A new study suggest helping with the dishes, rather than giving roses, may be a better way to enhance a 21st century relationship.

While this may seem sacrilegious after Valentine’s Day, the new Open University study finds that the things that keep couples together often include small acts of compasssion.

Researchers discovered simple acts of kindness ranging from taking out the trash to bringing a cup of coffee to bed, to telling someone they look good naked, are cited as relationship savers by the 4,000-plus adults in the UK who took part in the Enduring Love online survey.

Researchers say the results from the survey on couple relationships showed a whole host of ways that participants described how their partner makes them feel appreciated and loved, with simply saying “thank you” and thoughtful gestures being prized most highly.

Participants also noted plenty of irritations they felt in their relationships. Grumbles such as snoring, noisy eating and stacking the dishwasher badly might lead one to think a Valentine’s card would be unceremoniously tossed, yet these were all part and parcel of ongoing 21st century relationships.

Among the findings, the survey revealed that non-heterosexual parents do more relationship maintenance than their heterosexual counterparts and indeed, lesbian and gay participants were shown to be more positive and happier with their relationship and with their partner in general.

There were, however, no significant differences between heterosexual and non-heterosexual participants in their happiness with life.

Researchers discovered mothers are more negative about relationship quality, relationship with partner, relationship maintenance and happiness with relationship/partner than childless women. But mothers are significantly happier with life that any other group, indicating that children could perhaps be the primary source of happiness for women.

Mothers are also almost twice more likely than fathers to say that their children are the most important people in their life.

Fathers are much more likely than mothers to value their partners as the most important person. The survey also revealed how sharing values, a faith, beliefs or interests with a partner is very highly regarded and participants expressed disappointment when the everyday experiences of life could not be shared.

“Holding things in common was seen by participants as a key ‘connector’ in the couple relationship,” said Janet Fink, Ph.D., co-lead researcher on the Enduring Love project.  “And it was clear that long-term relationships appear to endure through a blend of practical and emotional labor,” she added.

In addition, the survey asked whether a stressful situation (experienced in the last two years) – such as a house move, bereavement or redundancy – may have impacted adversely on their relationship.

In fact, responses from participants showed the opposite and suggest that both parents and childless couples might pull together through such difficult life events.

“The more events participants reported, the higher their scores on our three measures of relationship quality, partner relationship and relationship maintenance,” said Jacqui Gabb, Ph.D., co-lead researcher on the project.

The study — which is just past the halfway point — involves two levels of research, gleaned firstly from an online quantitative survey, completed by 4,212 adults’ long-term relationships in the UK. This is complemented by a second strand of qualitative research undertaken with 50 couples, aged between 18 and 65, with children and without.

The overall aim is to develop a picture of what a 21st century long-term relationship looks like and to examine the emotional and practical work that couples do to sustain their relationship.

Researchers were encouraged by the high survey response rate.

“The level of interest in this survey did take us by surprise, but reflects the fascination with the topic of relationships and in ‘self-help’ culture.

“We found that whilst participants do appear to seek help with their relationship — whether that is from friends and relations or other professional sources, they are also employing their own methods to keep their relationship on track.”

Source: Open University