Open, honest communication and the ability to unburden at the end of the day are key to relationship harmony – as are small gestures such as cuddles and making your partner a cup of tea. That’s one of the key findings from a new survey Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century from the Open University.
The two-year survey of more than 5,000 people found that shared values, ambitions and interests are important for relationship health, and people feel disappointed when they could not share the everyday experiences of life with their partner. Saying or showing love is highly valued and symbolised a closeness in the relationship, as is saying thank you and feeling appreciated. While big romantic gestures, such as bouquets of flowers, are enjoyed, it is the sentiment behind them that really counts. Being ‘best friends’ with one’s partner ranked highly for both men and women respondents. Arguments and poor communication are the least pleasant aspects of a relationship, the survey found.
When it comes to being parents, that survey has some interesting findings:
- Childless couples are happier with their relationship than couples with children.
- Parents put less effort into maintaining their relationship than childless couples do.
- Fathers are less positive than childless men about the quality of their relationship.
- Fathers are twice more likely than mothers “to include different needs or expectations around sexual intimacy in the things they like least about their relationship”.
- Mothers want less sex than their partners do, but this apparently does not affect overall relationship satisfaction for either mothers or fathers.
- Mothers are twice more likely than fathers to say children are the most important people in their lives, while for fathers the partner is the most important person.
- Mothers are more negative about the quality of their relationship compared with childless women – but overall mothers are reported to be the happiest group of all.
When communication does break down, both women and men say they would use couple counselling as a source for support, help or advice. Men are more reluctant to ask for help, but women say they would consider both couple and individual counselling.
Ruth Sutherland, chief executive of Relate, says: “What this study shows us is that couples need to keep investing in their relationships. It’s reassuring to know, especially in these tough economic times, that it’s the small gestures of appreciation and affection, rather than the big romantic displays that really make the difference.”