Supreme Court judge, Lord Wilson of Culworth has been in the news recently following his criticism of government ministers for failing to reform divorce law. Among other issues Wilson cited the refusal of successive governments to institute no fault divorce. This has been the subject of campaigning from judges and family lawyers for some time. There has been less popular interest in the issue of no fault divorce. Partly perhaps, because many people wrongly assume that we already have this option in law.

no fault divorce
Henry VIII – the original poster boy for divorce

Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived

As everyone knows, divorce was invented in the 1500s by Strawberry blond Trump-a-like monarch, King Henry VIII. In actual fact divorce required an Act of Parliament and Henry’s marriages to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves were all annulled. Henry also cut Boleyn’s head off because, as discussed in Professor Eric Ives’s ground-breaking masterpiece The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn (2005, Blackwell Publishing) he didn’t like her anymore.

A century later, the poet John Milton published a pamphlet campaigning for divorce. In it he likened the inability to end an unhappy marriage to:

“two carcasses chained unnaturally together ; or, as it may happen, a living soul bound to a dead corpse”

(John Milton 1644, On the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce)

This tells us that:

  1. Divorce was still contrary to cannon law in the 17th century, and
  2. The Milton’s were having problems

While a form of divorce was made available in the 1690s, this was only open to men and the very wealthy. It has been argued that until the 19th century:

“Mortality rates were so high that…death often did the work then that divorce does now in cutting marriages short. Even those spouses who refrained from giving mortality a little push must sometimes have greeted the death of a spouse with, shall we say, mixed emotions”

(Frances E Dolan 2008, Marriage and Violence: The Early Modern Legacy, page 53)

no fault divorce
John Milton – a fan of divorce

The Matrimonial Causes Act 1857

“We are not here, Mr. Adam, to secure your happiness, but to preserve the institution of marriage and the purity of the home. And, therefore, one of you must commit adultery …”

(A.P. Herbert 1934, source: Parliament UK)

In the mid-1800s divorce finally became available to ordinary people and to both sexes. Awards did favour men and women were more restricted as to grounds for divorce. Until well into the 20th century it was often necessary for a woman petitioning for divorce to prove adultery. When the couple wished to part on mutual agreement it was not uncommon for the husband to do the decent thing: agree to be the ‘guilty party’ then hire a prostitute, a detective with a camera and a hotel room to be ‘caught’ in.  Some detectives (and guest houses) specialised in this service.

The Divorce Reform Act 1969

The current law gives five grounds for divorce which can be found under the Government webpage ‘Get a Divorce’. (If the Government is reading this, ‘How to Get a Divorce’ might sound a little more like guidelines and a little less like a suggestion). These grounds are:

  1. Adultery
  2. Unreasonable behaviour
  3. Desertion
  4. You have lived apart for more than 2 years (if both partners agree) or
  5. You have lived apart for at least 5 years (if only one partner agrees)

There are many loopholes in this list. For one thing guidelines state that ‘The law recognises the act of adultery as sexual intercourse between a man and a woman’. This means that if you are in a gay marriage with a spouse who is unfaithful (or, for that matter, a man whose wife has slept with every woman she’s met since your honeymoon) then in law, this doesn’t count as adultery.

You’d imagine that most judges would see this as ‘unreasonable behaviour’. The problem is, it is up to the judge to make that call.

This issue was brought to the media’s attention recently in the case of Tini Owens. Ms Owens had petitioned for divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour.  She had had an affair and wished to end the marriage. But her husband (in a bout of passive aggression worthy of an Irish mother) would not agree to the divorce saying that he had forgiven her. Judge Robin Toulson, QC refused to grant the divorce and now Ms Owens is left with a five year stretch before she can start proceedings again to end her marriage.

Finding fault

Judge Toulson’s ruling was unusual but it highlights, firstly that getting out of an unhappy marriage isn’t always your choice; but also that often the default ground for divorce is unreasonable behaviour. Many people go with this option when they feel the marriage is over. But there is nothing as dramatic or concrete to point to as adultery or desertion.

