Relationship problems

Written by Bonnie Gifford

Bonnie Gifford

Counselling Directory Content Team

Senior writer

Last updated on 27th April, 2022

Relationships are a key part of our lives. They bring happiness and support, but that doesn’t mean they’re easy. When we encounter problems in our relationships, it can be difficult to know where to turn. Talking to a relationship counsellor can really make a difference.

Relationships - whether romantic or platonic - can bring us a great deal of happiness and fulfilment. Strong connections with our loved ones, friends and even our coworkers allow us to be at our happiest, healthiest and most productive.

For many, these relationships offer an important source of advice, guidance, love and support. Research has even suggested that our relationships can significantly impact our well-being, with proven links showing that relationships can lower our rates of anxiety and depression, make us more likely to experience higher self-esteem and greater empathy, and can even lead to us trusting more. A strong, healthy relationship could even help you to live a longer life. 

However, fulfilling and supportive relationships don’t come automatically. They require good social skills and a great deal of work, time and energy to last and stay strong. Sometimes our most meaningful relationships can break down, and this can be due to a number of reasons. But the loss of this connection can be difficult, leaving you feeling lonely, disappointed, or even confused as to what may have gone wrong.

Relationship Counsellor and BACP Registered Counsellor (Postgrad Dip Counselling), Jennifer Warwick, explains more about relationship counselling, why people seek therapy for their relationships, and how talking with a relationship counsellor can help you. 

In some cases, our relationships may not be meeting our expectations, which can impact our happiness and life satisfaction. For others, they may crave companionship yet find it very difficult to come by. Whatever the relationship issue, there is help available.

Relationship counselling is an option you can undertake together as a couple, or as an individual. It provides a space where you can talk about your concerns and needs, as well as explore what you want from your relationships. Many relationships can be improved by counselling, even if there is no clear problem or issue.

Through speaking with a professional relationship counsellor, you can learn more about yourself, your partner, your friends, or your relationship. You can gain a better understanding of each other's needs while receiving support and guidance that can help enhance and even strengthen your relationship. 

Connect with a relationship counsellor

Why do we need good relationships?

Humans are naturally very sociable. We enjoy the company of others and crave positive interactions and meaningful friendships. To some extent, good relationships are just as important for our survival as food and water, which can explain why when our relationships suffer, our health and happiness are also affected.

Having good relationships in your workplace with colleagues, as well as others within similar professional circles can boost your productivity and act as a valuable tool for developing your career. Being on good terms with your manager or boss is not only great for productivity and fostering a positive work environment, but it can also mean that you may be more likely to be considered for new opportunities such as promotions when they arise.

Good relationships can create a sense of freedom. Rather than spending time and energy overcoming obstacles that arise due to relationship issues, you are able to focus more on the task at hand, enjoying the time that you spend there.

Poor relationships, both in and out of work, can affect stress levels and impact your work-life balance. Learn how to manage stress at work and how you can help yourself.

What defines a good relationship?

What makes a good relationship varies greatly from person to person, relationship to relationship. Each individual may value different aspects of their relationship to a different degree. However, many people agree that mutual respect and emotional support, companionship, shared sexual expression, and a level of shared economic security are common, important parts of a healthy, adult relationship.

Anxiety Counselling and Psychotherapy Counsellor, Alina Apopei explains more in her article, Relationship issues counselling.

“Every relationship is different but there are main factors that contribute to strong relationships. Each relationship is built around trust because this enables us to communicate effectively and form strong bonds. A good relationship comes with a level of mindfulness that makes you areare of what you say and do and that helps to support a strong relationship.” 

- Alina Apopei, MBACP (Acred) 

All relationships are unique, and that’s part of the beauty of them. But, there are several characteristics that generally are a sign that you have a strong, healthy connection with someone. These may include:

Trust - Relationships are built on trust, which is essential for good communication and forming strong bonds with people. Without trust, relationships are unlikely to survive.

