This paper provides an overview of a qualitative study on access to information and support for sustaining couple relationships. Fifty people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences were interviewed for the research. Relationship support is an under-researched topic, particularly in New Zealand. The results discuss three central sources of support: family and friends (informal); people working in communities without primary roles or responsibilities for relationship support, such as general practitioners (semi-formal); and professionals focused specifically on relationship wellbeing (formal). The research also gives insights into the barriers to and facilitators for accessing support for couple relationships.
The quality of people's interpersonal relationships has a powerful impact on their individual wellbeing and the wellbeing of their family. Strong, well-functioning relationships are associated with resilience to stressful events, better physical and mental health, and greater productivity. Poor-quality relationships can affect children's development and wellbeing.
A key theme from the Families Commission's consultation workshops (in May 2007) with government and non-government organisations that have roles in supporting relationships was that there was a real lack of New Zealand research on how and why people access support for their couple relationships. This workshop finding created the momentum to conduct a qualitative study specifically focused on the barriers to and facilitators of access to information and support for couple relationships.
The research examined:
* how, why and when people access information and support (formal and informal) for their couple relationship
* where people seek information and support
* the barriers to and enablers of access to information and support
* people's experiences of being supported.
Fifty face-to-face interviews were carried out in February and March 2008 with people from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. (1) A snowballing approach was employed to recruit most participants because of the sensitivity of the subject matter and the need to engage hard-to-reach audiences. People working in community organisations, or people with strong networks with Maori, Pacific and same-sex communities were asked to select and recruit participants according to agreed demographic criteria. A recruitment company recruited some participants where the snowballing method did not produce the required numbers. Potential participants were excluded if it were known that they had experienced physical, sexual or psychological abuse in their current relationship. Only one person of a couple was included in the sample, to avoid the risk that participants' disclosure of information might damage their relationships The characteristics of the sample are detailed in Table 1.
It is important to note that people with a history of violence in their current relationship were excluded from the study as their participation could have risked further violence within their couple relationship. (2)
The qualitative data were analysed to find patterns and themes. Three central kinds of support for relationships were identified. Each type of support is discussed below and supported by verbatim quotations from participant interviews to illuminate key points. Pseudonyms have been used to protect participant anonymity.
Informal Support from Family and Friends
It is difficult to find any clear definition in the research literature of "informal support" provided by family and friends (Manthei 2005, Robinson and Parker 2008). Research on supporting relationships is heavily focused on communication within couple relationships, rather than exploring the role of supporting the couple relationship played by external sources (Berscheid 1999, Felmlee et al. 1990, Milardo 1982).
It is of significant interest that most of the participants in this study preferred...