This means that even when a couple wish to part amicably and by mutual consent, the most straightforward and least acrimonious route for divorce is that one partner must be cited as being to blame for the breakdown of the marriage.

no fault divorceMoving on positively

Once a couple has decided on divorce counselling is often considered a lost cause. In reality breaking up and moving on is as much part of relationships as dating, starting a family or any other transition and perhaps requires even more support.

Relationship counselling can create a safe, confidential and non-judgemental space where you can both look deeper at what might have been at the root of your marriage problems. Crucially it offers a chance to recognise your own part in why the relationship did not work.  This can make a huge difference. Not only facilitating your communication through the divorce process itself. But helping everyone involved to move forward to amicable shared parenting and more positive relationships in the future.

Dear husband/wife, you are charged with the following…

Even with the support of a counsellor, this kind of honesty takes courage and hard work. What cannot help this process is having the legal requirement to select an ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’ party. Plus a formal list of faults that the ‘guilty’ person is formally charged with.

Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution writes:

“Removing the need to allege fault on the part of one party would encourage parties to look forward rather than at what has happened in the past and would facilitate a constructive focus on future arrangements and responsibilities in the best interests of the children”. (Family Law April 2015)

These days it is no longer necessary to break with the Church of Rome, decapitate your unwanted spouse, wait for them to die or be the perfect gentleman and get caught with your trousers down. But if divorce is to signal a period of learning and moving on, rather than a battlefield that perpetuates bitterness and repeated mistakes we should have the option to end our marriages without assigning blame and have greater access to counselling to support us through the transition and help us move on positively.


Counselling for divorce and separations

Divorce counselling or separation counselling aims to help individuals come to terms with the emotions created by the end of a relationship. Reconciliation is not the objective of separation counselling. Instead it aims to help each individual reflect on the underlying emotions, deal with grief and anger, come to terms with what has happened and manage the impact of separation amicably.

Furthermore separation counselling can help individuals make the best of future relationships and parent apart successfully, improving outcomes for themselves and their children.

For more information contact our enquiries team on freephone 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

social media

3 tips to stop social media wrecking relationships

Social media is becoming ever more intertwined in our lives and relationships. In an earlier blog we looked at the concept of the ‘digital shadow’ and the risk to relationships between parents and children. The conclusion being that parents who share every aspect of a child’s life on social media risk damage to their future relationship.

social mediaSocial media and relationships

Social media can of course enhance and advance good relationships. The opportunity to connect families living thousands of miles apart in shared experiences is just one example of the positive impact of platforms like Facebook. However social media has created a whole new type of risk to positive relationships amongst families and friends.

A virtual ‘sharing’ society has been created by social media. In that process we have all – willingly – opened up aspects of our lives that were previously hidden. Dates, family gatherings, nights out and the like are now all open to anyone who is interested. With that accessibility comes some risks.

I know what you did last Friday night

For example, recruiters are now using social media extensively to vet potential candidates. Suddenly that picture from last Friday night of your cousin, drunk as a skunk and fast asleep in the pub is not so funny or harmless.

It used to be a joke to say that families out for dinner do not talk as everyone is just scrolling through Instagram or Facebook on smartphones. Now it is a depressing reality; mum, dad, daughter and son wired to their social media feeds. Often son/daughter also have their headphones in – literally present in body but not mind.

Some words cannot be deleted

social mediaA distressing by-product of social media can be its power to create feelings of jealousy, envy and low self-esteem. As a friend or family member captures every moment of their ‘perfect’ life on Instagram, others genuinely struggle to get by.  It is not inconceivable that relationships might be irrevocably damaged because jealousy leads to hurt, anger and eventually boils over in to harmful words/actions that cannot be deleted as easily as a post or tweet.

Relationships are what make humans tick. The belief that they keep us happy and healthy is now a proven fact. They need to be protected and looked after (a bit like a Tamagotchi – remember them?!).

But social media is here to stay so how do we enjoy the benefits of what it has to offer without compromising our most important relationships? Here are 3 tips.

