The Shackleton Relationships Project - Report and Key Findings
University of Exeter
(C) 2018 University of Exeter
This is a report on the key findings of the Shackleton Relationships Project which was an 18 month study begun in 2016. The overall aim of the research was to undertake an in-depth study to explore the nature of happy and enduring relationships and identify attributes and relationship skills critical to both sustaining them and to avoiding relationship breakdown. In particular, we wanted to know: • What are the most common or predictable reasons for relationship breakdown? • What critical questions should be asked prior to entering a relationship intended to be permanent to help to increase the chances of it thriving; • What critical relationship skills might be developed to avert the causes of breakdown; and • How might knowledge of these feed into relationship education for young people? In order to address these research questions, the qualitative study was designed in three interlinking phases, and collected data from family practitioners and couples alongside complementary work with groups of young people. In terms of our approach to understanding the import of the data on which relationship attributes put couples at most or least risk of breakdown and which skills could be used to avoid or reverse relationship problems in times of difficulties, an analysis framework or lens was developed based on the interplay between two leading but divergent theoretical standpoints. These were the Vulnerability-Stress-Adaptation (VSA) model (Karney and Bradbury, 1995) and the ‘Sound Relationships House’ theory (Gottman et al. 2002; Gottman and Gottman, 2017). From our findings using this approach, we concluded that incompatibility and unrealistic expectations were predictors of relationship breakdown and could be discovered before committing to a partner long term. In addition, a further two predictors - failure to deal with issues and failure to nurture the relationship - exposed a a lack of relationship skills which could often be addressed. A set of critical questions, attributes and skills which could assist people - and particularly younger people – in reflecting on how to make good relationship choices and develop appropriate relationship skills if and when they reach the stage of seeking a happy, healthy relationship which they intend to be life-long was identified based on our analysis. The appropriateness, utility and communication of these for the younger generation were then explored in the final phase of the study, with the involvement of groups of young people whose insights and views were captured to develop our findings and final analysis. Part of the aim of our engagement with young people and teachers in this phase was to gather views on the design for a future intervention or ‘relationship toolkit’ to help young people make healthy relationship choices. We concluded that asking ten “critical” questions before embarking on a serious relationship can help couples thrive. Long-term relationships last when they are built on friendship, respect, realistic expectations, shared interests and humour, The evidence from couples, some interviewed over a 10 year time frame, as well family lawyers, mediators and judges helped identify the ten key aspects of a relationship which other couples can use to reflect on to see if they are likely to thrive and stand the test of time. Continuing to ask the ten critical questions can also help couples build their relationship. The questions are: Are my partner and I a ‘good fit’? Do we have a strong basis of friendship? Do we want the same things in our relationship and out of life? Are our expectations realistic? Do we generally see the best in each other? Do we both work at keeping our relationship vibrant? Do we both feel we can discuss things freely and raise issues with each other? Are we both committed to working through hard times? When we face stressful circumstances would we pull together to get through it? Do we each have supportive others around us? The research was funded by Baroness Shackleton, an alumna of the University of Exeter Law School and prominent divorce solicitor.
Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia
This is the final version of the report. Available from The University of Exeter via the link in this record.
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