A report by couple therapy charity Tavistock Relationships, into the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on couples, families, and children will be published next month.
But early analysis of results of a YouGov survey shows that although a quarter (24%) of all people in a relationship questioned (1,342 people) said the pandemic increased stress and conflict in their relationship, two-thirds (66% of 1,219 people) in a relationship questioned, said the pandemic has made them value their relationship with their partner. And only 8% said they considered splitting up from their partner.
It was also revealed that 13% of those in a relationship reported an improvement in their sex life and, in a result which suggests the taboo around seeking therapy might be diminishing, 34% of all adults questioned (2,093) thought that couple counselling could improve their sex life.
Andrew Balfour, Clinical Psychologist and CEO of Tavistock Relationships, says: ‘It’s heartening to see that at a time of national crisis, when family and couple relationships have been under sustained and significant stress caused by the pandemic and lockdowns, people are valuing their relationships more highly than ever.
‘Relationships are so important for a sense of general well-being and good health, for the couple themselves and that of any children they may share. Lockdown brought so much pressure and stress to us all, impacting the mental health of families. But alongside this, it seems to have helped us to recognise what matters most in life; and for the majority of the people in our survey across the UK, this has meant valuing their relationships more than ever.
‘While some couples did see an improvement in their sex lives, many did not, with a third of those in a relationship (33% of 1,219) disagreeing with the statement that pandemic had improved their sex lives. Seeing your partner at breakfast, lunch, dinner, hearing them shout at the kids, and juggling work and home education, increased stress and irritability, and dampened sexual desire for many; 15% of male respondents in a relationship (926) said the lockdowns led them to watch more internet pornography. However, it is encouraging that a third (34%) of those questioned (2,093 people), recognised that couple counselling is a way to address these issues.
‘When asked to rank what the most important quality for a long-term relationship, nearly half (48% of 2,050 people) of those questioned ranked trust as the highest quality. While 36% ranked having good communication as the most important, just four per cent ranked having strategies to reduce conflict as the most important quality, suggesting there is work to be done to raise public awareness of the damaging impact on children of sustained conflict between parents.’
Research shows that sustained and unresolved couple conflict has a damaging effect on any children’s well-being, something the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Supporting Couple Relationships and Reducing Inter-parental Conflict recent has highlighted through its #SortItOut campaign.
Andrew Balfour continues: ‘Sadly for some, the stress of the pandemic has led to fractured relationships. A quarter of all people surveyed in a relationship, said the pandemic increased stress and conflict in their relationship, and 12% said the pandemic has caused their relationship with their partner and/or children to be at its lowest point ever. Given that this is a representative sample of families across the UK, these figures indicate a potential tsunami of families in distress.
‘Research shows that couple therapy improves both the couple’s relationship, and also the psychological well-being and mental health of the partners in the couple. We urge people, whether they are couples still together, or separated and co-parenting their children, to seek relationship support to improve communication and better understand each other’s perspectives.
‘Not all couples who have therapy stay together. Therapy can support couples to negotiate a break -up as well as possible, and to continue to co-parent their children effectively, and can help to reduce the negative impacts on children as well as on their own mental health and well-being.’
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov. Total sample size was 2,093 adults, of which 1,401 were in a relationship. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22 and 23 July 2021. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). Full results will be published in September 2021.