TONIGHT WE HAD a visit from an Open University researcher who is working on a project called Enduring Love? Couple Relationships in the 21st Century.
My partner completed an online questionnaire a few months ago, and we were selected from almost 5,400 people who completed the questionnaire to be one of 60 couples who are interviewed for the second stage of research into the development of personal and family lives in contemporary Britain.
The Open University website explains:
‘Much recent policy, academic and professional research has focused on the causes and effects of relationship breakdown, but many heterosexual and same-sex couples also remain together for significant periods of time.
‘In some ways, then, these couples appear to sit outside a growing tendency towards serial or transitory relationships. To understand more about couples who stay together, our research will focus on the meanings and everyday experiences of long-term relationships.
‘However we will not be presupposing that such relationships are uniformly loving or straightforwardly associated with contentment. The project will rather be concerned with what helps people sustain relationships and how cultural myths, such as finding ‘the one’ and living ‘happily-ever-after’, are understood and reconciled by adult couples whose own relationships may fall short of these romantic ideals.’
The questions they hope to answer through the research include:
- How do couples experience, understand and sustain the qualities of their long-term relationships?
- How do different generations perceive and experience long-term relationships?
- How are meanings and experiences of ‘togetherness’ shaped by gender and the absence/presence of children?
- Which sources of emotional and practical sustenance do men and women draw on to manage the ‘stressors’ and everyday niggles that trouble the couple relationship?
- How do social policies and cultural narratives inform ideas about what constitutes a couple and a ‘successful’ relationship?
The visit tonight was a preliminary meeting to explain the next stage of the research. First I completed the same questionnaire, which is also available online here.
Then she explained the research methods, which include:
As part of the in-depth study, we have been invited to keep a personal diary for one week, writing down the events and everyday activities that relate to our relationship. The diaries are also intended to provide a space for personal reflections on media representations of ‘couples’, other relationships we experience during this week and our individual responses to them.
Then we were asked to draw a floor plan of our home, which will form the basis of an ’emotion map’. Emotion maps aim to chart how couples interact with one another. To create our emotion map, we will place ‘emoticon’ stickers on the floor plan to indicate where different kinds of interactions take place, between us, and with others we interact with, like the examples here: Emotion maps
This is also intended to be completed over the same one week period as the personal diary.
We will be interviewed together, and asked to talk about eight collages of images on different aspects of long-term relationships, to respond to the images and to reflect on how these connect with or differ from our own personal experiences and/or opinions on the meanings of enduring relationships.
We will also be interviewed individually, starting with a discussion of the emotion maps and diaries, talking through the interactions identified and language used to describe feelings and behaviour. It also focus on our own stories, exploring personal experience of enduring couple relationships and how we understand this in the context of our wider networks of family and friends. It will also include sources of support and advice that we may turn to in troubled times.
We now need to choose a week when we can do our diaries and emotion maps. The interviews will take place some time after that, when the researchers have processed the information we share.
Watch this space!
The Enduring Love? project launched in January 2012 – preliminary findings will be published on February 14th this year, though we are unlikely to have finished our part of the process by then. The final results will be published at the same time next year.