Social media tip 1: Be in the room

It will sound ridiculously simple but spend time with the people you are physically in the same space with. When you are visiting family or spending time with friends, be present. Leave phones at the door or put them on flight-safe mode.

Talk, enquire, respond, laugh and cry with the people in the room. Be ‘social’ with the people right in front of you. Make that network the one you focus on during your time with them. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will still be there when you head home after visiting your family.

Social media tip 2: Think before you post

A concept wasted on many people (high profile world leaders included). Before tapping the post button ask yourself: who might see this? In the context of work emails the aphorism has been ‘don’t send something you wouldn’t like your boss to see’. For the social media sphere we can adapt to ‘don’t tweet/post something you wouldn’t want… mum/dad/husband/wife/friends to see’.

It is not a call to censor what you do on social media. Consider it an opportunity to be empathetic and considerate to your network of friends. You may love your new-born baby and want to share pictures of them every day but what about your friend who is going through infertility treatment?

social media switch offSocial media tip 3: Do social media then switch off

A radical thought but set time aside to be social online and then switch off. Enjoy the opportunity to be social with the people around you as much as those you only know by their Instagram handle.

Social media has given us a severe case of FOMO – fear of missing out. What is he/she saying? Did you see her pics on Instagram? Why are people tweeting about Boaty McBoatface? The cure is of course to switch off and spend less time online. Occupy your mind (and those twitching thumbs) with a book, exercise, or – shock horror – actually using your smartphone to call your mum for a chat.

Soon you will realise that the world will not stop turning if you ignore Twitter and spend an hour having coffee with a friend. Donald Trump will still have offended a person/city/gender/country when you check in later.

Related article: Social media and celebrity


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services or take a look at our free resources for couples, parents and families.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems. Find out more about the Relationship Helpline which offers telephone and online support.

Conversation

Poor communication can be a starting point for relationship problems. Whether between married couples, parents and children, amongst friends or work colleagues, bad communication helps no one.

Even amidst the rise of social media our primary means of communication remains the same now as it was before the telephone (let alone the mobile phone) was invented: the humble conversation.

A conversation may seem like a simple thing to do. And therefore impossible to get wrong. I talk, you listen, then you talk and I listen. It is of course much more complicated than that, especially when it is an important one.

In this inspiring talk, Celeste Headlee takes us through her top 10 tips on how to have a better conversation.

cram our relationships

Humans love to cram. We cram for exams, cram for interviews and cram before that big presentation at work. A whole 24-episode TV boxset gets crammed in to a weekend and we cram our plates at the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Our modern lives are often described as ‘time poor’ leaving us more inclined, or feeling we have no option other than to cram. Which lays the foundation for an important question: can we cram our relationships?

Can we cram our relationships?

Cramming works in many situations. I recall university friends reciting the ‘C’s get degrees’ mantra as they crammed for exams after a semester of bunking off lectures. The ‘night before’ cram for an interview can often lead to a job offer. And it is nigh on impossible to find anyone who does not enjoy cramming ‘just one more episode’ of Game of Thrones or Homeland in before bed.

What does that mean for our relationships? Are they the next thing to be crammed?

Sadly the truth is that whether we made a conscious decision to or not, we are already guilty of cramming our relationships.

cram our relationships
Sometimes it feels like 6 hands are just not enough…

Get ready to cram some more

Britons are working longer hours than ever before due to economic uncertainty, the rising cost of living and falling incomes. The net result is a sense that we must cram domestic duties, leisure pursuits and relationships in to whatever time remains after work.

This is compounded by the messages we are bombarded with about self-improvement and how to ‘be happy’. Eat well, keep fit, expand your horizons, get up early, sleep for at least 7 hours a day, watch the latest show, read more, tweet, post, become an Instagram star and a lot more besides. Add that up and we inevitably cram our relationships.

Cramming sometimes works

Occasionally cramming for relationships can work. For example when a couple have both been working long hours for several weeks or hardly see each other, a night away can be an excellent relationship booster. But it is not a long term solution.

Why? Simply put, when we cram our relationships we send a message:  what I am doing when I’m not with you is more important.

