All relationships have a series of turning points that couples must negotiate.

Whilst couples are working out how to be together and yet still be two individuals, other changes will also be demanding their attention. All relationships have a series of turning points and hurdles they must get over. At each of these turning points practical changes in the couple's lifestyle will need to be made. There are also less obvious challenges to the couple's relationship.

Becoming a couple

The first hurdle a couple has to face is the task of becoming a couple in the sense of placing a boundary around their relationship.

This involves separating from the families they each grew up in. This is not always easy to achieve. Parents are still important, but being a son or a daughter has to become second to being a partner. Otherwise, jealousy or resentment from their partner may develop.

From partners to parents

For many couples, the next turning point is the birth of the first child. Many practical adjustments need to be made. There is also a change in the couple's relationship as parents. Until now they have been able to focus their attention and energy on each other. This now has to be shared with their baby.

Less of their effort goes into being a couple and instead goes into being a mother or father. This is a point when some relationships run into difficulty as some couples find it hard to adjust and find it difficult understanding each other at this time of change. Being tired and feeling anxious as new parents is often spoken about in counselling. Resentment and hurt can creep in, with one or both partners feeling that they are no longer cared for in the way they were before the baby's birth.

Women may feel that their partner doesn't help as much as they should, especially when the demands of motherhood lead to exhaustion. Men often feel they are playing second fiddle to the baby and that their partner no longer has the same interest in them as companions and lovers.


Many practical changes in family life occur when the children become adolescents. How does this affect the couple's relationship with each other? Parents are faced with their children's sexuality in adolescence. This means couples will need to re-examine their own relationship and how satisfying it is to them, both emotionally and sexually. Adolescence also signals that soon the couple will be left alone together as their children become independent. This raises questions about the quality of the couple's relationship.

Is the bond between the couple strong enough to maintain their relationship when they no longer have to put so much energy into being parents? Some couples find that they have drifted further apart than they had realised, and a crisis is triggered off in their relationship. This may lead to separation, but it can also lead to a fresh commitment to the relationship and a growth in intimacy. Adolescence is a time of questioning for parents as well as for adolescents.

If you want to learn more about parenting, consider taking a Family Skills and Parenting course.


With people living longer more of their relationship will be lived in retirement. We tend to focus on the practical aspects of retirement such as housing and financial needs. Retirement, however, also poses yet another hurdle for the relationship.

How will they spend their time? How much time they spend together and how much apart? What joint interests will they have, and how much will each partner pursue their own interests? How will decisions be made now that finances are more restricted? How will the domestic chores, from which there is no retirement, be shared?

Unless these sorts of questions are faced and talked about, couples may become disappointed and withdrawn. There is less divorce in the post-retirement age group, but there is often considerable hidden marital unhappiness.