Dr Jacqui Gabb from the Open University: Enduring Love? Relationship work and practices of intimacy in long-term couple relationships

Date: 15 October 2014, 4.00pm
Location: Room 12.25, Social Sciences Building

Using a rich palette of qualitative methods and a large scale online survey, the Enduring Love? project has been studying how couples experience, understand and sustain long-term relationships in contemporary Britain, paying particular attention to the ways in which gender, parenthood and generation shape experience.

In this presentation, I will explore the relationship work that couples do and how this serves to sustain their long-term relationships. Relationship work here is more than the drudgeries of domesticity. It offers couples the opportunity to embrace their relationship – through the pleasures of physical closeness; and to nurture their relationship – emotionally, practically, and symbolically through practices of togetherness which carve out shared time and create couple memories.

Focusing attention on the everyday practices that couples do and the material conditions which shape these personal lives, our conceptualisation of relationship work thus inculcates ideas of work and capital whilst keeping a keen eye on the intensity of emotions. Across the dataset, it was the personal meanings of relationship work that were valued more than their cultural reference points. Commercialised celebrations like Valentine’s Day or grandiose romantic displays from Interflora and/or the ‘guilty’ petrol station bunch of flowers were less fondly received than small acts of kindness. Knowing gestures and familiar relationship practices demonstrated intimate depth of understanding and investment in the long-term couple relationship.