Mindfulness - If you’re mindful of what you do and say, and of the other person’s needs, you’re more likely to maintain strong relationships. Issues can arise if you let your negative emotions affect others, or if you aren’t thinking of them. Remember, it’s a two-way street.

Mutual respect - As mentioned above, strong and supportive relationships rely heavily on mutual respect. You need a mutual understanding of each other’s needs and values, and to consider these regularly.

Good communication - Your relationships will be richer if you make an effort to keep in contact with those around you. Being honest and open with others also allows you to connect deeply and build long-lasting bonds.

Counsellors can help you to better understand where and why things may have gone wrong in your relationship, and how you can overcome these problems. Taking into consideration the above areas as well as others, a therapist helping with relationship problems can help identify specific issues, and how (if possible), the relationship can be rebuilt. 

Types of relationship problems

There are many different types of problems that can arise during a relationship. These can vary depending on your unique circumstances and relationship dynamics. A relationship therapist can work with you together as a couple, separately as individuals, or with just one of you. While we may all be different, there are some common relationship issues that people frequently seek relationship counselling for.

Common types of relationship issues include:

Affairs, betrayals and infidelity

Betraying your spouse, partner, or close friend can cause a great deal of damage to your relationship by weakening or destroying that sense of trust. Whether it’s through infidelity, financial secrets, hidden addiction, or something else, betrayal can feel heartbreaking and, in some cases, can lead to relationships ending.

Affairs don’t happen without reason. Having a safe, neutral space to talk through the issues and emotions leading up to, surrounding, and following infidelity can help you to both open up about how you are feeling, what you want to happen next, and work together to decide how that’s going to happen. 

Separation and divorce

Sometimes couples will decide to separate or divorce without going through the practicalities, or considering if they may way to save the relationship. Separation counselling provides an opportunity for a breakup to be explored before a final decision is made. While not all relationships can continue, helping couples to get closure and move forward in a way that is healthy for their needs can be really beneficial in the future, particularly if children are involved.  

Arguments and communication issues 

Some couples may find that over time, the number of arguments they are having increases, or that their communication begins to break down. Frequent arguments over little things like taking the rubbish out or who’s turn it is to cook can be a sign of deeper issues that you may feel unable to express, or that you may not be entirely aware of, such as building resentment, anger, or sadness. 

Differing communication styles can also lead to issues, as one or both people may feel like the other has stopped listening to them, which can lead to assumptions being made, or fostering negative feelings. While we all know the importance of communication, figuring out how to identify where things have gone wrong, and how to make positive, impactful and lasting changes, can be difficult. 

Trauma

Traumatic life events can have a significant impact on relationships. Whether individual or shared, while some people cope by pulling together, others find themselves pushing their partner away or feeling like their relationship is being pulled apart. These can all be natural reactions to big, upsetting events. Talking things through with a therapist can help you to process things, find new ways to communicate how you are feeling with your partner, and work through your trauma together.

Sexual issues and/or lack of intimacy 

Decreasing intimacy, sexual issues, or a lack of physical intimacy can lead to miscommunication and hurt feelings. One partner may feel undesirable, while another may feel shame or guilt. Any number of different problems can lead to sexual issues and a lack of intimacy within a relationship. While some issues may need to be addressed through your GP to rule out other medical problems, there are also many common psychological factors that can lead to a decreased sex drive, such as depression, stress, and even anxiety. 

Can a relationship survive without intimacy is a question frequently asked by couples who fear that their physical and/or emotional intimacy has decreased. Working with a relationship counsellor can help you to better identify the root causes, and how you can foster a greater sense of intimacy.  

Pre-nuptial issues

Some couples seek extra support and advice on how to prepare themselves should the relationship break down or encounter difficulties in the future. Relationships are naturally full of ups and downs (we may naturally crave companionship, but we’re also very opinionated creatures). Pre-nuptial counselling can help couples to be aware of any potential stressors that may occur during different stages of their relationship, such as the birth of a child, and learn how to cope, overcome any issues and flourish.

