Here’s a question that came to mind on Hogmanay: why do we rarely make New Year resolutions about our relationships?

Typically we opt for an act of self-improvement like eating better, exercising more, quitting smoking or spending more time reading books that will broaden our minds and less time binge-watching Amazon Prime.

All are important in their own way but they are focused on the self and rarely have anything to do with our relationships. Certainly not directly, although eating better/exercising more can be prompted by a desire to at least partially please our significant other.

New Year sign - try a relationship resolution this New Year

Is there such a thing as a relationship resolution?

What about spending more time with your partner and less time at work? Or trying to give your full attention to a conversation instead of trying to finish it quickly so you can get back to checking Instagram? What about making a commitment to be intimate more often or for busy couples/couples with kids, making a determined effort to schedule time for sex?

As a relationship counselling provider we know good relationships are what keep humans happy, content and secure (if you don’t believe us, check out this brilliant TED Talk about the world’s longest study into what makes us happy by Harvard University. Spoiler alert: it’s good relationships!). They do not, however, get the attention they deserve and we are all guilty of neglecting them in much the same way we neglect our waistlines over Christmas.

Why we all need to invest in our relationships

It is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that important relationships are just ‘there’. Especially when it comes to the one we have with our spouse or partner.

They happen. We wake up in the morning and they are there.  They function and there’s nothing we really need to do about them. This is especially the case when we have been in a long relationship or other aspects of living where kids, careers and the natural ups and downs of life monopolise our attention.

Unhappy couple image - does you relationship need some TLC?

In reality, our relationships are living entities in their own right. Just like humans, they need to be looked after, cared for and nourished. In much the same way that the beach body you resolved to sculpt this year will require time and effort, so too does your relationship.

Sticking to that healthy eating plan requires sacrifice and dedication. Though we hate to break it to you, those post-Christmas muffin-tops won’t shrink themselves. They need time invested in exercise and a focus on nutrition to disappear. In the same way, our relationships need time and focus to maintain their health.

When life gets in the way of nurturing that most important relationship

Some of the couples that come to The Spark for counselling do, in time, trace the start of their problems back to the moment they stopped tending to their relationship. More often than not it is simply due to circumstance rather than any deliberate action.

Life gets busy and without realising it they started treating their most important relationships as just a part of getting through the day or making it to the weekend. Before long their partner was just the other person they shared a home with and relied on to get the kids to school, pay the bills and feed the family. Like a gym membership card, the relationship just gets buried under everything else and forgotten about.

We want to wish you well in whatever you have resolved to achieve this year. If you are in need of some help take a look at our advice on keeping New Year resolutions beyond mid-January. However, before you do, we would encourage you to consider making a relationship resolution this year.

Consider a relationship resolution this New Year

Instead of settling for the usual get fit/eat less chocolate/stop watching TV options, have a think about the important relationships in your life. In particular, consider the ones involving your partner, kids and close friends/family. And be honest with yourself.

Image of a bowl of Love Heart sweets. Consider making a relationship resolution this year

Did any of them get lip service last year? Has your relationship with your partner survived on the emotional equivalent of junk food? Have you got into the habit of spending more time glued to social media than talking to your kids about their day at school?

What part of your relationship needs some TLC?

Once you have considered which relationship could do with some attention, consider what aspect of it could do with a little TLC. Could you and your partner spend more time together? When was the last time you had a conversation that was not devoted to the daily/weekly checklists of family life? What fun things did you used to do together that you don’t really do now?

Could the TV be switched off at mealtimes to encourage the family to simply talk and listen to each other? Is it worth committing to getting home for bath time and a bedtime story more than once in a blue moon? Is it actually a ‘life-saver’ to ‘plug’ your child into a tablet if it means you rarely talk these days?

Relationships make us tick as humans. When they are good, we feel good. When they are bad, stale or in need of attention we tend to feel the same way.

So before committing to that ‘zero upfront and no fees until March gym membership’ have a think about committing to a relationship resolution instead this year.

Every day we pose thousands of difficult questions about many of life’s most challenging issues. But in 21st-century society, we do not put them to close friends, scientists, professional counsellors or medical professionals. We put them to Google.

