According to Relate’s recent report on couple relationships in the UK, ‘It Takes Two’, 25% of people surveyed said they were in a ‘distressed’ relationship, but only one in five (22%) said they would seek professional support if their relationship was under strain. Over 5,000 people were polled for the report, which aimed to provide an overview of the state of relationships in the UK, and though two-thirds (66%) of people agreed that ‘everyone could benefit from support with their relationships’, it seems the reality of seeking help is far less likely.
Of those surveyed, 16% said they thought about getting divorced, separated, or ending their relationship at least occasionally, and 13% reported regretting their relationship at least occasionally. Levels of relationship distress were higher for those living together (27.9%) than those who lived apart (19.30%), and were highest in those aged 46-60 (29%) and 31-45 (27%), while considerably lower in those aged 16-30 (18%). Relationship stress was also seen to be affected by social grade, whether or not a couple has children, a disability, or long-term condition.
The most significant effect on a relationship, however, seemed to be money worries, with a quarter (26%) of respondents citing this issue as cause for arguments and stress in their relationship. After finances, ‘not understanding each other’ (20%), ‘low libido’ or ‘differing sex drives’ (19%), and a lack of work-life balance (17%) were highest on the list of reasons behind relationship problems. Perhaps most worryingly, 40% of people said they didn’t know how or where to access relationship support, and only less than a quarter (24%) claimed they would be willing to seek professional support if they needed it.
But the overall picture suggests that the majority of UK couples are happy together, with 75% of people saying they enjoyed a satisfying relationship, and 78% saying they felt happy about their relationship within the last month. Being in a better quality relationship also had an effect on individuals’ well-being, self-esteem, and optimism, and happy couples were less likely to report feeling lonely or depressed. When asked what matters in a good relationship, 67% of people put ‘trust’ at the top of the list, followed by ‘communication’ (52%), ‘commitment’ (37%) and ‘shared values’ (34%).
The report emphasised the importance of healthy relationships for good mental and physical health, as evidence shows that “good quality relationships are crucial protective factors, which reduce our chances of experiencing ill health [and] prevent illness, shield us from the effects of long-term health conditions if we develop them, and aid our recovery.”
Relate Ambassador Roopa Farooki reiterated the need for better understanding of the support available to couples if they find themselves in need: “We need to challenge the outdated stigma attached to counselling and other relationship support – we have amazing tools to help people make their relationships better so it’s important that, as a society, we accept and use them. Counselling helps us to be kinder to each other, and to ourselves, too. My husband and I sought help when we needed it, and we’ve never looked back.”
The quality of parents’ relationships as a couple has also been shown to have a significant effect on children’s well-being and development, whether they stay together or separate. But according to the report, there is a serious lack of awareness and/or fear of admitting that a relationship is going through difficulties. Chief Executive of Relationships Scotland, Stuart Valentine, also stressed the importance of seeking help and support: “Interventions such as relationship counselling can make a significant and lasting impact on the lives of couples. Learning to accept and understand differences, to be honest and constructive about areas of disagreement, and to remember the love that brought you together in the first are just some of the ingredients of healthy relationships that can last.”
The report’s authors recommend that the government introduces mainstream relationship support services – particularly for new parents – in Family and Relationships Hubs, as well as a public awareness campaign to tackle negative attitudes towards relationship counselling and provide easier access to support.
Sometimes, however, a relationship naturally comes to an end, but that doesn’t mean couples counselling and a positive approach cannot still be sought. Communication-based, cooperative approaches to separation such as mediation or collaborative family law help couples to work through their differences and pave the way for healthier relationships in the future.
For more information on relationship counselling visit Relate.
For more information on separation and family law, visit Frances Lindsay & Co.
divorce, relationship counselling, relationships