Singles counselling: When love is difficult


A man in his 30s sits by the window with a coffee and looks out questioningly.

What can successful counselling look like so that people who want a (happy) relationship can find one? What to consider for short-term singles, long-term singles and absolute beginners.

During my time as a self-employed couples, singles and sex counsellor, the demand in these three areas has been relatively balanced. Since 2021, however, singles counselling has clearly taken the lead. I suspect that the main reason for this is that many singles were thrown back on themselves during the two lockdowns in 2020 because the other social balance of meeting up with friends or other activities was lost.

The men and women who come to me for counselling are usually in their late 20s to late

30s. The transition from their 20s to their 30s in particular causes a lot of internal and, in some cases, external pressure for many singles. More and more couples are getting together in their own circle of friends, families are being started and they themselves are “afraid of being left behind alone” (quote from my counselling sessions) or of becoming a fifth wheel as a single person.

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Long-term singles and absolute beginners

This fear is particularly great for people who have never been in a relationship and who, on the cusp of 30, are now also worried that they will slowly be seen as an oddity in their environment (or as a “freak” as one client once put it). The term “absolute beginner” has been established for them for a while now (Thiel, 2013). However, long-term singles who have relationship experience but whose last relationship was more than three years ago are also familiar with this concern (Gebauer, 2021).

For these two groups, the feeling of shame is often very great. I address this shame and initially give my clients understanding of this feeling. This works particularly well when the clients understand themselves better by getting to know their own “no”.

There is a pile of light brown paper on a desk, with “No” written on the top sheet.

Exercise: Getting to know your own “no”

In this exercise, we explore the inner reasons that can stand in the way of a successful relationship search. Sometimes, for example, we discover that the client has lost trust in relationships due to a violent divorce between their parents. I then say, for example, that it is understandable to be ambivalent about relationships after this formative experience and possibly even sabotage the search (some people, for example, deliberately choose people who are taken and thus avoid a relationship, even though they long for it on the other hand). This understanding of one’s own background is even more helpful in alleviating the above-mentioned feeling of shame and developing a more understanding view of oneself than if I, as the counsellor, were to say “I understand you/your situation/your behaviour”.

To make the “no” visible, I like to use the image of the iceberg: above the surface of the water is the “yes”, the desire for a relationship that my clients can consciously perceive. Under the surface of the water, however, is the hidden “no” that steers the client away from a relationship – and we want to get to know this “no”. To do this, I ask my clients, for example, to complete the sentence “If I enter into a relationship, then…” or “The worst thing that could happen in a relationship would be…”. Or I ask about relationship role models that the client experienced as a child. Sometimes it turns out, for example, that the parents had a marriage that was not very joyful or even grueling and that you would definitely not want to

experience a relationship like that yourself.

Once the “no” has been recognized, it increases our understanding of ourselves. On the other hand, we now have something to work with. To stay with the example from earlier: If a client is afraid of repeating her parents’ marriage, then we can subject this fear to a reality check. How likely is it that her own relationship would turn out the same way? Nowadays, for example, there are other options such as couples counselling that were not available to her parents, or she can take a closer look at her choice of partner and look out for warning signs (“red flags”), which we work out in counselling.

Short-term singles

Short-term singles whose last relationship was less than three years ago (Gebauer, 2021) are often concerned with coming to terms with a break-up or practical considerations, especially if they are coming out of a long-term relationship and are wondering “how dating actually works today”.

Singles counsellor Christian Thiel recommends, for example, creating opportunities (Thiel, 2013), which of course – just like the other basic building blocks of singles counselling he mentions – also plays an important role in counselling long-term singles or absolute beginners. “Opportunity makes love”, as a client once aptly put it.

A man sits in a leather armchair and looks at his mobile phone with a dating app on the screen.

The basic building blocks of singles counselling

However, these opportunities are no longer as common in your 30s or the places that worked in your 20s no longer work. For example, a client who came to my counselling service in his late 30s after a long-term relationship said that it no longer made sense for him to go to a club to get to know someone because “there were only young people there”. In a big city like Berlin, there are other opportunities to meet new people your own age. But in smaller cities or when clients are heavily involved in work, there are fewer opportunities and online dating, for example, would be worth a try.

In addition to creating opportunities, Christian Thiel also recommends the following basic building blocks:

Realism: Helping clients to take a more realistic view of getting to know each other, falling in love and relationships. For example, it is unrealistic to assume that every relationship starts with a big bang and love at first sight. It can happen, but it doesn’t have to, and if you get hung up on this idea, you may be waiting a long time.

Calmness: If you are basically satisfied with your own life, you will be more relaxed when looking for a partner and, for example, will be able to cope better with baskets, which can also be part of the search. So if the client is struggling in all areas (e.g. unhappy with their job, housing situation and circle of friends), we start by working on

improving these cornerstones.

Courage: After a break-up, clients need the certainty that things can go better in the next relationship in order to be able to make a new commitment. To do this, it can be helpful to become aware of your own values and needs in a relationship. Quite a few people take the relationship that presents itself to them only to realise that it doesn’t fit, so that sooner or later the relationship fails.

A man and a woman stand on a glazed balcony and laugh while he casually wraps an arm around her from behind and she holds on to him with her hand.

A note on traumatized clients

If it becomes apparent during the introductory meeting or during counselling that my clients have difficulties entering into a relationship due to severe traumatic experiences (such as experiences of violence, sexual abuse), I advise them to undergo trauma therapy either before or parallel to counselling – and then I also have appropriate addresses ready. In counselling with affected clients, I pay particular attention to resource work and psychoeducation (especially education about the different states of the nervous system in order to better understand one’s own reactions, such as freezing up when dating).


Knowledge about singles and approaches to counselling them is not only important for singles counsellors themselves, but can also be useful in the context of psychotherapeutic conversations and coaching. I highly recommend Christian Thiel’s book (see below), which offers a good overview and lots of suggestions, and I hope you enjoy trying it out and putting it into practice.

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