Enduring Love?

Couple Relationships in the 21st Century

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Enduring Love? Study Press Release

Knowing how couples work is crucial, because whilst 7 in 10 households are still headed up by married couples, around 45% of all marriages end in divorce – that’s about 200,000-250,000 couples separating every year. Furthermore, it is estimated that 20-25% of the British population are in relationships of poor relationship quality, something that has been identified as a major cause of family breakdown.

Whilst relationship longevity cannot be simply associated with relationship quality, there is a positive link between relationship quality and relationship stability, so when there are high levels of relationship maintenance behaviours you can expect to find corresponding high levels of relationship satisfaction.

How some couples manage to maintain relationships when others break apart remains, however, immersed in hearsay – a mixture of urban myths, fairy tales, Hollywood movies, and competing advice that ‘sells’ the way  to find the one and live happily ever after. Few if any of these sources is based on robust research evidence.

Enduring Love? is the first large scale study to investigate what couples actually do to sustain their relationships. The study was completed by academics at The Open University and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. It aimed to shift the emphasis away from the ‘stressors’ that adversely impact on couple relationships, and instead focus attention on what is actually working: what couples are ordinarily doing to sustain their long-term partnerships.

Whilst findings point to great diversity in relationship experience, overall, what is clear is that relationships are experienced and sustained through everyday, often mundane, relationship practices (like bringing a partner a daily cup of tea in bed and taking out the rubbish each week) and shared activities (such as dancing at home or taking the dog out for its evening constitutional). Such everyday couple relationship work is not simply experienced as the drudgeries of domesticity, it enables couples to embrace and nurture their relationship, and to invest in each other and the long-term ‘relationship horizon’ – together.

Until now these small everyday gestures have typically fallen beneath the radar – in everyday couple experience, relationship guidance and policy development. Indeed when we presented initial findings to the DfE and Treasury, how to support and cost such ‘relationship maintenance’ as a daily cuppa or time spent together watching TV, flummoxed us all! Whilst I’m happy to leave the budgetary challenge to others, the provocation laid down by Annabel Burns (former Deputy Director at the Dept. for Education Section for Family Law and Relationships) has guided our research design and informed the dissemination of findings. Annabel asked: ‘how can we mainstream relationship education?’

Through sustained dialogue, we have worked to rise to this challenge; ensure that our research remains impactful and relevant to policy, professional and practice concerns.

Research evidence has been presented to government departments (DfE, DWP and The Treasury) and parliamentary policy making groups (Centre for Social Justice and Labour Policy Review).

Findings have been disseminated to frontline relationship support staff through conference and workshop presentations, and in collaboration with family systemic psychotherapists, the emotion map research method has been adapted for use in clinical practice as part of the clinical assessment toolkit.

Extensive media coverage of findings has shaped debate on lasting relationships and a self-help handbook, commissioned by the leading market publisher Vermillion Random House, has ‘translated’ academic findings for a general readership: The Secrets of Enduring Love.

And, in collaboration with Brook, we have developed online relationship information resources for young people and an eLearning teaching pack designed for teachers. These resources are designed to help young people learn about how relationships work and to develop more realistic expectations and thus more fulfilling long-term relationships that last.


For further information please contact:

Professor Jacqui Gabb

Chair of Sociology and Intimacy

Faculty of Social Sciences

The Open University


Contact us

For further details on the project and all media enquiries, please contact: 

Principal Investigator

Professor Jacqui Gabb

Chair of Sociology and Intimacy



The Open University
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
School of Social Sciences and Global Studies
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes