A relationship takes work – this much we know. And of course, it’s only natural for partners or married couples to fight, bicker, or become complacent about their relationships. Whether it’s a daily struggle over who washes up after dinner, or a recurring argument about who last cleaned the bathroom – these small niggles are normal, expected, and healthy. But often, couples reach a crisis point where it seems like there’s no turning back. These small problems can turn into big issues, and the relationship might seem too complicated to work through. However, a new study from the Marriage Foundation suggests that staying in your marriage or partnership, and putting time into working through any problems with your partner, could be the key to ensuring your relationship not only survives, but thrives.
Although the latest research from the Office of National Statistics states that divorce rates have fallen to the lowest in 40 years, a huge 111,169 of us in England and Wales still filed for divorce in 2014. So, we spoke to a relationship expert and counsellor at the charity Relate, Barbara Bloomfield, to figure out how to save a struggling relationship, and how to maintain a happy one…
Why do my partner and I clash so much, and how can we get along better?
“It’s complicated, but it’s all to do with your family of origin – how you were brought up. Some of us have had parents who never stopped arguing, some had parents who left before we were born, and some of us have had three or four sets of parents. So how do you know what you think if you’ve been brought up with those complicated relationships? If you and your partner are from very different families and are therefore used to very different relationships and values, it’s worth taking this into account to try and understand the other person’s perspective.”
We just don’t connect anymore – what can I do?
“There are exercises that you can use. One is called, ‘Our great relationship’, which is about listening and talking about certain subjects you wouldn’t normally talk about – like future plans, retirement or children. It’s a way of getting you to talk about what’s important in the relationship. It might surprise people to know that some couples who come to counselling have never even spoken about if they both want to have children, even if they’re engaged.
The happiest couples also tend to be the ones that go out and have a coffee two or three times a week, and just ask, how are things going for you? Is there anything bothering you, or anything that you want us to do differently? Simple, but that could save you so much money – in counselling or divorce! And if it’s unrealistic to go out three times a week (we all have lives!), just try and carry that general sentiment with you throughout the week. Check in at the end of the day when you get into bed, or over dinner. It’s imporant to just keep up with each other.”
How do I know if my relationship is worth saving?
“All sorts of couples come to counselling. Mostly, it’s couples who are at a crossroads and don’t know which way they’re going – which includes couples where one person wants to stay together and the other person wants to leave. But knowing whether or not a relationship is worth saving is usually not about what people openly say. Quite often people will say, “It’s all over, I’m fed up” – but actually, they’re just hurt, and don’t really have any intention of splitting. What I would say to a couple questioning this is, take a week away. Go and stay with somebody else, away from your partner, and consider how you feel when you’re without them. Because that’s really the golden ticket to finding out how you feel. Some people fight like cats and dogs, but actually can’t bear to be without each other. What we talk about in Relate is warming up work. It’s about remembering what first attracted you to your partner. Rewarming the cockles of your love!”
We’ve been together for 25 years and it’s not working anymore – what can I do?
“Talk about why you got together in the first place. When people are in a difficult place, they tend to forget about the good bits and focus on the bad. Don’t get stuck in the cycle of blame. When you’re in a bad place, it’s always harder to talk about appreciation and important things like ‘He’s always been a good provider, he’s very kind, he’s really thoughtful’. These positive things get discounted because you get used to them, and become complacement about them. Remembering that there are huge positives about your partner that you loved in the first instance could help you overcome seemingly insurmountable issues.”
My relationship is good – how can I make sure it stays that way?
“Firstly, don’t try and fix something that isn’t broken! Enjoy it and continue to appreciate each other. But I think some people think it’s fine when they don’t talk much at all, when actually it’s not. Rather than bury your head in the sand and plod along happily, it’s important to always talk about the more difficult things – what are we going to do in retirement, or how are we going to spend our pensions? Talk about the tricky bits. It’s also so much safer to talk in front of somebody impartial, because you can be sure that the conversation will remain civilised. So don’t be afraid to see a counsellor if you want to, to maintain your relationship long-term.”