Cramming couples

There is no way around it. Cramming relationships for any extended period of time sends out that message. Rarely is it intended but it gets through.

The Spark Counselling works with many couples who drift apart because their relationship has been crammed. In the majority of cases neither party has ever uttered the words ‘my time spent on [insert your particular relationship issue here] is more important than you’. But one or both have ended up feeling like it was said every single day.

For [insert your particular relationship issue here] there are an infinite number of possible problems. The one you placed there could be unique to you but it is just as important and worthy of discussion as the common ones like work, alcohol, drugs or other people.

cram our relationships
Could we squeeze in an extra hour?

So can we cram our relationships?

Of course we can. But hopefully in reading this post you will have realised the more appropriate question is this: should we cram our relationships? And the answer to that is a resounding no.

Instead we should focus on setting time aside every day to properly accommodate our relationships. To achieve that the first step for many individuals and couples is to examine what they do with their time.

We only get 24 hours each day to work, rest, play and spend time with those we care about. Contrary to what self-help books, life coaches and management gurus say, we cannot ‘make time’. We can only allocate time.

Does something need to drop off your priority list in order to make that time for your partner? Are you guilty of being a ‘cramming couple’? Perhaps tonight instead of cramming in ‘just one more episode’ it would be worth allocating that time to be with your loved one.


Making relationships work

The Spark’s mission is a simple one: to make relationships work.

Through counselling – for couples, individuals, families and children – and support services The Spark aims to make relationships in Scotland work. We operate from 17 locations providing local counselling and support.

Find out more about our counselling services.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for anyone coping with relationship problems plus our free Relationship MOT quiz.

Fix You Coldplay

Songs for Sound Minds #11 – ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay

Our series of music that uplifts, inspires and boosts mental health is on to track 11 and it is stadium-shaking rock anthem ‘Fix You’ by Coldplay.

Fix You – Coldplay


Few songs can be as simultaneously heart breaking and heart-warming as Fix You by Coldplay. Arguably the best of their now signature stadium anthems, Fix You is a celebration of those who care about us enough to help through the rough times. Underpinning the track is a message about accepting help even when we feel like it won’t make a difference or we don’t deserve it.

Fix You Coldplay

The story behind Fix You

The origin of Fix You sets the tone for its lyrics and composition. Following the death of Gwyneth Paltrow’s father Bruce, her then husband and Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin penned the song to help her through her grief. Martin had intended to use a church organ for the track. But in a beautiful and tragic twist Martin was unable to access one and instead used an old keyboard that Bruce Paltrow had bought shortly before his death.

“My father-in-law Bruce Paltrow bought this big keyboard just before he died. No one had ever plugged it in. I plugged it in, and there was this incredible sound I’d never heard before. All these songs poured out from this one sound. Something has to inspire you, and something else takes over.” Chris Martin.

What followed was a track that Martin himself described as “probably the most important song we’ve ever written”.

In times of trouble we can end up turning away help from friends and loved ones. Fix You reminds us that those same people want to be there for us. Not out of a sense of obligation or duty. But out of their love and care for us.

They may not be able to fix us but in times of trouble we should let them at least try.


#SongsForSoundMinds are our picks of the music written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more #SongsforSoundMinds or suggest a track on Twitter using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day balloonsThe cards are in the shops. The adverts for champagne and chocolates are on the TV. Pink love hearts are popping up everywhere. We cannot fail to notice it is Valentine’s Day very soon.

The annual celebration of love puts high value on grand ideas and romance. Couples that have been together for a long time can naturally feel a bit removed from this. Life gets in the way and spontaneity can begin to decline. Grand gestures make way for a simple exchange of cards and little else.

Does that mean Valentine’s Day is unimportant when you have been together a long time? Definitely not.

Valentine’s Day is still important

Everyone has an opinion on 14th February. Some think it is romantic and a date to be strictly observed and never missed. Couples can spend hundreds of pounds on gifts, a romantic meal or getaway. Others are horrified at the commercialism of your favourite restaurant charging double for the same meal you had last week. Whatever your opinion on Valentine’s it is important to ask whether it is the same as your partner’s perspective?

