The charity Relate has launched its first appeal to help address negative impacts of family breakdown and poor quality relationships. A staggering 2.87 million people across the UK are living in relationships which would be described within clinical practice as “distressed” (according a new study by Relate), which equates to 18% of married or cohabiting couples and 1.4 million UK families. The charity is concerned that these poor quality relationships are having a detrimental impact on people’s physical and mental health with many struggling to access the support they need and reaching breaking point. The figures are released as Relate launches its first national appeal, Breaking Point, calling for donations to help subsidise vital services to support families whose relationships and finances are under intense pressure. The statistics are taken from Relate’s report, Relationship Distress Monitor, and is based on new analysis of data from the UK household longitudinal study, Understanding Society.  The research, which had a sample size of 20,980, looked at key questions from a validated scale to measure relationship quality.  These included how often couples argued, how frequently they considered separation or divorce, the extent of unhappiness in their relationship and how often they regretted being in their relationship.

The research also found that:

  • 9% of partners report at least occasionally considering divorce or separation
  • 10% of partners report at least occasionally regretting getting married or living together
  • 49% of partners report at least occasionally quarrelling – and 6.8% report severe levels
  • Parents of under 16s are more likely to be in distressed relationships – 22%

Relationship distress and parenthood

The research investigated the proportion of parents (with a child under 16) in relationships which could be characterised as ‘distressed’. This found that parents of under-16s are more likely to be in distressed relationships (22% compared with 17.98%). On average, the correlation between lower relationship quality and the presence of younger children is supported by wider research, which shows that becoming a parent can have a major impact on the couple relationship and becoming a parent is one of life events most likely to reduce relationship quality. In particular, first-time parents are at risk of experiencing personal and marital distress, and after becoming parents, many couples engage in less positive interactions and argue more while also typically spending significantly less time together. Parents do not all experience parenthood in the same way, however, and some show a stabilisation or even increase in relationship quality.

“Through my work I see countless couples in distressed relationships.  Often the couples I see are arguing constantly with pressures such as jobs, finances and childcare putting their relationships under real strain. It’s a very painful place to be and the impact it can have on the family is huge.”

Relate counsellor, Arabella Russell

Surbiton mother of four, Julia Darbyshire, 47, attended Relate with her husband, Andy, 47, when their relationship reached breaking point.  Julia said: “We went to Relate when the pressures of work and childcare started to impact on our relationship. We were arguing a lot and our eldest son was noticing that we were at loggerheads. We had hit a real rocky patch but with the support of our counsellor, we were able to turn things around. Speaking to somebody objective was really helpful.  Since attending the counselling sessions, things have really improved and we’ve gone on to have another two children together. We now feel we communicate more effectively and have the tools we need to address any issues that come up. I’d urge anyone to donate to Relate – I think it’s so important that everyone can access support for their relationships, not just those who can afford it. Unhappy relationships can have a terrible effect on couples and their children but it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Relationship breakdown currently costs the UK economy £48 billion a year.  Relate highlights that as well as the economic cost, there is also a profound social and human cost of poor quality relationships. NACCC’s accredited child contact services provide a safe place for children to see a parent they are no longer living with and are actively trying to reduce the impact of these distressed relationships on children which, unless resolved, can be significantly damaging to their mental health and long-term life chances.

“Broken and unhealthy relationships can lead to debt, loneliness, health problems, depression, homelessness, criminality and can have a profound effect on children’s life chances. Families can’t go on like this…” 

Chris Sherwood, Chief Executive at Relate said: “It is hugely concerning that 18% of UK married and cohabiting couples are in distressed relationships. Broken and unhealthy relationships can lead to debt, loneliness, health problems, depression, homelessness, criminality and can have a profound effect on children’s life chances. Families can’t go on like this. We need to make sure that Relate’s services are available to everyone, not just those who can afford them, but we can’t do so unless we get donations to subsidise the cost.  That is why we are launching our Breaking Point appeal today, calling on people to donate to us to help families find the answer that’s right for them, as with Relate’s support a breaking point can become a turning point.”

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