In this new article series, member organizations of the 25-year-old Kansalaisareena (Citizen Forum) describe their operations and activities.

Hope, support, and strength from peer support couple activities

Peer support couple is a volunteer couple that has been trained for its mission. The couple has experienced that it is good to get help with their relationship problems and wants to provide peer support for other couples who want help. One the most critical tasks of the peer support couple is listening, encouraging and arousing hope. With the data in the peer support couple registry, couples in need of support have been offered a support couple within a week of seeking help.

In March 2018, the peer support couple project initiated cooperation with the Sosped foundation to assess the impact of the operation. The research was conducted by interviewing peer support couples twice in groups as well as by asking people in need of support about their experiences of participation and its impact with two electronic forms. Both spouses answered the questions on one form independently and the other the couple filled together.

A peer support couple is sought during crisis

Based on this research, couples seek a peer support couple when there are challenges in their relationship in communication, dealing with conflicts and problems, in mental and physical closeness and in sexuality. A support couple is usually sought in very dire situations in a relationship and 90 % of the respondents had asked for a support couple´s help in a crisis. Especially everyday hurry and lack of encounters as well as exhaustion and mental health problems were highlighted as causes for the problems. 41 % of respondents had also psychological and physical violence in their past.

More than half of the respondents felt that participation in the peer support couple activities helped them improve their communication skills. Positive effects were especially seen when couples talked about difficult issues and listened to each other. The majority of couples experienced increased confidence and trust after participating in the peer support couple activities. More than half of the respondents also felt that the support in their relationship had helped them identify problems. Positive changes had happened in spiritual closeness and the processing of conflicts and problems had improved.

60% of the respondents also received help from elsewhere besides the support couple. The couples who didn´t receive any other support felt a stronger positive impact from the peer support couple activities than did those who received support from elsewhere, as well.

The most important thing is hope

79 % of respondents felt that hope regarding their marriage increased with participation in the peer support couple activities. Most hope was gained among the 20 to 34-year-old and those whose problems had lasted only one year or less. When comparing the relationship problems, hope had increased most for couples with a background of infidelity, burn-outs, or mental health problems.

94 % of those who had sought help felt that they had gotten support for handling the crisis. The majority of the respondents´ understanding increased about the fact that other married couples have problems, too. 69 % of the respondents gained a broader perspective on the challenges of their marriage. Almost as many found new strength and a feeling that they know how to help each other better.

The impact of the peer support couple activities

According to the research, all indirect and long-term effects of the peer support couple activities are impossible to evaluate based on a one-time interview and a small sample, but most likely the activities have a positive impact at least on following issues: the quality of the relationship improves, a functional relationship supports spouses in everyday life, communication of families gets better through the development of parenting dynamics. Also, divorces can probably be prevented by dealing with deep crises and this has a positive long-term effect in the lives of the children of these couples. Since the peer support couple activities best help those, who have no other support available, it will have a preventative effect on divorces.

Elina Holappa, Peer support couple coordinator, Parempi avioliitto ry

Through the peer support couple activities of Parempi avioliitto ry, over 200 couples have gotten support during crises in their relationships. Last year is in progress in the three year (2016-2018) nationwide peer support couple project. The main task of the project in the beginning of 2016 was to create a national register of peer support couples and to establish peer support couple activities as a part of the operations of the association. There are 120 peer support couples in the registry at the moment.

Read more: https://www.parempiavioliitto.fi/

Translation: Kati Merikoski