That’s right – we ask the world’s most famous and dominant search engine how to sort out our lives. We in effect request guidance and wisdom from banks of servers – silicon chips with more in common with sand than humans.

Searching for answers online

A quick glance over the many articles on ‘most popular searches on Google’ (found via Google of course), gives the initial impression our queries are a mixture of tongue-in-cheek curiosity, personal development and philanthropy.

searching for answers on Google

In recent years, ‘what is twerking?’ ‘how to knit’ ‘how can I help Nepal’ and ‘how to draw’ have topped the Google ‘most searched’ lists. But looking in greater depth it is apparent many of us are turning to Google searching for answers to life’s most important and challenging questions.

Topics like ‘what is love?’ and ‘what is anxiety?’ have featured regularly in the top 10 most searched terms. Similarly searches including ‘is my marriage over?’ and ‘I can’t cope’ prove our deepest feelings are being typed across a keyboard on a daily basis. So what does Google (and other search engines) offer that appeals to us so much for these big, life-defining questions?

Why do we take life issues to Google?

Broadly there are three elements that make up the appeal of asking Google how to get our lives back on track. Firstly search engines provide access to millions of sources of information. Secondly, these sources are readily available to us at the click of a touchscreen. Thirdly it is, we believe, a confidential request of information.

But as anyone who has typed ‘sore throat and headache’ into Google and received diagnoses ranging from the mundane to the downright scary knows, access to pages and pages of information is not always helpful. Without an expert to guide you through it, the information can be more damaging than helpful as it is, fundamentally, a mixture of opinion and fact. Determining what is the former and what is the latter is a huge challenge.

What search engines don’t tell us

Constant access to the information can often be utterly counterproductive when we are in the middle of a life crisis. For example, constantly reading statistics on the probability of your marriage ending in divorce is not helpful when you are in the throes of relationship turmoil with your spouse. When our ability to self-regulate access to these ‘answers’ is damaged by circumstances, we need an external control in place to help us stop spending every waking hour mulling our problems. And as we know now, our search histories are not just between us and our iPads.

There is, however, a far better, far more effective solution than tapping away on smartphones: counselling.

Searching for answers with a guide

As leading providers of counselling and relationship support in Scotland, The Spark understands the significant benefits of counselling. Counselling offers a professional guide to help you/you and your partner through the forest of opinions, statistics and fads.

Searching for answers with a guide

It exposes us to expert knowledge and expertise and allows us to have set times when we deal with the issues we face instead of allowing them to control every thought to the detriment of our emotional and mental wellbeing. And confidentiality between the client and counsellor is absolutely enshrined in that relationship – the foundation of the profession. Ultimately counselling can provide a depth of knowledge, expertise and human empathy that search engines simply cannot recreate.

Search engines do make a huge and beneficial contribution to our lives. They keep us connected with what is happening in our world, help us to learn new skills, to eat better and to live well. But they are not the best place to take our deepest, most personal thoughts and fears when seeking help and guidance. Working with a professional counsellor is a more effective way to tackle the major questions and issues we all face in life.

Searching for answers?

If you want to talk to a counsellor about the difficulties and issues you/ you and your partner are facing, freephone 0808 802 0050 to discuss the best options for you. Alternatively, complete an enquiry form and a member of our team will contact you at a time convenient to you.

For more information about The Spark visit our website or search for your local The Spark Counselling centre. We have counselling centres across Scotland offering face-to-face, telephone and online counselling.

The Spark also provides a range of free resources to help with life’s challenges.

achieving good mental health

Nearly 60% of calls to our Relationship Helpline services are from individuals experiencing mental health issues.

According to figures from the Office for National Statistics in 2015, nearly 10 million adults in the UK are diagnosed with a mental illness each year.

That equates to nearly 1 in 4 people, with anxiety and depression making up the majority of cases.

The impact of poor mental health

the impact of poor mental health


Mental illness can be debilitating and have a very significant impact on the lives of not only sufferers but their loved ones and family.

The ability to function properly at home, in work or in education can be compromised creating a difficult cycle of further issues from financial worries, low self-esteem and other physical illnesses related to anxiety, depression and more serious psychoses.

Aiming for good mental health is therefore as important as trying to achieve good physical health.

