in helping with relationship difficulties. Usually both members of the couple will attend, though sometimes they may also see the counsellor or therapist individually. If there has been violence, the therapist will help you work out the best way forwards. 

Seeking counselling or psychotherapy for problems in your long-term relationship does not mean it is doomed to failure. In fact, 80 per cent of Relate clients said it had made their relationships stronger. Learning better ways to talk to each other, to share parenting and to live together in a mutually beneficial way is well worth the time and emotional effort it will take to work problems through.

Find relationship therapy near me

Further reading

Relationship therapy saved our marriage

Being lost together might save your relationship

Humanistic therapy helped me break harmful relationship patterns

Why do I repeat the same relationship mistakes?

Common relationship problems: how therapy can help

Last updated 7 April 2022