Small acts of kindness make for enduring relationships

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, according to the interim findings of a research project on enduring relationships.

Based on the first round of research, the Enduring Love? Project, run by the Open University, also found that fathers are less positive than childless men about their relationship quality, their relationship with their partner and relationship maintenance. Fathers are also less happy with their 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, say the researchers, that children could be a primary source of happiness for women rather than their partner.

The interim findings also suggest 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.

Other interim findings include:

– 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.

– Saying ‘thank you’ and thoughtful gestures were prized most highly by all participants as a sign of affection. 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.

– 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.

The Enduring Love? research project launched with an online survey last year, asking people to talk about their couple relationship experience. Over 5,000 participants completed the survey. The researchers now want to dig a bit deeper.

They want to find out whether there is agreement on the things that make a relationship work. Based on their interim survey findings, they have launched an online poll.

The Enduring Love? poll presents the top 10 survey answers to the following three questions:

How does your partner show that they appreciate you?

What do you like most about your partner?

What do you like least about your partner?

The poll is open to anyone. To take part click here. For more information on the Enduring Love? project and to read the interim survey findings in full, visit the project website:

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