Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century Survey Findings


Enduring Love Couple relationships in the 21



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Enduring Love Couple relationships in the 21
st
Century
1. Introduction
The Enduring Love? project aims to advance understandings of personal relationships and family lives in contemporary Britain. The research project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC RES)
(2011-2013) to examine the ways in which gender, generation and parenthood get inscribed in meanings and practices around the idea of the couple. Our psycho-social mixed methods approach is enabling us to interrogate what helps people sustain their relationships and to breakdown the dichotomy between
enduring relationships of quality and good enough or endured relationships. Much recent policy, academic and professional research has been concerned with 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, b) with between 200,000-250,000 couples separating every year (Coleman
& Glenn, 2009). Recent trends in the UK divorce rate indicate a decline (ONS, b) but nevertheless remain high. Many heterosexual and same-sex couples, however, remain together for significant periods of time. In someways, 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.


9 Research completed under the umbrella of social psychology has emphasised how people understand their couple relationships 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 and is designed around and administered through couples who are engaged with relationship support and counselling services. Our interests, however, is 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 & Beck-
Gersheim, 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 (S. 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; Johnson, 1996; Stacey, 2011). Notwithstanding the evidence presented, great caution is needed before advancing theoretically-driven interpretations of love. As
Stevi Jackson reminds us, even sociologists fall in love Jackson, 1993); matters of the heart often run counter to logic and reason. While it is true to say that the


10 discourses of love and romance are highly gendered (Langford, 1999), perception and gendered experience do not automatically correspond. For example, research has shown that men maybe more inclined to fall in love and express these feelings earlier than women (Harrison & Shorthall, 2011), countering the myth that men love to live and women live to love’.
The Enduring
Love? project examines how women and men experience relationships, analysing couple diversity and the factors which shape intimacy and personal life.



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