Family issues

Our relationships with family members form an integral part of our lives, and when these become strained, they can cause a lot of pain and disappointment. In some cases, it may be one family member that is causing a rift, or it could be a previous disagreement or a number of issues that have built up over time and never been properly dealt with. 

For couples with children, differing parenting styles, discontent with the role you have fallen into (for example, when one parent always has to play the ‘bad guy’ and one gets to be the ‘fun parent’), or even just struggling to adapt to your growing family can all cause tension and strain. 

Family counselling provides a safe and supportive environment where family members can communicate openly, listen to each other and work through any disagreements.

Cross-cultural relationships

Relationships involve two people coming together from different backgrounds to build a new unit. While for many, this process is relatively straightforward and seem very natural, for others, their differences can be too prominent to come to a compromise. Counselling helps couples to better understand each other’s beliefs and values, to learn how to work with their differences and compromise, building a stronger, healthier bond.

Imbalanced responsibilities

Some couples may find that their relationship dynamic feels unequal and that the typical adult responsibilities aren’t evenly shared. If one partner has difficulty committing to or making plans, or sharing typical responsibilities, this can be a sign of Peter Pan syndrome.

If the other partner seems to try and do everything for them by taking on more or all responsibilities and decision making, this can be a sign of what is referred to as Wendy Syndrome. While not an official diagnosis, Peter Pan and Wendy Syndrome can lead to breakdowns in communication, feelings of resentment, as well as additional stress and worry. 


How can counselling help with relationship issues?

Relationship counselling can help you not only improve your relationship but also improve the way you relate to and understand those around you. Working with a relationship therapist can help you to break free from old, unhealthy patterns of behaviour, and to find new ways of expressing yourself and your feelings. 

Counsellor Linda Boutet explains more about Relationships and our sense of self.

“Counselling gives us space to be the truest version of ourselves, offering us the opportunity to look at what we, as individuals, really want from our relationships. It offers us the opportunity to explore our past and current experiences of being close to others, whilst working to strengthen our own sense of self, so we no longer feel bewildered by the relationships we choose. Counselling can lead us to a greater sense of ourselves in the world we line in, and a deeper understanding of our relationships”

- Linda Helena Boutet, (Dip.) MBACP

Relationship issues can be attended to as an individual, or in the form of couples counselling, a type of counselling that utilises talking therapy in a way that is designed to help two people. It really depends on you, and what it is you want to gain from counselling.

Sometimes, a relationship can leave you feeling crowded and like you’ve lost your sense of self - you may benefit from individual sessions, to have the opportunity to talk in a safe space, free from judgement. Other times, you may both benefit from talking in a zone that is out of your usual lives - somewhere private, safe and completely neutral. It may not always be an issue in the relationship, but if one of you is struggling, it could be negatively impacting your partner and in turn, your relationship.

Trust, respect and communication are three key factors that lead to a successful, happy relationship. When something happens that changes or impacts one of these factors, the relationship can start to break down. Sometimes relationships aren’t meant to be and you separate, and that’s OK. If you want to work through it and rebuild your bond, that’s OK too.

Counselling can help you work through a breakup or separation, help you rebuild a relationship and help you better understand yourself.


Does relationship counselling work?

As with all types of therapy, relationship counselling requires you to feel ready to admit that there may be a problem, and be willing to try and work towards talking about and trying to fix any issues. Relationship counselling aims to help you to better see and understand what is happening in your relationship, to figure out what you would like to be different, and enable you to start making those changes to get your relationship to where you want it to be. 

Couples counselling can help you to gain new perspectives about each other and your relationship, but it isn’t a magic cure. You will need to put in the time, be honest, open, and brave, as you will likely be discussing issues that you both feel strongly about, in ways that may feel uncomfortable as you work through them. 

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