Exploration of emotional participation within couple relationships
McQueen, Fiona Helen
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The study is informed by work from the 1990s which looked at emotional aspects of couple relationships and how this interacts with gendered power (Duncombe and Marsden, 1993, 1995; Benjamin, 1998). The context of couple relationships provides the backdrop to explore experiences of men and women navigating their emotional lives through a period of social change in which men are becoming more emotionally open. I examine to what extent emotional participation is moving towards being more equal, and whether this has an impact on gender relations within couple relationships, including consideration of how love can exist within unequal divisions of labour. The central analytical concepts of gender, power and emotion will be explored in order to look at whether there has been a change in practices of emotional participation in couple relationships. This thesis is a mixed-methods study exploring understandings of emotional participation within couple relationships. It is based on an online survey of 1,080 people, telephone interviews with 44 survey participants and 31 face-to-face interviews with participants living in Scotland. I explore the issues of communication, emotional skill and emotional capital through the narratives of men and women who are single and in relationships, predominantly heterosexual but not exclusively. This research design was used to test findings from previous research to enable an understanding of how gender shapes cultural constructions of emotional habitus within intimate relationships. I extend Burkitt’s concept of ‘emotional habitus’ (2014) to argue that ‘gendered emotional habitus’ (plural) are pervasive and enable the reproduction of heterosexuality within couple relationships. These habitus provide little room to negotiate alternative ways of doing gender, yet there are signs of a ‘clash of ideals of masculine emotion’ due to an increase in the value of emotional skills and the commonsensical discourse that it’s ‘good to talk’, found in the therapeutic discourse (Brownlie, 2014). I argue these signs of social change have led to a shift away from relationships in which women crave emotional fulfilment but do not receive it, to relationships in which men too want emotional closeness with their partner. The change in gendered ways of valuing emotion have impacted on how men and women perceive and manage their couple relationships, which is explored in depth through the concept of emotional participation.