Why I Disrespect Relate for Couples Counselling

The marriage

The marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my ex and I were separating we went to UK marriage counsellors Relate. Three years later I have consolidated my thinking on what Relate is and what it stands for.

I won’t write too personally here because, of course, my ex is not here to put his side of the story, he is very private, and we are very amicable and I wish it thus, but here goes:

Dear Relate,

It is now three years since my husband and I came to you for counselling. Since that time I have done an enormous amount of ‘work on myself’, as the cliché goes, on researching what marriage means, on what makes a good marriage and learned about and experienced the consequences of separation and divorce.

In retrospect I believe that the service we received from Relate was ultimately unhealthy and unsupportive. Don’t get me wrong, our counsellor was very skilled and at the time I thought the process was worth doing. But I had doubts even then and these have become stronger as time has gone by.


Because it is my belief that Relate is neutral about marriage. It sees marriage as something that should bring about individual happiness and personal fulfilment rather than as a covenant with ethical obligations.  There was no leadership. At no time were we told that marriage is not a lifestyle choice but that it is a moral, physical, emotional and spiritual commitment and that we had better take that seriously and get proper help for our damaged marriage even if that meant separating for some time while each of us worked on our separate issues and healing with individual counselling (elsewhere).

Our Relate counsellor even told me that they had to “go with the person who wants to leave.”  While I do believe that in the end we did need to separate I am uneasy about the lack of support for marriage as a whole and I worry that other couples, whose marriages may be salvageable, will suffer. I have heard other people express unease about Relate.

It is true that we both broke the marriage – I take full responsibility for my part in its demise – but never was there the message that there might be an alternative to divorce.  Was it worth it? Is Relate’s ethos of people finding personal happiness right, morally?

The message I subliminally received at Relate was that divorce is no big deal, we would both ‘repartner’, and it would all work out for the best. This was an attitude that was at its height in the 1970s when no-fault divorce was a new thing. Yes, it freed many people from ghastly marriages that were prisons for those in them but today, in the 2010s, we need counsellors who will do everything they can to help couples look at the bigger picture BEFORE they make that decision. Certainly, if after every avenue has been tried it is clear that the problems are too great or the dynamic is just plain wrong or toxic separation and divorce must ensue – as it will do for us.

I have been helped so much by my divorce group at the Church. If I meet someone in the future I would go for pre-marital counselling, probably Christian-based, would look to have my marriage or relationship supported by the community around me, and I would not recommend others to Relate if only one of the spouses wants to save the marriage.

I could write reams about this subject but this is where I’ll end for now.