Couples counselling, previously known as marital therapy or marriage guidance, addresses the problems arising from adult sexual or intimate relationships. The relationship, rather than the two individuals, is the 'client'.
Our very closest relationship: a marriage; co-habitation or civil partnership, is based on intimacy and trust. When it stops working we are affected deeply and our health and happiness suffer. Our sense of identity and self-worth often rests on the strength of our relationships and we can despair when our prime relationship fails.
Pressures of work, family, money and health all take their toll. Suddenly the relationship that once recharged us leaves us drained and disappointed.
Patterns of behaving that we learned as children often re-emerge in our adult relationship. A childhood 'scapegoat' may start to feel blamed for everything by the partner who once adored them.
On this page
Signs you have relationship problems
- communication breaks down
- sex has ended or causes problems
- arguments continue without resolution
- violence erupts
- depression or other health problems recur
- the bond of trust is eroded or broken.
It is normal for relationships to suffer as the pressure and strains of everyday life mount. Love may disappear, replaced by resentment and anger. Each partner can view this differently depending on their own experience of family life. One may despair, while the other may view it as a temporary blip.
Where a couple has attached hastily - in response to a passion, pregnancy or other need, disappointments can surface and fester when the excitement subsides. Renegotiating, with a skilled counsellor, can help build a more realistic and deeper relationship.
When is the right time for couple counselling?
- There has been a betrayal of trust; an affair, debt or secret.
- Talking causes confusion or unbearable anger.
- Separation or Divorce seem like the only option.
- Desire has gone or sex is no fun.
- Arguments and bickering go on and on.
If possible, attend together unless there is domestic violence or fear. Counselling can be undertaken with one partner if that feels more comfortable.
Being able to manage conflict, arguments and rows is the foundation stone to a good relationship. It is unrealistic to hope that arguments can be avoided.
Two people come with their own values and beliefs and both must feel heard in order to thrive. This may mean developing new skills.
Differences need to be acknowledged; otherwise we merge or one partner is unheard. Then one partner may dominate and the other 'disappears'.
Arguments are a healthy and essential part of any relationship and can energise it if carried out skilfully. Indirect anger and domestic violence are destructive.
Counselling can help with understanding the messages about conflict that we may have inherited from our family and offer new skills.
Causes of relationship problems
- lack of negotiation can shatter expectations
- stress can fracture a relationship
- illness can deplete both partners
- birth of a child can leave a partner feeling abandoned
- depression can leave a partner feeling deserted
- external pressures can sever the couple bond
- disappointment can lead to anger and hostility
- life changes
- children leaving home can allow resentments to resurface.
Relationships need solid foundations; two unhappy people with unresolved issues rarely make a long-term happy relationship. It may be tempting to feel that our partner or colleague can compensate for earlier pain and loss, but this hope often leads to further disappointment.
Enter a relationship as healthily as possible for the best chance of long-term happiness. The pleasure is in wanting to be with someone rather than the tension of feeling needy and dependent.
Self-respect and liking oneself are the important ingredients for a good relationship. If they are in short supply you may consider counselling to address them.
Individual work or bereavement counselling may help you move on following a separation or bereavement.
How can couples counselling help?
- Destructive patterns of relating can be recognised and addressed.
- Conflict and communication can be improved.
- New relationship skills can be learned.
- The impact of change and loss can be examined.
- Relationships can be more successful.
- Abusive relationships and domestic violence can be acknowledged.
Sex can be a source of great enjoyment within a long-term relationship and any problems it poses can leave one partner feeling rejected or angry. Loss of desire is often an early sign of problems.
Psychosexual issues can highlight a problem within the relationship or arise from the past. Childhood sexual abuse, for example, can impact on an otherwise happy relationship and can be helped with a suitably qualified practitioner. Other sexual problems may have a physical or medical cause, but can often be addressed with a good therapist.
Communicating and staying connected during difficult times may feel impossible. When two people no longer relate, their relationship is in crisis. Often a betrayal of some type follows; an affair or a secret debt as the breakdown is acted out. Skills are available to help you listen and be heard, particularly when the unbearable needs to be heard and acknowledged.
This is the classic time when couples seek help. A new depth of understanding can be reached or a couple may feel they must separate or divorce.
Separation & divorce counselling can help explore whether trust can be repaired or the relationship will need to be rebuilt. If not, it can allow the couple to split with more understanding and less hostility.
What should I be looking for in a couples counsellor?
Whilst there are no official rules and regulations in position which stipulate what level of training and experience a couple’s counsellor, marriage guidance counsellor or relationship counsellor needs, we do recommend that you check your therapist is experienced in the area for which you are seeking help.
A Diploma level qualification (or equivalent) in relationship counselling or a related topic will provide assurance and peace of mind that your counsellor has developed the necessary skills.
Another way to assure they have undergone specialist training is to check if they belong to a relevant professional organisation that represents couples counsellors.
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Content written/edited by Denise Pickup BACP (Accred) in 2008. All content displayed on Counselling Directory is provided for general information purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for advice given by your GP or any other healthcare professional.
Whilst we endeavor to ensure all information is accurate, Counselling Directory make no representations or warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, as to the accuracy of the information included within the website. Any dependence you place on such information is therefore strictly at your own risk.
- Resentment in relationships
- Relationship issues: When not to push it
- Confronting problems in your relationship
- Relationships - dealing with conflict
- Couples and family counselling
- Article Review: 'Couples and Mental Illness'
- Is my relationship working?
- Relationships - five practical steps
- How to argue – guidance from couples counselling and relationships
- 5 ways to strengthen your relationship
- Tips for fair fighting for couples
- The creative process in the couple
- What do couples argue about?
- ‘Silent divorce’ – when you are together still, but you have drifted apart
- Sexual compulsion
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