What the WI can teach us about love



Dr Gian Gonzaga

At eHarmony, healthy, happy, long-term relationships are what we deal in. And that’s why we’ve spent the last few months working with the ladies of the Women’s Institute. We believe that a grass-roots organisation as well-established as the WI, accessible to people of all ages, from all walks of life, would be able to give us some real insight into what makes relationships really work. Members of the WI span the generations and we hoped we would be able to gain an insight into what makes long term relationships work. Our research team are constantly working in their labs to understand more about human relationships, but we also know that’s only part of the picture.

Initially, we asked WI members to give their views on relationships in a survey in WI Life Magazine, which received over 250 responses*. We followed this up with a day of debate on modern relationships at the WI’s Denman College, lead by our Senior Research Scientist Dr Gian Gonzaga. Their responses were fascinating, and we found it very encouraging that their thoughts aligned with the eHarmony philosophy of compatibility and understanding leading to long, happy relationships. As Dr Gonzaga said on the day, “It’s so important to understand what makes relationships good and how we can make them even better.” So, what can the women of the WI teach us relationships in our modern society?

Marriage is still important in the 21st century
While WI members from different generations had contrasting ideas on what marriage means today (e.g. should people get married in church?), 88% overwhelmingly agreed that couples in long-term relationships should get married. As one member pointed out, “Children born today could live to 100 – you could be married for 80 years, it’s a big commitment!” Mirroring this, 88% also agreed that marriage is still an important institution in today’s society – in fact, on the day, many thought that marriage was actually becoming ‘cool’ again, boosted by the rising number of civil partnerships.

Additionally, when asked what the government could do to support marriage, nearly half (44%) of respondents said that they should promote marriage as an important institution. A close second, with 38% of the votes, was the idea that the government should set up in-school education on the importance of long term relationships to the over 14s.

Relationships have changed greatly over the past 30 years
At the WI forum, it was agreed by all members that relationships have changed over the last 30 years – whether they had experienced the changes themselves, or seen the differences between their own relationships and their parents’ relationships. Perhaps unsurprisingly, most members over 59 who responded to the survey believed that young people today don’t work enough at relationships. However, most members aged 19-59 thought the opposite. One member responded to this, saying, “I find that the new generation that are getting married and having children now are working much harder at it because they come from broken homes.”

When the idea of ‘working hard’ in a relationship was debated at Denman College, it meant different things to different members. Some saw it as not walking away at the first sign of trouble, while others felt it was placing emotional well-being over material possessions. On the other hand, across all ages, most (65%) thought that couples today have it easier than they did 30 years ago.

We also asked the members to state the three biggest stresses in relationships now, and relationships 30 years ago – finances and work were the top two answers for both categories.  But, for relationships today, material possessions have overtaken children as a perceived source of stress in the last 30 years. On the other hand, pressure from families to settle down is now seen as the most minor stress in modern relationships.

Communication is essential

For the last question, we asked the members what one piece of advice they would give their son or daughter on what makes a relationship work. Over 70% of respondents cited good communication between partners as the one piece of advice they would give a new couple. We got a lot of feedback on this on our day of debate, which also backed up our survey responses.  Communication, communication, communication – nothing can replace the ability a couple has to explain how they feel to each other clearly and sensitively. This was far and away the most important reason cited, with just 7% saying ‘make time for intimacy and sex’.

And finally…the secret ingredient

One of the more surprising things to come out the debating day was emergence of the importance of sleep in a relationship. Most delegates agreed that lack of sleep exacerbates problems and causes arguments. So make sure you and your partner are getting your seven hours plus a night!

We’ll leave you with the thoughts of one member, when asked what makes relationships work: “I think the key to a successful relationship is remembering that it’s about love for oneself and for the other person, and you’re together to learn and grow.”

> If you would like to know more about our work with the WI, or you’re interested in getting your branch of the WI involved with eHarmony, contact us here.

*Carried out November-December, 2009 by eHarmony in conjunction with the Women’s Institute. Results taken from 250 respondents.

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