Valentine’s is only for ‘young love’

It is not unusual to meet couples who have been together for a while saying that they “don’t celebrate Valentine’s” and that it is “only for young love”. But behind the seeming disapproval of its commercialisation and contentment not to be involved there can be an individual who is secretly coveting a bit of attention.

On this one day of the year they might actually be desperate to get a surprise or enjoy a day that is not just like every other Tuesday. The bottom line is this: ask and do not assume, even if you have been together for 20 or 30 years.

Valentine's Day cuddly toyRemind them how valuable they are

Just because Valentine’s Day has not been a big deal for you and your partner in the past couple of years does not mean that is still the case. Where an individual has experienced a difficult time – perhaps due to the loss of a parent or loved one – they might really need a day of being reminded how valuable they are.

That of course is not to say that valuing your partner equates to how much you spend. Despite what jewellers, restaurants and travel websites tell us, a genuine demonstration of love is far more precious. Simple things mean the most like preparing a meal on Valentine’s Day at home or booking him/her in to a local spa for a massage.

In making an effort to celebrate your love as a couple, it is the little gestures that mean the most. A kiss, a hug, a rose picked from the garden are the kinds gestures that hold our partners close and keep the spark alive. Whether it’s your 1st, your 15th or your 30th anniversary this year, celebrate your love.

Happy Valentine’s Day.


Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.

 

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is meant to be about love and relationships. For couples just starting out in a relationship it can end up feeling like an obstacle course full of opportunities for misunderstandings, overblown efforts and underwhelming gifts.

To help couples navigate that first Valentine’s Day we have 3 simple tips to help you both enjoy your day.

1. Talk about Valentine’s Day in advance

 

Valentine's Day heartTalk to your new partner about what you should do as a couple for Valentine’s Day. Communication is the foundation of a good relationship no matter how long or short it has been. In the build up to Valentine’s Day, particularly for new relationships, it is essential.

The 14th February is a potential banana-skin for any relationship. It is loaded with expectations and often, assumptions. Not to mention the peer pressure of what his/her friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend did for them/bought for them being broadcast on social media.

If you like your new partner a lot but are not quite madly in love yet you might feel a card is sufficient. When you turn up to your work to a bouquet of roses, a giant novelty card, cuddly toy and an invite to dinner at the priciest restaurant in town, you might wish you had talked about it beforehand.

Valentine's Day -James Nesbitt Cold Feet Rose
James Nesbitt’s Adam serenades Rachel (uncomfortably) in Cold Feet.

2. Romantic gestures in the movies and TV rarely translate well into real life

Whether it was Adam wearing nothing but a single red rose for Rachel in Cold Feet or Colin Firth proposing to Aurelia in Love Actually, we love sweeping, romantic gestures. But in real life they can sometimes be, at best, embarrassing or, at worst, a relationship breaker.

If you have had a discussion with your new partner in advance you should be clear on where they stand. For some a grand romantic gesture on your first Valentine’s Day would bring them nothing but joy. For others it will be mortifying. Knowing how you both feel about the day and your relationship will avoid any potentially painful (the thorns on that rose – ouch!) embarrassment.

Few relationships blossom or whither on the basis of a single Valentine’s Day so really think about what your new partner would enjoy most.

3. Agree on gifts or no gifts (and no surprises)

 

The question of gifts and their value is another minefield for that first Valentine’s Day together. Initially there is the stomach churning awkwardness of saying “you shouldn’t have” as you exchange your £1.50 card for a bracelet and a first edition of the Velveteen Rabbit. Then comes confusion and hurt from a complete misunderstanding of the status of your relationship and its perceived value.

Agreeing whether to get gifts or not and a price limit is a great idea. For that first Valentine’s Day agreeing no gifts but to share a night out/night in is a good starting point. If one of you is excited to give a gift (“I’ve seen something you will really like!”) then agree a realistic price limit. Once that is agreed, stick to the agreement! Do not ‘just get something anyway’. Instead of your partner feeling great they are likely to end up feeling guilty for not surprising you.

