When considering what makes love last, it seems small gestures of appreciation matter far more than big flash romantic displays of affection.
An Open University study into the lives of 5,000 couples, one of the biggest ever done in Britain, has found the most important glue for building strong relationships is simply showing respect and saying “thank you”. And being made a cup of tea by your partner is a bigger turn-on than sex, but we are talking about Britain here, remember.
Men who make their other half a cup of tea or breakfast in bed are doing more to cement their bond than those who splash out on flowers and jewellery. That’s something to consider as the ridiculous Valentine’s Day approaches.
So many participants listed making tea as a relationship biggie they made it a separate results category. I wonder would you get the same response from Hong Kong couples? “There is something peculiarly British about a cup of tea, that definitely seems to speak a thousand words,” said study leader Dr Jacqui Gabb, a senior lecturer in social policy at the Open University.
But it emerged that women ranked having a cup of tea made for them ahead of basic signs of love, such as having their opinions valued - and well ahead of sex.
For women with children, having tea made was the fourth most important way of being shown appreciation. But for fathers it only ranked 15th, just one place below sex, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Whether this meant men are not that keen on tea, or that their wives are less likely to get up and make it, was not established.
Slow driving, noisy eating and nail biting
The list of partners’ gripes about each other contained few surprises, being headed by snoring and failing to do household chores. Thousands of couples were asked what aspects of their marriage or relationship irked them most and while many cited fundamentals such as lack of intimacy or understanding, others listed driving too slowly and noisy eating. The word “dishwasher” also popped up a lot, but that might be different here because no one in England has a helper. Recycling is another big bone of contention in British households. Women also moaned about husbands refusing to discuss money matters, leaving lights on and biting their nails.
Dancing at home
If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on inside those miles of curtained suburban semis, the secret is out. Dancing. Another finding was that British couples like to pull the curtains and groove round the living room, either to meaningful songs, or to “silly” and loud music. That’s unlikely to catch on here, due to lack of space.
Childless couples are happier
The survey showed British couples without children were more satisfied with their relationships and more likely to feel valued by their partner than those with children. Should we be surprised? They will certainly have more money and time and be less tired and stressed, that’s for sure. Having kids is held up as the holy grail of happiness, but perhaps the ability to choose really has eclipsed all that.
Not only did childless men and women rank the quality of their relationship higher than parents, the study found they also put more effort into maintaining their relationships, such as talking to each other and taking time to go out together.
The gender divide
The study showed women get more out of having kids than men. In fact, mothers were the happiest group of all. While women with kids were most likely to rate themselves as being dissatisfied with their marriage or relationship or to be growing apart from their partner, they topped the list for overall happiness with life. Childless women emerged as the least generally happy group in society, even though they also appeared to have the best relationships. Fathers emerged as slightly less happy overall than men without children.
Perhaps the most interesting conclusion was that women tend to transfer their focus to their children. This, unsurprisingly, frustrates their husbands and partners.
Well over half of mothers said their children were the most important people in their lives, compared with just over a quarter of fathers. That’s probably a good thing.
By contrast, two thirds of fathers said their wife or partner was still the most important person for them, compared with only a third of mothers. Gabb said: “It does seem that women are getting a greater sense of happiness with their life from their children than fathers.” Well yes, if the dads feel sidelined in their wives’ affections by the kids.
But the good news is that if you stick it out long enough, mid-life lulls pass. Middle aged people were less happy with their relationships than young lovers, but long-established older couples seem to be very happy indeed.