Does relationship counselling work?

Couple talkingWhether or not relationship counselling works depends on what your goal is. One of the difficulties with is that couples sometimes have a different idea of what the outcome should be.

For example, when couples both think it's their partner who needs to change, or when one person wants help to end the relationship but the other wants to stay together.

The bottom line is that it takes two people to make a relationship work and, at the same time, it takes two people who are willing to cooperate to make a separation amicable and easy for their children.

Is the relationship salvageable?

This is the first question that most people ask themselves when they begin relationship counselling. While it's impossible to give a simple answer, the following questions may help:

  • Are you able to identify what the problem is?
  • If so, does your partner share the same view?
  • Are you willing to change in order to resolve the problem? And is your partner?
  • Are you and your partner able to change? In other words, are the changes that you would need to make in order to make your relationship work physically and emotionally possible?

Relate is there not just for couples who want to improve their relationship, but also for those who want help in ending it. And counselling can be especially beneficial for separating couples with children who want to ensure they're breaking up in a way that won't mean the family breaks down. 

What if your partner is threatening or violent?
If you're living with a partner who is violent towards you or who makes threats, or behaves in a way that leaves you feeling intimidated, or unable to feel in control of your life, then you should come for counselling alone.
You can also get support and help from Woman's Aid by calling 0808 2000 247.

When should you go to counselling?

A survey of callers to the Relate helpline showed that 44% had already endured two years of relationship difficulties before getting help. Unfortunately, many couples leave relationship counselling until it's too late and then find that years of bitterness and resentment have built up and the fear of being hurt again blocks out any chance of change.

There is no doubt that the sooner people seek help, the better - and that is true if you want to stay together, or if you've chosen to separate.

If you're experiencing any of the following, now is the time to consider counselling:

  • When you talk to your partner, it feels like you're hitting a brick wall
  • Your conversations just go round and round in never-ending circles
  • After you've talked, you feel frustrated and confused
  • You can't talk for more than a few minutes without it turning into a shouting match
  • You're afraid that if you bring up a certain subject, things will get even worse
  • There's nothing left to say

Who should go for relationship counselling?

Ideally, both of you. It's hard to build a team if only half of the players are there. If one person makes the decision to give counselling a try, often their partner decides to go as well. But if your partner flatly refuses to join you, there are still a lot of things you can sort out on your own.

There may be changes that you can make alone that will have a positive impact on your relationship, or things you can do that will improve the relationship you have with your ex and your ability to co-parent together. Some people prefer to have counselling alone at first to work out their feelings and then see a separate counsellor as a couple.

Ultimately, it's hard to measure if counselling works, because the phrase 'works' means different things to different people.  For some people, counselling transforms their relationships and their lives; for others it helps them solve a specific problem and move forward with more confidence and less anxiety. But the sooner you go for counselling, the better. 


The content on this page is supplied by Relate.

Last updated: 9 months ago