Preventing relationship problems

The Spark Relationship Helpline provides a helpline service which aims to prevent relationship problems from escalating and also to provide crisis support.

Evidence shows that parental relationships affect children (positively and negatively) from before birth and right through childhood.  So, supporting parental relationships is vital to ensure that children and families thrive.

For example, Paul phoned the helpline about his relationship with his wife of nine years.  He said that he thought his wife was having an affair.  When he challenged her, she said it was 'only a kiss' but he was distraught.  Through speaking to him, it emerged that they had lost a baby late in pregnancy, and although they had since had two lovely girls, they were unhappy.  They were arguing constantly and had stopped listening to and talking to each other.  Neither of them felt supported by the other when they lost the baby. Their children were unsettled, particularly the youngest, who had cried and had health problems since birth.

The helpline helped Paul to talk about his feelings and understand what was going on.  He said he felt calmer and could see that grief had stopped him and his wife from talking to each other; and that from that time the relationship had deteriorated.  He realised that he was constantly asking her for attention and confirmation of her love.  After speaking to the helpline, he said he felt better and more confident about talking to his wife about his feelings.  He also understood that she might also be feeling the same way. He decided to call the helpline in a week's time to talk further.

Stress on parental relationships can come from outside, such as pressure to be the perfect parent.  In the case of Laura, what had started out as a dream second marriage was almost at breaking point.  She said that her stepdaughter was 'wrecking their relationship'.  She said that her husband felt guilty about not being around for his daughter; and 'let her do anything she liked' in their home.  This was combined with 'blaming messages' from his ex-wife.  Laura said she was not being listened to, felt unloved and had to 'play second fiddle' to her stepdaughter.  Talking helped her to understand her feelings.  She felt in competition with her stepdaughter and this brought back memories of not feeling confident in the past.  Realising this helped her to find a way forward for herself and for the whole family.

Ongoing conflict and emotional stress has a negative effect.  Parents who are constantly in turmoil can be emotionally unavailable to their children and lack of connection damages their development and long-term future outcomes.

It is important for parents to model good relationships, love, communication and respect.  Arguments do not have to be detrimental; when resolved they demonstrate problem solving skills and help children to understand that, although they do not always agree, people can work things through.  Observing parents resolving arguments, and working through problems, adversity and transition, teaches essential life skills and builds resilience to deal with the problems which everyone encounters in life.

Good adult relationships are mutually satisfying, life affirming and healthy for couples and also for their children.  Working with a trusted, knowledgeable source can help people work out problems, see what lies underneath and find ways forward.

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