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«Survey Findings An Interim Report Authors Jacqui Gabb, Martina Klett-Davies, Janet Fink and Manuela Thomae © The Open University February 2013 ...»

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Enduring Love?

Couple Relationships in the 21st Century

Survey Findings

An Interim Report

Authors

Jacqui Gabb, Martina Klett-Davies, Janet Fink

and Manuela Thomae

© The Open University February 2013

Contents page

Contents page..……………………………………………………………………... 2

Executive summary …………………………………………………………………. 3

1. Introduction ………………………………………………………………………… 7

2. Research Methodology.………………………………………………………….. 9

3. Sample Information (UK) …………...……………………………………………. 10

4. Relationship Quality, Relationship with Partner, Relationship Maintenance

4.1 Survey design and measures ……………………………………………… 12

4.2 A guide to results ………………………………………………………….. 15

5. Findings

5.1 Religion, educational qualifications. relationship history……………….. 17

5.2 Sexual orientation ………………………………………….……………… 20

5.3 Relationship status ……………………………………….…………………. 22

5.4 Gender and parenthood ……………………………………….…………. 24

5.5 Age ………………………………………………………………………….. 26

6. Money ……………………………………………………………………………… 27

7. Sexual Intimacy …………………………………………………………………… 28

8. Stressors …………………………………………………………………………… 31

9. The Most Important Person In Your Life …………………………………….. 33

10. Help Seeking and Advice …………………………………………………..…. 37

11. Open Questions ………………………………………………………………… 39

11.1 What does your partner do to make you feel appreciated? …………… 42

11.2 What do you like best/least in your relationships? …………………….. 56

12. Concluding Remarks …………………………………………………………... 72

13. Appendices …………………………………………………………..…….……. 75

14. References………………………………………………………………………. 85 Executive summary

1. Report background This Report comes out of the ESRC-funded research project, Enduring Love?

Couple Relationships in the 21st Century. This is a mixed methods investigation

into long-term adult couple relationships. Its four main aims are:

 To understand how quality and stability are experienced and imagined in longterm relationships.

 To examine the gendered ‘relationship work’ that women and men do to stay together.

 To advance knowledge of how enduring relationships are lived and felt by couples at different generational points in the life course.

 To interrogate the experience of adult couples, living with and without children, and the impact of family policies and cultural narratives.

The Report is based on findings from the project’s online survey questionnaire (completed by 4212 UK participants), including 5 measures which focused on:

 relationship qualities  the couple partnership  relationship maintenance  happiness with relationship/partner  happiness with life.

Open-ended questions on what was liked, disliked and appreciated in relationships were also included in the survey.

2. Survey Findings: relationship measures

2.1 Age, sexuality, marriage/cohabitation and parental status  Younger men and older men tend to score higher in their relationship quality, relationship maintenance and happiness with relationship/partner than middleaged men. The youngest group of women (up to age 34) score significantly higher on these measures and on relationship satisfaction than older women.

 Childless married and unmarried participants are happier with their relationship and their partner than parents. Unmarried parents are slightly happier than married parents.

 Non-heterosexual participants are more positive about and happier with the quality of their relationship, relationship with their partner and their relationship maintenance than heterosexual participants.

 Parents appear to engage in less relationship maintenance than childless participants. Heterosexual parents also scored lower than non-heterosexual parents on this measure. Heterosexual parents are the group least likely to be there for each other, to make ‘couple time’, to pursue shared interests, to say ‘I love you’ and to talk openly to one another.

 Fathers are less positive than childless men about their relationship quality, relationship with partner and relationship maintenance. Fathers are also less happy with their relationship/partner but as happy as childless men about life overall.

 Mothers are more negative about relationship quality, relationship with partner, relationship maintenance, happiness with relationship/partner than childless women. However, mothers are significantly happier with life than any other group. This indicates that children could be a primary source of happiness for women rather than their partner.





2.2 Sexual intimacy

 Fathers are over twice more likely than mothers to include different needs or expectations around sexual intimacy in the things they like least about their relationship. Mothers report that they want to have sex less often than their partners do, but dissatisfaction with sexual frequency per se does not appear to undermine overall relationship satisfaction for either mothers or fathers.

2.3 Stressors in relationships

 Relationship satisfaction is positively linked with the number of stressors that participants have experienced in the previous two years. This is the case for both parents and childless participants. This supports the thesis that couples might be pulling together in difficult times.

2.4 Who is the most important person in the participant’s life?

 Mothers are almost twice more likely than fathers to say that their child/ren are the most important person in their life. Fathers are much more likely than mothers to regard their partners as the most important person.

2.5 Support and advice seeking  Women and men both indicated that they would use couple counselling as a source for support, help or advice before individual counselling. However men suggested that they were unlikely to consult anyone while women indicated that they would consider turning to both couple counselling and individual counselling.

3. Survey Findings: Open questions

3.1 What makes participants feel most appreciated?

 Saying ‘thank you’ and thoughtful gestures were prized most highly by all participants. Recognition of the time and effort required to complete the everyday mundane tasks which underpin relationships and the smooth running of a household, was also highly valued.

