Relationships and family

Relationships are a vital part of our lives. They can bring us great happiness and strong connections with our family members, friends and work colleagues to help us maintain health, well-being and fulfilment.

While for many people these relationships offer an important source of love, support and advice, for others, it may not come so easy. Strong, happy relationships need time and effort. But sometimes these bonds break down, leaving a person feeling lonely, sad and lost.

There are many things that can contribute to the breakdown of a relationship. In today’s society, individuals often face a variety of personal and social problems. When life gets in the way, communication can break down, a person’s health can deteriorate and conflicts may arise.

The breakdown of key relationships can have long lasting effects on our physical and mental health. This page will explore the factors that may lead to relationship problems and the forms of counselling that can help.

Family issues

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), there were 18.7 million families in the UK in 2015. 12.5 million were married couple families. A family is a group of people who care, love and support each other. For many people, family life is a place of refuge and happiness – for others, it can be a source of pain and frustration.

A family is a system that can sometimes become overwhelmed by life’s pressures. Each member of the family will have their own stress and strain and this is when a personal problem can create tension. Changes within the family can leave members feeling confused and unable to communicate what they are feeling.

Single-parent families

In 2015, there were two million lone parents in the UK, 90% being women. ONS report that the number of single-parent families has risen over the last 20 years – in 1996 there were 1.6 million lone parents. The report also suggests that when a relationship breaks down, women are more likely to take the main caring responsibilities for children.

According to Gingerbread, the charity for single parents, 64% of lone parents are in work. However, the majority do not receive child maintenance funding. While the number of lone parents working has risen from 55%, the risk of poverty in single parent families is twice as likely than those in couple families.1

Members within a single-parent family may experience relationship issues due to various factors. The lone parent may be more vulnerable to stress, guilt or money worries, while the children may experience confusion, misunderstanding and frustration.

Children and adoption

According to Adoption UK, there were 5,330 children adopted in the year ending March 2015. Out of these, 2,800 (53%) were boys, while 2,530 (47%) were girls. 4,050 (76%) of children adopted were aged between one and four years old.

Adoption has changed significantly since 1970. Today, the majority of children who are adopted are older and have been removed from backgrounds that may have been abusive or neglectful. Adoption can provide a safe home for these children and can help to transform their lives. However, their often difficult start to life can lead to many issues, including emotional, behavioural and educational difficulties.

Adoptive parents will often require specialist support to help them understand the child’s needs. Parenting a traumatised child requires a different kind of parenting. It is important that the adoptive parents receive the support they need, or else they risk the adoption breaking down and the children returning to care.2

How counselling can help

When life’s pressures become too much, the relationships within the family can become ‘dysfunctional’ and members can lose sight of a way out. Family counselling is used to encourage conversation between family members. Communication can be restored and feelings that may have been misinterpreted can be understood. Common reasons for family counselling can include:

  • debt
  • problems with adolescents and older children
  • unwanted pregnancy
  • mental health
  • disruption after separation or divorce.

Relationship issues

Relationship issues are extremely varied. They will often depend on the type of relationship and the circumstances that have led to disagreement or conflict. A relationship counsellor will work with a range of couples and individuals and there are many reasons why they may be experiencing difficulties.

Common types of relationship issues addressed in counselling include:

  • separation and divorce
  • affairs and betrayals
  • pre-nuptial issues
  • family issues
  • cross-cultural relationships.

Separation and divorce

In 2013, there were 114,720 divorces in England and Wales, a decrease of almost 3% since 2012.3

There are many reasons why a couple may separate or choose to divorce. Common reasons include life changes, such as redundancy, children leaving home, bereavement or retirement. The couple may have simply fallen out of love or they may decide to separate after an affair.

According to ONS, the number of divorces was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44. Almost half of the couples divorcing in 2013 had at least one dependent child aged 16 or under.

Children can be affected by a separation in various ways that may not always be clear to the parent. It is important for the children to understand what is going on and why. Knowing that their family is falling apart can be traumatic, yet the couple separating peacefully can reduce the impact.

The relationship charity, Relate reports that 15% of divorces in 2011 were granted for adultery. However, not all couples will want to end their relationship after the discovery of an affair or betrayal. Many people will want to work things through. Couples counselling can help both partners learn how to rebuild the trust and communication within the relationship, as well as recognising what may have led to the betrayal.

How counselling can help

Counselling can give couples the opportunity to talk about the problems that have led to the separation. The couples will have the space to talk about the arguments. They will learn how to cope with the divorce and how to understand a child’s best interests. A counsellor can give individuals a new perspective on the problems that have led them to separate. They can discuss the conflict, learn how to address their feelings, find acceptance and move on.

Family counselling can also offer the children a chance to discuss what they are feeling. Sometimes when parents are separating, the children can be overlooked. It is important for children, no matter what age, to have their say.

Domestic violence

1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.

35 is the average number of times a woman is assaulted before calling for help.

Domestic violence describes threatening or abusive behaviour in a domestic environment. This can be within a romantic relationship or a family setting. The violence can be physical or emotional and refers to controlling, aggressive or manipulative behaviour.


Domestic violence can happen to anyone. Domestic violence has previously been associated as an act men carry out on women, but it is important to understand that men can be victims too.

The NHS suggest 4% of men aged between 16 and 59 experienced domestic abuse in 2014 to 2015. It is estimated that there are around 2.4 million male victims of domestic abuse and sadly, many of these men do not report the violence or leave the relationship.4 According to the ManKind Initiative, the most common reasons why men do not leave the relationship include:

  • concern for the children (89%)
  • marriage is for life (81%)
  • love (71%)
  • they think she will change (56%).


Figures from a 2015 ONS report reveal that one woman is killed every three days in England and Wales as a result of domestic violence.

Refuge, a charity for women and children suggest that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. On average, a woman is assaulted 35 times before first dialling 999.

These are frightening figures and things need to change. While there is no cause for domestic violence and anyone can be a victim, statistics have found that women are more at risk. It is important that victims know they are not alone and that support is available. There are many organisations set up to offer support to those in need, including Refuge and Women’s Aid.

Talking about the experience with a professional counsellor can offer a new perspective on the situation. Counselling will help victims understand that it was not their fault and together, confidence can be rebuilt.

How counselling can help

It is easy to focus on the physical effects that are associated with domestic violence, but it is also important to consider the effect this experience can have on a person’s mental health.

Being in a violent relationship can leave a person feeling incredibly isolated. But there is support available, not only to help the victim get out of the relationship but to recover psychologically.

There are many types of counselling that can help a person cope and begin rebuilding their life. Forms of counselling that may help include:

  • individual counselling
  • cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • arts therapies
  • person-centered therapy
  • psychoanalysis.


  • 1 Gingerbread, Statistics:
  • 2 Adoption UK, Support Us:
  • 3 ONS, Divorces in England and Wales 2013:
  • 4 ManKind Initiative:

Page last reviewed: 03/03/16

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