Relationships: What Keeps People Happy?

by Dr Priscilla Dunk-West, Senior lecturer in social work, Flinders University, South  Australia

Email: priscilla.dunkwest@flinders.edu.au

In Britain, the ESRC funded research project Enduring Love asked the question: what are people’s experiences of long-term relationships? Amongst other academic outputs, Gabb and Fink (2015) have written a book on the findings of the study in which they set out the day-to-day meanings and practices of people in long-term heterosexual and same sex relationships. Unlike other studies which focus on relationship breakdown or divorce, the findings of the Enduring Love study can help to demonstrate how relationship ‘practices’ – for example, doing good things for one another—help to increase relationship quality. More recently, the Enduring Love survey was completed by Australian and American couples in long-term relationships, which, combined with UK data, meant that over 8000 people have told researchers about their relationships.

One of the questions in the survey sought to better understand how people in relationships make sense of the way the other person makes them feel. The question asked respondents to name what makes them feel appreciated. Making someone a daily cup of tea or other small gestures were found to be incredibly important to people in helping them feel appreciated and loved. This finding is counter to the more traditional or stereotypical grand symbols of romance which feature heavily in mainstream movies and fiction. Rather, it’s the little things that matter.

The findings of the study have a range of practice implications, such as helping to better understand how a strengths-based approach can be used to assess relationship quality. For couples, sometimes those little things are forgotten so asking oneself: ‘what does my partner do that makes me feel appreciated?’ can help to serve as a reminder of all those little, everyday gestures which make people happy in their relationship. More about how to ‘make relationships last’ can be found in this new book.

In relation to the research, my role was to roll out the Australian survey (using the UK instrument) and analyse the data. I have been researching in sexuality since my undergraduate days in sociology (over 25 years ago) and have been in practice as a sexual health counsellor/ sex therapist where I saw individuals and couples for a range of intimacy and sexual issues. My PhD research sought to focus on ‘everyday sexuality’ in order to use data to understand the day-to-day issues that individuals face around intimacy. My research is concerned with sexuality, intimacy, relationships and identity.

 

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