A couple lying on a bed talking with each other

When we started planning the Week we could never have imagined the context in which it would be running: we’re now in the midst of a sustained period of pressure on every aspect of life not seen on such a scale for decades. But, for so many reasons, we feel it’s more important than ever to launch our new awareness week and start a national conversation about relationships.

Lockdown has been a powerful reminder that relationships are central to health and wellbeing; they can protect and sustain us in the worst of times. But they are far from immune to the pressures we’re all facing right now. The results of new polling we commissioned* hit the headlines today, showing how people have had a range of ‘relationship realisations’ over the last few months – some wholly positive and some extremely challenging. Across couple, family and social relationships, a heart-warming 61% of respondents said that lockdown has made them realise relationships are the most important thing in their lives, while 8% of respondents who have a partner have decided they need to end their relationship. Younger people have been hit hard with 38% of surveyed 16-34 year olds in relationships saying they have struggled to support their partner emotionally during lockdown.

Key themes of our findings

Young people’s relationships hardest hit by lockdown

More than a third (38%) of 16-34 year olds in relationships said they had struggled to support their partner emotionally during lockdown, compared to 23% across all age groups. Almost a third (30%) are worried they will feel lonely if or when their partner stops working from home, compared to just 11% of respondents aged 35 and over.

Make or break time for couples

One-in-ten respondents in a relationship (10%) said lockdown has made them realise they want to propose to their partner, while 8% came to the conclusion during lockdown that they need to end their relationship.

Socially distanced but emotionally closer to family and friends

While we may have been practising social distancing during lockdown, many have realised their emotional bonds with loved ones have strengthened. For example, 43% of respondents who have parents said they felt ‘emotionally closer’ to them as a result of lockdown. The most common reasons for feeling emotionally closer to parents were speaking to them more often (45%), because lockdown has helped them realise how much their parents mean to them (41%) and because they have been supporting their parents through lockdown (32%).

Despite this, 26% of respondents who have parents have argued or had a disagreement with them during lockdown. This figure rises considerably for younger age groups (46% for 16-34 year olds).

Looking at other relationships, 36% of respondents who have siblings and 34% of respondents with grandparents felt emotionally closer to them since lockdown. Also, 31% of all respondents felt closer to their neighbours and 30% felt emotionally closer to their friends.

Men now more comfortable opening up

Another unexpected side effect of lockdown is that it has got people opening up emotionally. This seems to have had a particular impact on men – 41% of male respondents said the pandemic has meant they have become more comfortable having open and honest conversations with loved ones about difficult topics. This compares to 35% of women.

Relationship hopes post-lockdown

Lockdown has made many people experience first-hand the benefits of quality family time. More than half of respondents (55%) said lockdown has inspired them to make more effort with loved ones in the future. When asked exactly what lockdown relationship habits people would like to continue, family walks or spending time outdoors came in top (30%) followed by spending more quality time with family (29%) and video calls with family (25%).


Get involved this week

This Relationships Week, we want to help everyone celebrate the best of their lockdown relationship realisations and address the more difficult ones. We have a unique opportunity here – the role of relationships is clearly front-of-mind for many.

Relate is encouraging everyone to start a conversation about their relationships this week, whether it’s to thank someone for their support during lockdown or to begin addressing issues that have been swept under the carpet in recent months. We’re also asking people to share their #RelationshipRocks via social media – with a picture or video and a short message about how someone has been a ‘rock’ to them lately. We’re also urging anyone experiencing relationship issues to get support – Relate is offering a free course on communicating more effectively ; tips for dealing with social anxiety and a range of other issues as lockdown eases; and online counselling, Sex Therapy and Mediation sessions.

*The research was conducted online from 26 June- 2 July 2020 by Censuswide, with a sample of 2,058 adults weighted to be nationally representative (aged 16+).

Free online self-help course, ‘Communicating in everyday life’ available from 20 – 31 July.

By Aidan Jones, Chief Executive of Relate

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