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    Press Releases

Levelling up begins at home: the urgent need to support relationships and families in post-pandemic Britain

Published in Press Releases by Tavistock Relationships on September 2nd 2021

As part of our charitable mission to increase the availability of couple-focused support, we undertook survey research1 to find out about how the UK’s relationships have fared during perhaps the most seismic event since 1945, the pandemic. You can read a summary here.

What did the survey tell us?

The results of our survey paint a worrying picture of the state of relationships and families in the UK post-pandemic.

Given that our survey canvassed the views of 2,093 adults - a sample which is representative of all UK adults - it is extremely worrying to find that levels of stress and conflict that existed prior to the pandemic have been exacerbated during this period, with particular sections of the population reporting levels of distress and relationship conflict significantly higher than the average.

For example, while it is troubling enough that that four in ten (40%) respondents feel that the pandemic has caused additional stress for their children and wider family, it is especially concerning that this increases to three in five (59%) among younger adults (18 to 24).

The survey also found 18-24 year olds are almost twice as likely have experienced extra conflict between themselves and their partner than the average across all demographics (47% vs 24%).

In addition, the impact of the pandemic on parents seems to have been particularly stark, with couples with children being nearly twice as likely as the national average to consider splitting up as a result of lockdown and the pandemic (14% vs 8%). Given that the Government’s spending review is about to commence, this finding provides a timely reminder as to why the Government should continue to fund its highly successful Reducing Parental Conflict programme.

Our survey also showed, unsurprisingly perhaps, that the pandemic created a great deal of hardship in the job market. However, the finding that 39% of unemployed respondents said the Covid situation had caused extra conflict in their relationship is striking when compared to the average for the population of 24%.

The survey also gauged respondents’ views around parental conflict and its impact on children, with too much social media use as the biggest cause of negative impact on children’s behaviour in the classroom/at school (31% ranked this first), more than issues to do with friends/classmates (29% ranked first), arguments between their parents (15% ranked first), lack of income of their family (14% ranked first) and exam pressure (10% ranked first).

Respondents demonstrated a broad understanding of some of the negative impacts of conflict between parents on families, with 82% recognising that rows between parents can negatively impact children’s sleep, and 83% understanding that inter-parental conflict can negatively affect children’s schoolwork.

These findings are congruent with a huge body of evidence which shows that these, and other negative impacts, can be the consequences for children of exposure to frequent, intense and poorly resolved conflict between their parents (Harold et al., 2016).

Interestingly, however, a majority of respondents (58%) stated that ‘shouty’ arguments upset children more than unspoken ones (e.g. one partner giving the other the silent treatment or the ‘cold shoulder’). Research clearly shows us that the negative impacts of parental conflict are in fact felt across the entire range of that conflict - that is from ‘silence to violence’ - if it is intense, occurs frequently and does not get adequately resolved.

This finding is related to results which showed a difference of opinion regarding arguing “in front of the children”, with almost half (47%) believing that - as long as arguments are properly resolved - it can be beneficial for children to witness disagreements between their parents. However, a slightly smaller proportion (40%) thought that it is preferable for arguing parents to give each other the cold shoulder (or walk away from each other), rather than to have a big row in front of their children.

“And while it is clear therefore, from these survey results, that the public recognises the damage which inter-parental conflict can have on children in relation to life chances, it is interesting also to see that the public understand the benefits that relationship support can bring to their own relationships and mental health, and the wellbeing of their children. “

So much so, in fact, that 45% of the survey sample believe that relationship support should be available, free of charge, through the NHS, almost half (27%) this stated it should be a paid for service.

This survey also found that nearly three-quarters (73%) of people believe that children could be helped if their parents were to seek relationship support. The link between helping parents in order to improve the wellbeing of children has been one which policy-makers and service providers have been slow to recognise, so it is noteworthy that the public understand this linkage so clearly.

The public also recognise - having had to live through the various and extended privations of the pandemic - just how important their relationships are to them, with 66% of respondents saying that the experience has made them value having a relationship with their partner.

The pandemic has been a scarring experience for many of course, and this is reflected in survey results which show 41% of respondents believing that the pandemic will have a long term affect on their mental health.

Interestingly, the public understand that relationship health and mental health are very much entwined, according to these survey results. For example, 46% of respondents stated that relationship support could improve the mental health of one or both partners in distress.

In summary, the results of this survey tell us that the British public value relationships and want them to receive more support. To them, it is clear that strong relationships between adults are good for children.

Some sections of the population have fared particularly badly as a result of the pandemic. The public appreciate this, and understand that demand for mental health and relationship support services will soar.

The message from the public seems increasingly clear: relationships deserve support from the state every bit as much as does our mental health.

For the Government’s levelling up agenda to have lasting and meaningful results, we must support the relationships and mental health of all families, particularly those who have suffered differentially badly as a result of the pandemic.

Key Findings

  • Four in ten (40%) respondents feel that the pandemic has caused additional stress for their children and wider family
  • 18-24 year olds almost twice as likely to have experienced extra conflict between themselves and their partner than the average across all demographics (47% vs 24%).
  • Couples with children being nearly twice as likely as the national average to consider splitting up as a result of lockdown and the pandemic (14% vs 8%).
  • 39% of unemployed respondents said the Covid situation had caused extra conflict in their relationship is striking when compared to the average for the population of 24%.
  • Arguments between parents being ranked as the biggest cause of negative impact on children’s behaviour – more than issues to do with:
    - friends/classmates
    - social media use
    - exam pressure
    - family income
  • 83% understand that inter-parental conflict can negatively affect children’s schoolwork.
  • 45% of the survey sample believe that relationship support should be available, free of charge, through the NHS, almost half this (27%) stated it should be a paid for service.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) of people believe that children could be helped if their parents were to seek relationship support. The link between helping parents in order to improve the wellbeing of children has been one which policy-makers and service providers have been slow to recognise, so it is noteworthy that the public understand this linkage so clearly.
  • The public also recognise - having had to live through the various and extended privations of the pandemic - just how important their relationships are to them, with 66% of respondents saying that the experience has made them value having a relationship with their partner.
  • 42% of respondents believing that the pandemic will have a long term affect on their mental health.

CEO Andrew Balfour said:

“The results of this survey tell us that the British public value relationships and want them to receive more support. To them, it is clear that strong relationships between adults are good for children.

The message from the public seems increasingly clear: relationships deserve support from the state every bit as much as does our mental health.

For the Government’s levelling up agenda to have lasting and meaningful results, we must support the relationships and mental health of all families, particularly those who have suffered differentially badly as a result of the pandemic.

Given that the Government’s spending review is about to commence, this finding provides a timely reminder as to why the Government should continue to fund its highly successful Reducing Parental Conflict."

About Tavistock Relationships

Tavistock Relationships provides more than 20,000 therapy sessions to individuals and couples every year, online and in person.

The charity is a leading authority on couple psychotherapy, undertaking research and providing training, as well delivering programmes to support couples and families in crisis - including the Government’s Reducing Parental Conflict programme.

Tavistock Relationships also trains NHS practitioners in the NICE-recommended talking therapy Couple Therapy for Depression.

Why research relationships?

At Tavistock Relationships we have been improving lives for generations, because strong relationships improve our lives, families and mental health.

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