 The need for good communication was a quality identified as important by all participants. Open conversations were valued as a means to both ‘touch base’ with one another and unburden the stresses and strains of the day.

 Surprise gifts and small acts of kindness were valued highly, with ‘a cup of tea’ being singled out as a significant sign of their partner’s appreciation. Bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates were seen as less important than the thoughtfulness behind the gesture.

 Sharing the practicalities of household chores and/or family responsibilities was viewed by mothers as something that particularly demonstrated appreciation. All participants valued the time and energy devoted to cooking.

 Saying or showing love featured for all participants. Saying ‘I love you’ appeared to symbolise the closeness of the couple relationship and provide individual affirmation and reassurance.

3.2 What do participants like best and least in their relationship?

 Sharing values, a faith, beliefs, tastes, ambitions and interests with their partner was very highly regarded. Holding things in common was seen as a key ‘connector’ in the couple relationship. Participants expressed disappointment when the everyday experiences of life could not be shared.

 The pleasures of being in a relationship scored very highly, often being expressed through shared humour and laughter. Alongside these pleasures, however, ran the daily irritations of living with someone, especially when they had annoying habits.

 Talking and listening were appreciated as one of the most effective means by which couples came to understand, reassure and comfort each other.

Arguments and poor communication, notably around money issues, were most frequently cited as one of the least liked aspects of a relationship.

 Being ‘best friends’ with your partner ranked very highly amongst all women and men, with the trope of friendship being used to signify an emotional closeness. Respect, encouragement and kindness were valued features of such relationships, together with a confidence that concerns and problems could be shared.

Enduring Love? Couple relationships in the 21st Century

1. Introduction The Enduring Love? project is an exciting development in the study of personal and family lives in contemporary Britain. The research project is a two year study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC RES-062-23-3056).

It is examining the ways in which gender, generation and parenthood get inscribed in meanings and practices around the idea of ‘the couple’. Our psychosocial mixed methods approach is enabling us to interrogate the ‘things’ and qualities that help people sustain their relationships, breaking down the dichotomy between enduring relationships of quality and good enough or endured relationships.

Much recent policy, academic and professional research has focused on the causes and effects of relationship breakdown. Studies have tended to focus on the ‘stressors’ that contribute to relationship breakdown (Walker, Barrett, Wilson, & Chang, 2010) and the adverse impact of ‘marital distress’ and ‘family fragmentation’ on the health and wellbeing of men, women and children (Markham & Halford, 2005). Concerns around ‘family stability’ and ‘relationship quality’ come out of an acknowledgement that although seven in ten households are still headed up by married couples, 42% of marriages end in divorce (ONS, 2012b) with between 200,000-250,000 couples separating every year (Coleman & Glenn, 2009). Recent trends in the UK divorce rate indicate a decline (ONS, 2012b) but nevertheless remain high. Many heterosexual and same-sex couples, however, remain together for significant periods of time. In some ways, then, these couples appear to sit outside a growing tendency towards serial or transitory relationships. The Enduring Love? study is exploring the gendered ‘relationship work’ undertaken by women and men which enables their relationship to endure and/or flourish in the socio-cultural context of shifting discourses on love, ‘marriage’, partnership, intimacy and commitment. We are, therefore, reorienting the conceptual emphasis onto the connectors which hold people together, that is to say, the meanings, practices and imaginings of quality and stability in long-term relationships.

Couple relationship research completed under the umbrella of social psychology, has emphasised how people understand these commitments as continually developing and lasting ventures (Duck, 2007; Mashek & Aron, 2004).

Psychological research more widely has provided robust information on relationship satisfaction (for an overview see Hook, Gerstein, Detterich, & Gridley, 2003). A notable example that is frequently cited and used in the design of psychological relationship studies is the Golombok Rust Inventory of Marital State (GRIMS) scale (Rust, Bennun, Crowe, & Golombok, 1986, 1990). This psychometric scale produces an overall score to assess relationship quality.

Designed around and administered through couples who are engaged with relationship support and counselling services, research of this kind typically focuses on heterosexual relationships. Our interests, however, remain focused on lived couple experience and relationship practices rather than the psychometric measurement of relationship satisfaction. As such, the Enduring Love? study is grounded in the cross-disciplinary interest in intimacy and personal relationships.

Changes in personal and sexual commitment are much lauded (Beck & BeckGersheim, 1995; Duncombe & Marsden, 1993), alongside shifts in the configuration of intimacy (Giddens, 1992; Jamieson, 1998), intimate living and family lives (Jamieson, Morgan, Crow, & Allan, 2006; Williams, 2004) and different relationship–residence formations (Duncan & Phillips, 2008; Roseneil & Budgeon, 2004). Binaries traditionally invoked to distinguish between heterosexual and same-sex relationships are no longer fixed (Heaphy, Smart, & Einarsdottir, 2013). Research has, however, shown that the romantic ideal of one partner meeting all our emotional and sexual needs persists, stretching across differences in sexuality and circumstance (Smart, 2007). Work loosely collected together under the sociology of emotions has shown how heteronormative conventions continue to shape understandings and the experience of love, sex and desire (Berlant, 2012; Hockey, Meah, & Robinson, 2010; Illouz, 2012;



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