 

These conversations might feel awkward at the time but they are a good way of avoiding more difficult ones later. And they can go a long way to helping keep expectations in check and avoid the hurt of Valentine’s Day disappointment.


Relationship tips and advice

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling and support charity. We exist to help make relationships work for everyone in Scotland.

You can follow us on Facebook and Twitter for tips and advice on making your relationships work. We also offer a range of free relationship resources on our website to help with the problems we all face in life.

Growing up on social media

When it comes to posting pictures on social media we tend to operate a bit like the archetypal cowboy in a spaghetti Western; ‘shoot’ the picture first, ask questions later. This minor epiphany came to mind after reading an article about parents, kids and social media.

Growing up on social mediaGrowing up on social media

The feature posed this question: should parents stop posting pictures of their children online? Not because it is annoying/boring/infuriating for their friends/followers. Instead due to the ‘digital shadow’ they are creating for their child – a treasure trove of embarrassing moments from potty training to the first time they tried to put makeup on.

Should we think before sharing pictures of our kids as they grow up? In the context of maintaining and building strong, positive relationships the answer is yes.

Parent – child relationships and social media

No generation before the ‘millennials’ had to deal with the aftermath of a digital shadow. Of course almost all of us can recall parents showing our new boyfriend/girlfriend embarrassing pictures of us when we were little. That was in a far more intimate and limited setting compared to the realities of growing up on social media.

Nowadays that image (or more likely video) can be shared with hundreds of people. If the parent in question is not particularly savvy with privacy settings, that could multiply to thousands. And it is there to stay. Online and visible until mum/dad work out how to delete their profile or Mark Zuckerburg pulls the plug on Facebook.

Related article: Teens, relationships and social media

Self-image on social media

Growing up on social media
Sarah had just found her mum’s Facebook profile…

Advance a few years and your little darling is now a pre-teen/early teen with their own social media persona. How are they likely to react to all those – undoubtedly cute at the time – pictures and videos? Coming to terms with self-image is one of the toughest issues for adolescents to cope with (and judging by social media, many adults too).

From a relationship perspective maintaining a positive connection between parent and teen through adolescences is naturally a significant challenge. Toss a digital shadow in to the mix for an image conscious teen and the damage could be significant.

The original article that sparked this post went as far as to ask whether parents should seek permission to pre-empt legal action by their offspring later in life. In the USA (somewhat unsurprisingly) there have been attempts to make ‘shaming’ kids online (those potty training pictures again) an offence under law. This all feels too much and plain silly. Can you imagine asking your 2 year-old to slap a palm print on an image rights contract?

Perhaps the answer is much simpler. We should try to be less like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood. Think first and then ‘shoot’.


Relationship counselling and support

The Spark is a leading relationship counselling charity. Through counselling and support for couples, individuals and families across Scotland we help our clients understand and improve their most important relationships. We operate from 17 locations with a team of professional counsellors highly skilled in relationship problems.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team free on 0808 802 0050.

Marriage counselling

marriage counsellingThe first month or so of the year can feel like a really challenging period for many couples. A sort of post-Christmas hangover sets in. Credit card bills and the unsettled arguments that were put on hold for Christmas rear their ugly heads. But often a difficult Christmas and New Year is the symptom of more significant underlying issues.

Marriage counselling case study

In this blog we are looking at a real life case study from a couple who sought help from The Spark. Before starting marriage counselling towards the end of 2016, Lucy felt at times that her marriage to Stevie was all but over. Both of them were under great pressure and faced the prospect of an extremely challenging New Year.

At work today everyone appears to have the ‘winter blues’.  Although I’m glad to get through January, I feel thankful that the Christmas break was a good time. The normal family rows were noisy, but we coped and managed to deal with them, with lots of laughter and fun around.  It feels like quite a change since, over the last year, there were times I thought my marriage was ending. 

