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Too Many Couples are in Distressed Relationships

As many as 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 relationship charity Relate. This amounts to 18% of married or cohabiting couples and 1.4 million UK families.

A distressed relationship is one with a severe level of relationship problems, which has a clinically significant negative impact on partner’s wellbeing.

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 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 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%


“Through my work I see countless couples in distressed relationships,” commented Relate counsellor, Arabella Russell. “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.”

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