Here are 5 ways to help move towards good mental health.

5 ways to help achieve good mental health

1. Reach out and connect

By our very nature, human beings are social animals.

Interacting with and connecting to other people provides companionship, opportunities to share and learn, and opportunities to share positive experiences.

meeting with people for good mental health

We can be supported and support others if we maintain our connections and relationships with friends, family, neighbours and colleagues.

Spend time developing these types of relationships. Further information on personal connections for good mental health.

2. Mindfulness

Mindfulness, in simple terms, is about being more aware of the present moment. Taking time to consider thoughts, feelings, your body and the world around you instead of getting caught up in the mental chatter of modern life.

Too often we are caught up in the rush and grind of daily life – going from appointment to appointment, meeting to meeting.

Mindfulness encourages us to stop and step back from this to observe the thoughts that often carry us away and the physical feelings (like the simple act of breathing in and out) we take for granted. Further information on mindfulness for good mental health.

3. Keep (or try to be more) active

Being physically active in a sport or leisure pursuit you enjoy helps maintain good mental health. Exercise releases endorphins – the body’s natural mood lifter – and provides opportunities to connect with existing or new friends.

sport and fitness for good mental health

It is not about running a marathon or becoming a super-fit gym star. It is about doing an activity that you enjoy – walking, jogging, swimming, tennis, anything really – and being active.

Further information on exercise for good mental health.

4. Learn something new

There are few things more satisfying than the sense of personal achievement that comes from learning a new skill or hobby.

Once again it is not about the type of activity or the size of the achievement, it is about what interests you. If you enjoy drawing, sign up for a beginners art class, or learn some new recipes on a cookery course.

Such activities also offer further opportunity to reach out and connect with people and provide a sense of purpose and pride in yourself.

Further information on learning for good mental health.

5. Boost your self-esteem

Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves – our self-image.

A healthy sense of self-esteem contributes to good mental health because we will feel good about ourselves, our prospects and the world in general.

Positive self-esteem comes from a combination of factors like recognising our own talents/strengths, being positive towards ourselves instead of being overly critical and accepting the positive feedback of friends and family.

Further information on boosting self-esteem.

building self esteem for good mental health

Mental health is an ongoing process and challenge for all of us. Throughout life’s ups and downs our mental health will be challenged and as the statistics indicate, many of us will face it at some stage in our lives.

But the statistics also prove you are not alone and organisations like The Spark Counselling are available to support you at every step from prevention to recovery.

Counselling and support is available

The Spark Counselling provides individual counselling, couples counselling, marriage counselling and family counselling across Scotland.

If mental illness or concerns about mental health are impacting on your relationships, talk to us about counselling options free on 0808 802 0050 or make an enquiry online.

The Spark Counselling offers face-to-face appointments, telephone and online appointment services.

You can find out more about The Spark Counselling here or search for your nearest counselling centre.

We also provide a free Relationship Helpline for immediate support via freephone 0808 802 2088 and online chat by clicking on the link in the top left corner of this page. Open Tuesday – Thursday 10am – 2pm.

Couple with relationship problems

That sense that something is not right in a relationship – with our partner, kids, family or colleagues – often comes with a real difficulty in working out what it is. We can cause ourselves more upset and unhappiness by running over endless possibilities in our minds, tip-toeing around each other or just plain ignoring it. In response the team at The Spark has created a free, online Relationship MOT to help people find a place to start.

The Spark Relationship MOT Couple facing relationship difficulties

The Spark Relationship MOT covers 6 common areas where relationships are challenged in modern society. Users can answer questions anonymously about issues covering addiction, the role of the home caregiver, financial pressures, ill health, the challenge of deciding to live together and the general topic of struggling in a relationship.

From the answers given the MOT provides a snapshot of a particular relationship at that point in time. Just like a car MOT, the survey cannot fix the issues you might be facing but it can provide clarity on where to start finding solutions with help from The Spark. Additional topics covering becoming a parent, empty nest, bereavement, retirement, seperation and parenting teens will be added later in the year.

Try the Relationship MOT online, free and in confidence.