Related article: 10 ways to beat the winter blues

Looking back with the knowledge Stevie and I now have, we realise there were lots of events that affected us without us realising.  As a couple we were hardly functioning; rows would erupt over the silliest things such as who did the most housework. We’d be trying to justify ourselves to each other.  At times we were indifferent to each other.

Facing separation and divorce

marriage counselling to avoid divorceAs a last gasp I contacted a free helpline run by The Spark. Just talking about what had been happening and having someone with expertise listen gave me the courage to open up with Stevie. In what became a last ditch attempt to save our marriage we decided to try marriage counselling.

Related content: The Relationship Helpline

The counsellor was warm and friendly. She must at times have thought we were the worst couple she had ever worked with! Arguing in front of her with voices raised and angry comments, I half expected her to say we had no hope. But she never judged us or criticised us. It became clear very quickly that she simply wanted to help us.

Love and sex turned to familiarity and schedules

We attended 6 marriage counselling sessions and discussed events over probably the past 8 years of our marriage. Early on we had had trouble getting pregnant. It sounds like a cliché – I guess it is – but love had settled into having sex at the dictate of a hormonal cycle. I was surprised that discussing this seemed to make us both emotional and we realised that we both experienced an intense emotional strain during that process.

Stevie had tried to cope alone and in the session said he really wanted to support me but the disappointments were distressing and really hard on him. Thinking back I had been completely caught up in the process of trying to get pregnant and completely unaware of what Stevie had been experiencing.

During the counselling we talked about what happened following on from those struggles. We eventually fell pregnant and had two beautiful children. We both thought our lives would then feel ‘complete’.

When marriage starts to feel like a trudge

But I experienced a brief period of depression and our children did not sleep for the first two years.  Combined with childcare concerns and trying to cope with work our life was feeling like a never ending slog.

Our parents too were struggling. Stevie’s dad was ill and that was tough. He’s a big guy who never seemed to ever be ill but ended up having a major heart attack. It was a body blow for Stevie because he had always been close to his dad.  His mum struggled to cope with the aftermath and my parents had their own worries.

Without realising what had happened our roles seemed to have changed and we were now supporting our parents. Counselling helped us to talk through those experiences. I will not lie – it was an emotional process. But we really found our connection again by sharing and discussing the feelings we had had during those difficult times. Feelings we had never properly communicated to each other at the time.

We laughed and at times we were furious with each other. Marriage counselling helped us to understand that this all boiled down to something common to many couples: each of us felt justified in being angry for whatever reason but thought it was dismissed by the other. At times we had to own up to our share of responsibility for what had upset us at times. It was hard and a bit uncomfortable but really worth it.

Drifting apart

Marriage counselling helped us to understand that over time we had drifted apart. We were both  seething under the surface and at times lonely.  With our counsellor we developed strategies to listen to each other and spend time together. We would arrange a sneaky coffee at lunchtime so we could meet up. Sometimes we’d put the kids in nursery, take the day off work but tell no one we were free. We felt like naughty school kids!

Going in to 2017 we are going to monitor for when life becomes a trudge. We have learned to talk about our emotions. We’ve learned its ok to cry or be angry because we understand we will still love each other through it. We understand the value of talking and saying thank you for the little things that show how much we appreciate each other.


Counselling and support

The early months of a new year can be a difficult time for couples and families. Relationship issues, financial worries and depression are common at this time.

We provide private marriage counselling, couple counselling and support across Scotland. Our BACP and COSCA accredited counsellors are based in 17 locations and are ready to help your marriage.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team free on 0808 802 0050.

counselling session

Deciding to try counselling usually comes after a lengthy period trying to solve problems by yourself or as a couple. Depending on what type of person you are, the idea of talking to a ‘stranger’ about deeply personal issues in a counselling session can create anything between ‘a little’ to ‘off the scale’ levels of anxiety.

One of the biggest challenges is not knowing what to expect. Popular misconceptions (often found online) could put anyone off so to challenge them, we are going to look at what actually happens in a counselling session.

Why might I need counselling?

counselling session for stressA popular misconception is that seeing a counsellor must mean you are ‘sick’, mentally ill or ‘weak’ (because you should be able to ‘sort yourself out’). Counselling can support people suffering from specific mental health problems like depression.

