Together and apart: supporting families through change

Report of the About Families second topic

Since good relationships between parents are important for the well-being of both adults and children, About Families asked what research could tell us about sustaining healthy relationships and coping with relationship breakdown.

Some key points from the research

  • Conflict does not necessarily lead to unhappier relationships. How conflict happens and how it is dealt with matters.
  • Seeing relationships as flexible and able to change can help adults to deal with relationship issues.
  • Many things put pressure on relationships, and it is normal for relationship satisfaction to decline after the birth of a baby. Parents of disabled children face additional pressures which can continue into the child's adulthood.
  • Parents manage better when they spend time together as a couple, communicate well, trust and respecteach other, have a supportive relationship and are happy with their roles and responsibilities. Access to short term breaks is key for families affected by disability.
  • Improving relationship satisfaction and preventing relationships from breaking down (where appropriate) is important for the well-being of both adults and children. Stability is more important than family structure for children's well-being.
  • Arranging contact with children following separation is complex for both practical and emotional reasons, but arrangements do not have to be conflict-free to be successful. Developing good couple communication skills may be more effective in facilitating contact than legal interventions.
  • Men and women face different financial pressures following separation. Single mothers are the worst off financially, while families affected by disability face additional financial disadvantage which can continue throughout their lives.
  • Parents face practical and emotional barriers to seeking support from relationship services. While the most common source of support is family and friends, this is not problem-free. People prefer support from skilled professionals when experiencing serious concerns.
  • Research tends to focus on the difficulties associated with living with disabilities or long term conditions. This emphasises the strains and pressures having a disabled child puts on relationships and family life. Help to parents often aims to support them by providing help for the child. Recognising pressures and challenges for these families needs to be balanced with addressing social barriers and the capacity of families to manage well given the appropriate support.
  • Research does not always distinguish between different family forms, type of relationship, parents and other carers, or gender, and tends to be based on heterosexual families. However, many of the issues arising around relationship support are applicable to many types of families.

The full report and briefing are available to download here