A new project is launched today focusing on what makes for enduring relationships. Workingmums.co.uk spoke to one of the lead researchers.
What makes a relationship last? A lot of research has gone into why relationships fail, but a new project, launched today, aims to look at the reasons many don’t.
“It’s incredible when you realise there has been a lot of work on things like the harmful impact of infidelity on relationships. In fact it’s more interesting to understand why people stay together in the face of all sorts of circumstances,” says Dr Gabb.
The project will be an in-depth study of 60 couples aged 18 to 60. Half will have children and half won’t so that the researchers can study the impact of having children on relationships. Half will be men and half women. Some will be in straight relationships and others in gay and Lesbian relationships.
The in-depth work will be supplemented by a questionnaire which is open to anyone who is in a long-term relationship, however they define that, for instance, younger people might define long-term in a different way to those who are in their late 50s.
Dr Gabb says the project came about as a result of contact with Relate. It has cross-party support and will be launched at an event with speakers including Annabel Burns, Deputy Director, Family Law and Relationship Support from the Department for Education and Kate Figes, writer and author of “Couples: The truth”.
Dr Gabb says it is part of an attempt to look at the long-term health of relationships. It recognises that relationship breakdown has a huge impact, for instance, on the mental health and educational achievement of children, and that promoting healthy relationships could save money and tackle many social problems.
One of the areas it will look at is how the “myth” of finding the One affects people’s expectations of relationships. “People may have had three or four relationships when they meet someone else. It may be that they will stay with this person for life, but maybe it is not something everyone achieves or wants,” says Dr Gabb. “Having previous relationships that have not lasted does not mean that they have been failures. They may have just run their course. Also people can sustain a relationship after they have separated, particularly if they have children.”
The Department of Education is interested in feeding the results into the PSHE curriculum. “We need to teach children about what makes relationships work and that they are not all about plain sailing. They need to have realistic expectations,” says Dr Gabb. “They need to understand that you have to work at relationships.”
The project will not focus hugely on issues like whether marriage makes a difference. “Research shows people who are married are more likely to stay together, but also that people who marry may be more predisposed to stay together. It’s part of the mix, but we are not presupposing it will be a big factor,” says Dr Gabb.
The project is more interested in looking at what makes all sorts of relationships endure, what Dr Gabb calls “invisible relationship work”. “These are the things that tend to slip under the radar – the cups of tea your partner brings you every day, the way they make you feel cherished, how they show their appreciation, the things that nourish a relationship, the little things that people do to resolves gripes.”
The project has funding until September 2013, but will continue for several years afterwards as the results are analysed.
Dr Gabb says they will be particularly interesting in the light of recent US research which shows relationship counselling has had no impact on divorce statistics. “Perhaps they are intervening too late. Our view is that educating people more broadly about what makes a healthy relationship could have more of a positive impact and stop such crises from happening, “ she says.