Money worries are top relationship strain

A wealth of evidence demonstrates that good-quality personal relationships are cornerstones of our individual health and wellbeing (and of our children’s too, if we have them).

Wellbeing experts have observed: “Social connections, including marriage but not limited to that, are among the most robust correlates of subjective wellbeing. In fact, people themselves report that good relationships with family members, friends or romantic partners — far more than money or fame — are prerequisites for their own happiness.” And a recent evidence review by the University of Sussex and the Early Intervention Foundation, for instance, found that the quality of parental relationships are a primary influence on children’s wellbeing.

Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care’s latest The Way We Are Now research, therefore, looks at the quality of the UK’s personal relationships. Our new report, It takes two: Couple relationships in the UK, looks at what we think the main ingredients are for a good relationship; what puts pressure on our relationships; how happy and healthy our relationships are; our attitudes towards relationships and towards relationship support.

Overall, our research shows that our relationships are mostly in good health. Almost three-fifths (57%) of people in a relationship say their relationship is completely or almost completely rewarding. Nearly half (45%) find dedicated time to spend together (for example, on a ‘date night’) once a week or more. Four out of five (78%) say they are happy with their relationship with their partner. And the data also show that partners who enjoy good-quality relationships are more likely to feel good about themselves and optimistic.

However, beneath this broadly positive picture, our data show a darker underside of a sizeable minority of people who are in distressed relationships – which have a proven negative impact on their health. We found 25% of partners are in distressed relationships. We found partners with children were more likely to experience distress. We also found people who are limited by a health condition or disability were less likely to enjoy good relationships and more likely to experience distress. Similarly, partners in lower socio-economic groups were less likely to enjoy good relationships.

We also asked about the strains people were feeling on their relationships, and found money worries are the top (most-identified) strain on relationships and 26% of people said money worries caused astrain on their relationships. With recent analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Resolution Foundation showing wages will not rise for 15 years and the UK is in the midst of the worst decade for pay growth since the Napoleonic wars, we can only expect money worries to become more of a strain and to contribute to higher levels of relationship distress and lower wellbeing.

Finally, we asked respondents about their attitudes towards relationships and support. Happily, most people agreed that all relationships come under pressure from time to time and everyone can benefit from support. However, this did not prevent more than half (54%) also saying they would not want anyone to know if they accessed support. And, worryingly, two-fifths (40%) said they did not know where to go for support. It is clear that awareness and stigma barriers prevent many people who could benefit from accessing relationship support.

Our evidence demands attention from policy-makers: it’s clear relationships are central to our wellbeing, but too many people are in distressed relationships, too many people do not know where to go for support, and too many people feel that support is stigmatised. In response to our findings, Relate, Relationships Scotland and Marriage Care are calling on government to (among other things) coordinate relationship support and wider mainstream family support services – and prioritise joining-up support for new parents and relationship support; to train and develop guidance for health professionals; and to back a public awareness campaign to overcome barriers. For too long, despite the mounting evidence for their centrality to our health, personal relationships have been on the margins of policy. It is time to take them to the mainstream

Blog post by David_Marjoribanks Senior Policy and Research Officer at Relate