Shackleton Relationships Project

What makes couple relationships last?

Many people strive to form and maintain mutually fulfilling intimate partner relationships that they hope will be life-long. For substantial numbers however this goal proves elusive. The Shackleton Relationships project was an innovative collaboration between researchers in the Law School and the Medical School led by Professor Anne Barlow and funded by Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia LVO. By interviewing couples in their 10th year of marriage who we have interviewed periodically since marriage as well as married or unmarried and heterosexual or same-sex couples of 15-30 years’ duration, the research team have gained valuable insights into what drives thriving, enduring relationships across the life-course.  This was contextualised by reviewing the academic literature on relationship breadkdown and also supplemented with interviews with divorce lawyers and judges to identify elements of relationship failure.

The project aimed to explore what the critical questions are that should be asked prior to entering a relationship to help to increase its chances of success and, to consider what type of relationship educational tool(s) might help young people to make better decisions in this area. Following preliminary feasibility work within schools to assess students’ willingness to engage with some educational tools with a view to designing a future intervention and assessing whether and how this could be included in the school’s curriculum. 10 critical questions have been identified.

Findings now available

In their findings, released today, the study proposes ten “critical” questions couples should ask before embarking on a serious relationship to help couples thrive. It is hoped that the project findings will also inform the government’s current review of relationship and sex education and lead to the development of educational tools which will help deliver relationship education in an accessible and age-appropriate way that students enjoy.

Asking ten “critical” questions before embarking on a serious relationship can help couples thrive, study shows 

Asking ten “critical” questions before embarking on a serious relationship can help couples thrive, according to a new study backed by the prominent divorce lawyer Baroness Fiona Shackleton.

Long-term relationships last when they are built on friendship, respect, realistic expectations, shared interests and humour, according to the University of Exeter research.

Evidence from couples, as well family lawyers, mediators and judges has helped identify the ten key aspects of a relationship which other couples can use to reflect on to see if they are likely to thrive and stand the test of time. Continuing to ask the ten critical questions can also help couples build their relationship.

Read more.


Young People advise Shackleton research to develop a relationship skills educational toolkit

We are delighted to report that during October and November 2017, we held workshops in five Devon schools and two existing youth community groups.  The aim of the workshops was to seek the advice of young people aged 15 to 18 on the importance of skills we have identified from the earlier stage of the research and their preferences in respect of the method for learning these skills.  The young people gave us some insightful advice and we enjoyed the opportunity to work with them so that the decisions we make about the right way forward are made with the people we hope the toolkit will be used by. We are thankful to the schools and youth club organisers who helped us arrange these workshops. Our next step is a workshop here at the University of Exeter attended by two young people of each of the schools and community groups visited by us to bring all of the results together and create actual content for the toolkit. 


What makes couple relationships last? Staff keynote presentation of preliminary findings

The state of our intimate relationships can significantly affect our personal well being. Having a good relationship with an intimate partner is one of the things that matters most to people in life but is an elusive goal for many. Dr Jan Ewing will give a keynote address at the Staff Festival on 27th June on the Shackleton Relationships Project. To find out more about what appears to be driving thriving intimate relationships across the life course register here.


Local press attention for Shackleton Relationships Project

Professor Anne Barlow talked about the aims of the project on BBC Spotlight and Radio Devon. 

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Celebrity divorce lawyer backs research to help strengthen couple relationships

Prominent divorce lawyer Baroness Shackleton is funding new University of Exeter research which could help uncover the secret of finding life-long love.

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Do you know what makes couple relationships last?

We are now recruiting couples to take part in interviews to find out what drives their relationship to thrive and endure.

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New Relationships Research starts!

We are pleased to announce the start of a new research project funded by Exeter alumna, Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia LVO.

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Research team

‌Anne Barlow is Professor of Family Law and Policy and previously practised as a solicitor in London. 

Anne has a particular interest in Family Law and Policy, especially the regulation of adult relationships such as cohabitation and marriage.  She has published widely in the Family Law field and has directed many empirical projects on family law and policy issues. She was made a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013 in recognition of her contribution to socio-legal research and served as the academic member of the Family Justice Council from 2012-2015.

Jan Ewing is the Shackleton Research Fellow as well as a Research Fellow in the Law Department on the ‘Creating Paths to Family Justice’ project.

Jan was a Research Associate on the preceding ‘Mapping Paths to Family Justice’ project. She was a family law solicitor in private practice in a career spanning 20 years and is a Family Law Lecturer on the Legal Practice Course at BPP University. For her PhD at the University of Cambridge she interviewed 52 couples separately but consecutively 3 times over the first four years of marriage to examine what drives thriving marriages and what leads to the erosion of marital satisfaction in the first few years after marriage. Her research interests are in family law and policy, particularly in strengthening couple relationships.

Astrid Janssens is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Exeter Medical School, and member of the Child Mental Health Group.

Astrid is a psychologist and anthropologist and completed her PhD in medical sciences at the University of Antwerp (Belgium) in 2010. The focus of her research activities extend from the study of patterns of service use and access of services, evaluation of service organisation and delivery, and development of service models and interventions directly with families or indirectly through practitioners working with children. She has broad experience with a variety of health services research methods. Her methodological interest include mixed method studies, qualitative work with young people and service providers, Delphi surveys, surveillance and epidemiological studies, and appraisal and use of patient reported outcomes.

Sharon Blake is the Shackleton Scholar who will be working on the project as a Masters of Research student.

Sharon has worked with families across children services (fostering, youth offending) and has more recently worked as a health researcher in the University of Exeter Medical School. Her research interests are the impact of law on children, hearing the voice of the child in legal systems and knowledge mobilisation - getting research evidence into practice and used to improve outcomes for children and families.

For further information about this research, please contact: relationshipsproject@exeter.ac.uk

or call Dr Jan Ewing on 00 44 (0) 7971 008931