Earthquakes strengthen relationships for couples

Couples who helped each other through the stress of Canterbury's earthquakes were brought closer together by the traumatic events, a new study says.

Research into how couples were affected by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes found that while some couples experienced increased marital distress, others would have felt their relationship grew stronger.

University of Canterbury PhD student and Fulbright scholar Emma Marshall said many researchers had considered the psychological impact of traumatic events on individuals but little was known about how couples were affected.

"We do not live in isolation. Not only do individuals need to manage their own distress or reactions following an event such as the earthquakes, they are mindful of their partner's reaction and how to help them . . . so, overall, when you look at the individual only, you do not get the entire picture of the impact of the traumatic event."

The study, which was supervised by Dr Roeline Kuijer, followed 100 heterosexual couples living together in Canterbury over 18 months and found some experienced hardship in their relationships, but others grew closer.

Marshall's study takes into account factors including wellbeing, trauma severity and the level of communication between partners.

"The findings of this study can then be used to inform the development of interventions that can effectively help couples maintain supporting and loving relationships."

Marshall expected to finish analysing the results next year, but had already found that couples who were responsive and sensitive to their partners' needs seemed to be able to help each other through stress.

The Press