Our Relationship is Not Working – Is it Time to Break Up?

  • Sometimes a couple enters relationship counselling to determine if they should, in fact, break up. A relationship counsellor can help you answer basic questions about your relationship and decide whether it is worth salvaging.
  • If you decide to split up, a relationship counsellor can help you negotiate key separation issues like parental responsibility, financial division and living arrangements.
  • The Value of a Healthy Breakup – Far too often we fumble through breakups without a real understanding of why the relationship did not work and what our role was in the split. Working with a couples counsellor through the ending of a relationship can not only help us emotionally, but it can also assist us to move on to healthier relationships in the future.

One of the issues that attracts couples to relationship counselling is the opportunity to talk to an outside unbiased party to determine if there is anything left to salvage in the relationship. Although most of us associate couples and relationship counselling with romantic relationships, it can also be applied to friendships, work relationships and other family relationships. Although every relationship is unique and couples counsellors and psychologists have their own individual approach to counselling, there are some universal and foundational concepts when it comes to assisting couples to evaluate their relationships.


Probably one of the most basic and foundational questions that is asked in the course of relationship counselling is whether or not both parties want to salvage the relationship. In order for a relationship to move forward, no matter what the problems are, both parties must be willing to try – both parties need to be willing to invest the time and effort needed to make their relationship work. No matter how hard we try, if only one party in the relationship wants to save the relationship, then it probably will not work. We simply cannot force another person to be in love with us, want to be with us or want to work with us, no matter how hard we try to coerce their participation.

Another basic question is what are the issues that are causing the problems and why are they problems. In some cases, the problem is that there is too much hurt and anger from past history to move forward. In other cases, both parties simply need a safe place to talk and have someone mediate the conversation. Developing better and healthier communication skills is one of the most effective ways to improve a relationship. By attending couples therapy, couples can improve their ability to communicate, listen and feel heard, which greatly improves relationship satisfaction and can significantly reduce conflict (1). (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)

Another foundational question is, can you accept your partner as they are and for who they are, in this moment? Very often, the source of problems that we experience in relationships is about trying to control our partner’s behaviour, and wanting them to be different from who they are. If you are constantly dissatisfied with your partner’s behaviour and you are continually redirecting them as to how to behave, you are likely breeding feelings of contempt for your partner which will leave he or she feeling disliked by you, insecure and defensive. Whilst you can ask your partner to make some changes for you in their behaviour, a good relationship requires an underlying ethos of love and acceptance of one another.

Often, a relationship counsellor or therapist will ask you what you hope to accomplish in the therapy process. As the conversation develops, the primary and basic questions are often revealed and the counselling can progress to address those questions and find the answers.


If it turns out that a couple determines that there is not enough left to salvage the relationship, then the counsellor or psychologist has a role to play in helping you negotiate how to separate and end the relationship in the healthiest and most amicable way possible. Although many of us think of starting and being in relationship with others as the most important portions of the relationship, how we end a relationship can be just as important. Endings can be a strong determinant in how well and easily we are able to recover from the relationship and how difficult it can be to move forward into a new relationship. For couples who were in a romantic relationship and have been together for several years, ending the relationship is rarely as simple as packing a suitcase and walking out the door.

  • If there are children involved in the relationship, whether they are children of the relationship, or children from a blended family, there will need to be a discussion about how to tell the children and how to determine responsibilities for the children. These responsibilities can include spending time with the kids, financial arrangements and parental responsibility agreements.
  • Financial agreements and arrangements can also be extremely important, particularly if there is any financial disparity between the couple. For couples that have been living together for several years, agreements may need to be made regarding financial support for at least a short period of time following separation. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)
  • Living arrangements can also be a point of contention and stress for a couple who is separating. If a couple were living together, arrangements will need to be made as to where each person will live, and whether the couple’s home will be maintained by one or other party. These negotiations will be more complicated if there are children involved. Whether a couple decides to stay together or separate, it is hugely beneficial to enlist the help of a professional in order to reduce relationship conflict and distress, which can have a serious impact on children, as well as the couple (2).


Although we may not realise it at the time, how we end a relationship can have a very strong impact on our future relationships. If we think back on previous relationship breakups, it becomes clear that hurts and upsets that were the result of past breakups stay with us for many years to come.

With the help of a relationship counsellor or psychologist, couples can evaluate what worked and what did not work in their relationship. A mediated separation and breakup can allow us to break free of misguided beliefs and misconceptions that might otherwise stay with us for years to come. For example, we may believe that if we had just been supportive enough, strong enough, trusted enough and on and on, things would have worked out. The reality may be that we were two people whose needs and desires changed and outgrew each other. Or it may be that what we thought was deep love was really deep lust and the lust wore off. Whatever the reasons for the breakup, working with a counsellor through the process will allow us to do our own emotional work and more clearly understand the events surrounding the ending of our relationship. This work can be done together in a relationship counselling setting or some couples prefer to work on these aspects of the relationship independently with their own private therapist or counsellor. (This article is electronically protected – Copyright © Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney)


If you feel that your relationship is failing, or you just want to evaluate where your relationship is at, you may find that talking with a professional couples counsellor, psychologist or therapist may be very helpful. For more information or to schedule a consultation with a qualified relationship counsellor, contact Associated Relationship & Marriage Counsellors Sydney.


  • 1
    Blanchard, V. L., Hawkins, A. J., Baldwin, S. A., & Fawcett, E. B. (2009). Investigating the effects of marriage and relationship education on couples’ communication skills: a meta-analytic study. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(2), 203.
  • 2
    Cui, M., & Fincham, F. D. (2010). The differential effects of parental divorce and marital conflict on young adult romantic relationships. Personal relationships, 17(3), 331-343.
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