Ruby Wax: Relationship breakdown is £51bn problem we must fix

Nearly three million adults in the UK are in '˜distressed' relationships, which may have lasting effects on their children, writes Ruby Wax.

Children whose parents have a positive relationship are likely to form similarly strong bonds when they grow up

Strong and healthy relationships are fundamental to our mental and physical health. I know this from personal experience and from the inspiring people I’ve met across the UK on my Frazzled tour. According to new research – involving more than 5,000 UK adults published by relationship support charity, Relate, and The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) – 93 per cent of the general public also agree with me.

The relationships around us begin affecting our lives from the day we are born. If your parent’s relationship is strong, chances are you’ll form healthy relationships in the future and have a positive relationship with yourself. This is the ideal scenario, but for so many people, it doesn’t work out that way. Currently, almost three million adults in the UK are in what would be classified as a “distressed” relationship and, without the right support available, the consequences can be devastating.

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Research suggests people in distressed relationships are three times as likely to experience a mood disorder, such as depression as those in healthy relationships. It’s partly because of this strong link between relationships and mental health that I was drawn to take on the role as president of Relate. But my support of the charity goes beyond this. Look at any other big issue affecting our society – homelessness, domestic abuse, substance misuse or loneliness – and distressed relationships are also at the core. Add to this the fact that relationship breakdown now costs the UK taxpayer an estimated £51 billion and it’s clear that something needs to be done.

We know that relationship counselling works: it has been shown to improve relationship quality, relationship satisfaction, conflict resolution skills, well-being and mental health, in turn reducing pressure on public services. The sad reality is, however, that many families on low incomes are unable to afford support. This is tragic, given the additional pressures low-income couples often face on their relationships. As Relate and BACP’s research found, a 21 per cent of those on a household income of £16,379 or less said mental health issues were causing tension in their relationships, compared to 12 per cent on higher incomes. Those on low incomes were also more likely to say money worries, debt, housing and physical health conditions were placing a strain on their relationship.

It’s true that Relate and some other charities offer sliding fee scales, and subsidised or free counselling where possible, but without sustainable funding their ability to expand provision is restricted and many families miss out on support. This was highlighted by a poll of 2,000 Relate website users which found 87 per cent felt they and their partner would benefit from counselling and 35 per cent had actually sought relationship support in the past but didn’t go ahead or dropped out early due to the cost.

This simply isn’t right. Relate and BACP believe it is crucial that counselling is accessible to anyone who needs it, regardless of income, which is why we are launching our #InvestInRelationships campaign this week, calling on the government to increase funding. Please sign Relate and BACP’s petition today so that everyone who needs it has access to relationship support.

Ruby Wax is a comedian, author and president of Relate. She is also founder of the charity Frazzled Cafe. Her new book, How to be Human, published by Penguin, is out now, and she is currently touring the UK with How to be Human: The Show.