What can cause
Relationship problems may be triggered by an unexpected event, like the loss
of a job, illness or the death of a child. But any major life changes, even
some we may have chosen ourselves, such as moving house, having a baby or
inviting an elderly parent to live with us, can place huge pressures on a
relationship. In some ways, these everyday events are easier to overlook,
because we think that everyone experiences them. So we try to cope, ignoring
the signs of stress.
Many people are living in highly stressful relationships, with partners who
are abusive or alcoholic, who have long-term illness, are unemployed, or who
are having affairs. You may be doing your best to cope, to carry on as
normal, and may even be admired for doing so.
Whatever the problem, the first step towards dealing with it is
acknowledging it. Here are some of the most common sources of stress, and
suggested ways of coping with them, which may save your relationship.
Babies and young children
New babies bring pleasure and joy. But they also bring broken nights and
change the balance of your relationship. Sometimes a mother is so involved
with her baby that her partner feels excluded and jealous. Many women also
go off sex for a period after giving birth. Second babies bring jealousy
from the first-born, and generally more demands. A partner who is feeling
neglected may then withdraw and stop communicating, or spend more time at
It's essential that you have time alone together, away from the children.
You might book a babysitter and go out for the evening, or leave the
children with friends for part of the weekend. The main carer is also likely
to be pretty desperate for time away from children - alone or with friends -
on a regular basis. Try to work things out between you so that you are both
getting your needs met. This can relieve a lot of the pressure on your
It's quite common to feel jealous of, and competitive with, your partner's
child or children, perhaps almost feeling like another child yourself. These
are very uncomfortable feelings. Remember that your partner has chosen to
live with you and that you have an adult-to-adult relationship that is quite
different from the parent-child relationship. Try to establish your own
relationship with the child, for example by finding an enjoyable activity
that you can do together without your partner.
Some step-children may seem deliberately hostile to a step-parent. They may
feel that aggression is their only source of power in this situation, and
will express it openly or by silence and withdrawal. You will need to talk
to your partner to get support, but be careful to talk about your feelings
and not to criticise the children.
Starting an affair
Many of us fall in love and start a relationship hoping that it's going to
meet all our needs and that we will live happily ever after. When we run
into problems, whether at home or at work, it's easy to blame the
relationship and think we are with the wrong person. At this point, it may
be tempting to give up on the relationship or start an affair with somebody
Having an affair does not necessarily mean the end of the relationship. The
impulse to have an affair is often a symptom of underlying problems between
the two of you. The third party might be the right person, but it's just as
likely that you will take the same problems with you into that new
tackle this dilemma, it's crucial that you start listening to each other's
disappointments and needs, and for this you may find that you need
professional help, from a relationship counsellor, for instance.
Although sexual difficulties are often a symptom of other problems, in some
relationships they are the basis of the difficulty. People often feel shy or
ashamed of acknowledging them, but many problems are solvable with expert
help. (See 'Useful organisations')
Unemployment and redundancy
Redundancy is usually sudden and shocking. Whatever the reason, it's likely
to dent someone's self-esteem and so make them feel bad-tempered and moody,
as well as anxious. At the same time, your partner may start to feel
resentful if they are now the sole breadwinner. This may be aggravated if,
quite understandably, the jobless person is keeping busy by seeing friends
or taking up other pastimes. In this situation, it's a good idea to talk
about rebalancing things, so that the working partner gets more support and
doesn't have to do all the domestic chores.
neither of you works, you're both likely to get anxious and, unless you
express these feelings, tense, angry or simply withdrawn. Long-term
unemployment, whether it's you, your partner or a grown-up child, is
draining for the whole family. The unemployed person will often feel
inadequate and powerless and this may mean that they withdraw sexually. They
may also feel sad, depressed, or humiliated.
The Department of Work and Pensions’ employment service,
Jobcentre Plus, provides advice, encouragement and help to people looking
for work. They may also help with benefits. There are various new schemes
targeted at particular sections of society, such as the New Deal for
Disabled People. (See their website at
look in the phone book for your local office.)
Shortage of money can produce a lot of anxiety and fear, and can easily
become the main focus of a relationship. Share your feelings as much as you
can, rather than withdrawing in panic or blaming your partner for not
earning enough. You could contact the National Debtline or go together to
your local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). All CAB staff are trained to offer
help with debt and redundancy problems. They can help you to check whether
you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to, and discuss whether
other options are available.