But in the main counselling is about helping people work through the challenges we all face in life – like managing stress, difficult relationships, affairs, anxiety or coping with bereavement.

Where relationship concerns are at the heart of the issue, there can be a stigma around having a ‘bad relationship’ because you are seeking counselling. It is easy but wrong to equate a couple in counselling as ‘a relationship on the rocks’. Often that can lead to one partner seeking couple or marriage counselling on behalf of both parties. Understandably this comes with nervousness around telling/bringing their partner, fearing further damage might be done.

But counselling aims to create a safe, confidential environment in which you can explore difficult issues. This can be as an individual, couple or family unit. The objective being to help you – the client – understand how those issues impact upon you and ways to manage them. That is what we do here at The Spark.

Are all counsellors the same?

One common element bonds all counsellors – that is the duty of care to their client and the confidentiality that exists between counsellor and client. Counsellors are accredited and work to professional standards set down by governing bodies like BACP or COSCA. Like doctors they may have areas of specialism or use different therapeutic approaches to help clients.

Find out more about different approaches.

How do I find a counsellor who is right for me?

Relationship MOT counselling session
Related link: The Relationship MOT

One of the advantages of counselling with an organisation like The Spark is that we have a team of counsellors working across our counselling centres. We can find someone who will be best suited to help you with the issues you are facing, instead of having to contact several individual counsellors.

It is quite common for clients to be unsure of what is troubling them, creating difficulties in other areas of their lives and relationships.

Please do not worry if you are not sure what you are struggling with. The Spark has counsellors to help with your specific needs. If you are not sure what is troubling you our free, confidential Relationship MOT is a good place to start.

What is a counselling session like?

The first counselling session is an opportunity to talk about all the issues that have been distressing you. If you are attending with a partner or family member the neutral space allows you both to share your worries respectfully. Even if there has been considerable conflict in a relationship to begin with, counselling can assist in developing a mutual understanding.

A counsellor will never judge you or criticise you. What you say will be held in the strictest of confidence and not disclosed. Anything you feel you need or want to say is fine to be discussed in counselling.

How can counselling help me?

Counselling involves working with your counsellor to understand where issues come from and why they are upsetting you.

For instance in a difficult relationship we may express our distress by arguing all the time. Typical issues might range from the important – how we parent our children – to the relatively trivial (who takes out the bins). A counsellor can help you to understand why these arguments occur and pinpoint patterns of repetition.

Repeated arguments can be a way of avoiding dealing with difficult issues. Under the surface the verbal battles might really be saying something like ‘I need you to listen’ or ‘I need you to show you care for me’.  Counselling can help identify these issues and develop strategies to use at home such as scheduling peaceful timeslots with no distractions to talk and reconnect. A counsellor will often help clients understand the stages that lead up to ‘losing it’. With that knowledge clients can learn to express themselves in a constructive way.

So I just go to the sessions and I’ll feel better?

Effective counselling is as much about what you do after the counselling session as what happens during it. A solution to your current situation might involve some kind of behaviour change. That of course will be more effective the more you practice it outside of your counselling appointments.

For example couples with children setting aside a dedicated time to talk and be with each other, with no distractions and no children.

counselling sessionsIf a counselling session is just about talking, why not talk to a friend?

Talking to friends is important if you are facing a specific life challenge. Having support around you is very important. However counselling is completely unique because you can talk with complete honesty.

When speaking to a friend or family member it can often be hard to be completely honest. There is a fear of fear of hurting their feelings or upsetting them too. Speaking to a counsellor frees you from this. They are an impartial individual who sits completely out with your circle of family and friends.

Will a counsellor tell me what to do?

No. A counsellor is not there to tell you what to do or how to approach your life. A counsellor helps you work through important issues so that you can determine what is the best approach for you.

Counselling is about helping you to understand the issues challenging you in life and work out how to tackle them.

Find out more about counselling or complete an enquiry form. You can also call our enquiries team on freephone 0808 802 0050.