Relationship support and advice

The Spark is available to offer a range of free and paid-for services that can help you address the issues highlighted. Our website offers a range of free guides, booklets and ‘hints and tips’ to help with many of the common relationship problems we all face. Coping with the arrival of a new baby, dealing with those difficult teenage years and finding ways to reconnect are just some of the topics covered. Check out our free resources.

For more personal support our free Relationship Helpline is available on 0808 802 2088. The helpline offers a safe, confidential space where you can discuss the issues highlighted by the Relationship MOT or your own feelings. Financial worries, stress, anxiety, infidelity and parenthood are common issues we deal with every day at The Spark.

Counselling – not as scary as it seems

Often more in-depth support in the form of face-to-face counselling is the best solution for significant difficulties. Seeking out counselling individually or as a couple can seem daunting initially. You can speak to one of our team on freephone 0808 802 0050 and discuss the counselling options available to you at one of our regional centres across Scotland. There is no obligation to make an appointment at any time and often the chance to talk about the issues is enough at that time.

Here to help

The Spark is here to help. Whether individuals, couples or families we want to help address the issues that are stopping them from moving towards better, healthier relationships. Call us free and in confidence on 0808 802 0050 or complete an enquiry form.

To keep up to date with the latest news, information and free advice follow The Spark on twitter.

As relationships, families and modern life change in Scotland, The Spark Relationship Counselling is adapting to meet those needs through technology. This year The Spark celebrates 50 years of supporting individuals, couples and families with relationship counselling and advice. An evening reception at the Scottish Parliament on 22 March provided an opportunity to look back at half a century of counselling success and demonstrate how The Spark will continue to support the people of Scotland in the years to come through online counselling and resources.

Embracing digital technology in counselling

Unveiled at the Scottish Parliament was The Spark’s Relationship MOT – a free, confidential online relationship health check. Developed by The Spark it provides a snapshot of potential sources of relationship difficulties. Feedback is provided based on a series of simple multiple choice questions.

Test out The Spark Relationship MOT online.

Where users would like to explore those issues in greater depth they can utilise The Spark’s services:

The Spark Relationship MOT

The Spark Relationship MOT covers 6 common areas where relationships are challenged in modern Scotland. Users are able to answer questions specifically about relationship problems around addiction, the role of the home caregiver, financial pressures, ill health, the challenge of deciding to live together and the general topic of struggling in a relationship. The Spark Relationship MOT – alongside The Spark’s existing online counselling chat service – demonstrates the charity’s desire to evolve as the needs of our customers change.

Try out The Spark online relationship chat service by clicking the link at the top of this page.

Blended families

21st century Scotland now features increasingly complicated, blended families. The traditional family unit that was so common has made way for all shapes and sizes of family. With those changes come new challenges to positive relationships between family members and The Spark is tackling those issues head on.

New, free resources for individuals in blended families were released this month to help provide advice and guidance. Free copies can be requested by calling Freephone 0808 802 2088

Image of The Spark's free guides to surviving the teenage years and blended families
The Spark’s new materials launched March 2016.

For more in-depth support and relationship counselling for teenagers as part of the family group, complete our Counselling enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 and a member of The Spark team will contact you to discuss face-to-face counselling. Alternatively utilise our online counselling Relationship chat function or freephone our Relationship Helpline on 0808 802 2088.

Teenagers in the digital age

The increasing challenges facing young people growing up in this digital age is another area where The Spark relationship counselling is moving with the times. With digital revolution has come the fresh challenges of young people’s relationships in the digital world. Twitter, SnapChat, WhatsApp and other social media channels have created new and complex relationships never seen before. Allied to the typical issues faced during adolescence means young people today – and their parents – face a raft of new causes of relationship distress.

In response The Spark has produced a new guide to help young people, parents and families deal with the difficult teenage years. Free hard copies can be requested by calling the Freephone 0808 802 2088.

Surviving the Teenage Years - Relationship counselling from The Spark
Surviving the Teenage Years free booklet by The Spark

For more in-depth support and relationship counselling for teenagers as part of the family group, complete our Counselling enquiry form or freephone 0808 802 0050 and a member of The Spark team will contact you to discuss face-to-face counselling. Alternatively utilise our online counselling Relationship chat function or freephone our Relationship Helpline on 0808 802 2088.