Many money problems are actually power struggles being played out through
money. If this is what is happening with you, a counsellor or therapist is
probably your best source of help. (See 'Useful organisations' and 'Further
reading' for more information.)
This puts an enormous strain on any partnership. Apart from the extra work
involved, the well partner will often have unwelcome feelings like
resentment, hatred or jealousy. It's essential that you have a place to air
feelings, so that they don’t get in the way of your caring or damage your
own health and wellbeing.
Bottling them up will only increase the pressure on the relationship. It can
also take the pressure off if the ill partner has a place to talk. There are
organisations that support people with specific diseases and those caring
for them. Your hospital or social worker should have details of groups
dealing with your partner's illness.
You may have knowingly teamed up with a drinker, or your partner may begin
drinking later in your relationship. One of the hardest things about living
with an alcoholic is their mood swings. They may be quite abusive, even
violent, when drunk, but charming when sober; affectionate and attentive
when they're drinking, but very withdrawn again when they stop. And the
expense of drinking may cause money problems. Your partner's alcoholism need
not lead to the end of your relationship, if you are both willing to get
help. (See 'Useful organisations'.)
Physical violence and emotional abuse
This is probably one of the most difficult situations to deal with, but
there is increasing support available for both partners, which could save
the relationship. The physical violence doesn't have to be frequent to make
you a victim.
More common, and perhaps even more frightening and undermining, is the
emotional abuse. Slamming doors and threats like, "Don't you ever do that
again" evoke a constant fear of violence. You may begin to adapt your
behaviour so that you don’t provoke your partner. You may get confused
because your partner becomes loving after an attack, telling you it wasn't
that bad, that you should forget about it, perhaps even pretending that it
didn't happen, so that you begin to doubt your own experience.
Your partner may be in the habit of humiliating you in front of your
friends, or making constant critical remarks about what you do and how you
look. This kind of verbal abuse may happen again and again, and can be
devastating over time.
Emotional abuse may also take the form of silent withdrawal. In this
situation most people start to feel ugly, worthless, ashamed, unloved and
unlovable. You may start to move away from your friends and become withdrawn
at work. As your self-esteem plummets, you may feel increasingly dependent
for friendship and love on the very person who is abusing you.
Partners may resort to violence in response to their own feelings of
inadequacy, insecurity, loneliness and depression. The patterns involved in
a violent and abusive relationship usually run very deep and you will need
professional help if you are to save your relationship. Acknowledging what
is going on is an important first step. You might want to start by talking
to a friend.
If you would like to discuss any of the
mental health issues raised on this page or find out how counselling might
One Plus One
One Plus One is a team of researchers, practitioners and information
specialists whose aim is to enhance understanding of how family
relationships contribute to the well being of adults and children through
three key activities:
Website looking at parenting from a Dad's perspective. From pregnancy, birth
and babies to sex, money and work, they cover the essentials you need
to help you give your child the best possible start in life
help to increase the confidence and independence of families by:
Interesting selection of articles
Guardian guide to
the very thought of going on a date makes you shudder with fear (or cringe
with embarrassment), we understand. But we're here to tell you that dating
doesn't have to mean tedious drinks and desperate dinners; it's more fun and
varied than ever before, whatever your age and interests. You never know, it
could change your life.
Relate offers advice, relationship counselling, sex therapy, workshops,
mediation, consultations and support face-to-face, by phone and through this
Family life today is complicated and Parentline Plus
understands. We’re the leading national charity providing help and support
to anyone caring for children – parents, grandparents, step-parents,
relatives – for families living together as well as apart.
helps people take control of their mental health. We do this by providing
high-quality information and advice, and campaigning to promote and protect
good mental health for everyone. How can we help you
Back to the top
In this section you will find a
selection of leaflets you can download or print.
Leaflet from Counselling Directory
Swindon Family Mediation Service
We aim to provide
a high quality service to enable families and the community to deal as
effectively as possible with the changes brought about by relationship
breakdown. To do this we run five projects:
Discovering Autistic Spectrum Happiness
Swindon based website supporting parents with autistic
Swindon and District Samaritans has been
offering emotional support to those in crisis for more than 40 years. You
can call or email 24hrs a day.
Local branch of the national charity providing support,
resources and drop-in sessions.