Relationship advice

Reviewed by Amanda Cuthbert, Stowe Family Law

A man and woman sit at opposite ends of a bench

If something has gone seriously wrong with your relationship, you may feel that divorce is the only option. Marriage guidance or relationship advice services aim to help you understand relationship problems and, if possible, get over them

Even if you do not save your marriage, working on your relationship may be worthwhile. It can make it easier to accept what has happened and adjust to your new life. Maintaining as good a relationship as possible with your former spouse will make it easier for you to work through the divorce process. Overcoming negative feelings can be particulary important if both of you will continue to be involved in bringing up your children.

Relationship problems

No relationship is perfect. Occasional disagreements and arguments are a normal part of married life. But sometimes relationships reach a point where one or both of you question whether it is worth carrying on together.

Typical relationship problems include:

  • feeling that your partner doesn't take your wishes into account, or that you have grown apart;
  • controlling behaviour, domestic violence or abuse;
  • loss of trust in your partner, for example if he or she has been unfaithful;
  • falling into a rut where every day seems the same and you no longer seem to have meaningful conversations;
  • you or your partner being continually on edge, perhaps as a result of work-related stress or financial worries;
  • loss of sexual interest or finding that you have different sexual needs;
  • conflict involving your children or the wider family (eg in-laws).

A natural first step is to discuss any problems you are having - ideally with your partner, but if not with trusted friends and family. Be aware that even if they have your best interests at heart, they may not understand what's best for you in your particular circumstances.

If you cannot see a way of resolving your problems, you may want to consider getting professional relationship advice.

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How marriage guidance works

Marriage guidance and relationship advice is typically provided in face-to-face sessions, though phone and online help are also available. You can get advice on your own, though it's more common for couples to see an adviser together.

Experienced advisers with counselling training aim to help you work through your problems rather than telling you what to do. Typical goals might include helping you to:

  • improve how you communicate with each other;
  • understand the underlying relationship problems and what has caused them;
  • learn how to negotiate constructively rather than argue.

You'll generally need to pay for professional advice. Some organisations ask for a 'voluntary' donation instead, or offer low cost or free counselling for those on low incomes.

Marriage guidance services

Well-known relationship advice providers include:

  • Relate (0300 100 1234) is the UK's largest provider of relationship support. Relationship advice is available at centres and with individual licensed counsellors across the UK, or by phone, email or live chat.
  • Marriage Care (0800 389 3801) has a national network of counselling centres. Partner organisation Family Lives (0808 800 2222) offers a free helpline and advice website as well as local support groups in some areas.

Marriage guidance services like these offer advice provided by qualified and experienced relationship counsellors. Useful sources of information and listings include the Counselling Directory and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Sources of online support include Click offering DIY relationship support and the Mumsnet forums where mothers (and fathers) can discuss relationship problems. You may want to search online for other websites, forums and local organisations.

Resolving your relationship problems

Communication is essential for resolving problems. Just feeling that you are being listened to can help. Sometimes, one of you may be able to change your behaviour, or you might learn to accept your differences. It may be possible to address the root cause of a problem, for example by changing job or sorting out your finances. You will need to decide whether to continue your relationship or separate.

Relationship problems can be particularly difficult if you have children. You may want to stay together for their sake. At the same time, you may need to accept that this is not in their best interests if you cannot provide a happy home environment together.

If you do decide to go your separate ways, you will still need to agree practical matters: dealing with getting divorced, sorting out your finances and making arrangements for any children. If you do have children, you may need to continue making decisions together until they are grown up. If your relationship problems make it hard to reach agreement, you may want to consider family mediation.

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