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Working with relationships by Maggie Fisher

2nd October 2015

Health visitors can make a difference to supporting couple relationships

I have had the privilege of working with OnePlusOne (OPO) on a secondment for the last six months. OPO is a UK research and innovation charity that creates services, training, and resources to strengthen couple relationships.  They have some amazing resources and courses on their website which I urge you to look at.

In my role as training and learning development manager for a national perinatal pilot, we have been working with midwives and health visitors in eight pilot sites across the UK to provide a training package delivering parent relationship education in the perinatal period.  If you would like to know more about this project see my Fellows column in the September issue of the Journal of Health Visiting.

OPO was commissioned to work with an expert relationship panel to produce excellent guidance for health visitors on supporting the couple relationship which can be freely downloaded here.

As a health visitor, I have always believed that relationships are fundamental to the work we do. A strong parental couple relationship provides the emotional bedrock for the healthy development of babies and children, and this is particularly crucial in the early years of life1. There is clear evidence that shows that where it is possible to strengthen couple relationships there are profound benefits for adult and child wellbeing, as well as improved parenting2. As health visitors, we are in a unique position to offer early preventative relationship help to promote family and relationship stability2. Early support can prevent the decline in relationship satisfactions that frequently occur when a baby arrives3 with 92% of couples experiencing increased conflict in the first year4.

The guidance explores why relationships matter, the risk and protective factors in the context of understanding the transition to parenthood for couples. The Vulnerability-Stress-Adaption (VSA) Model of Relationships is introduced to promote understanding of how stressful life events affect parents.  The VSA Model illustrates how a parent’s past history and personality traits affect their communication style and behaviours during stressful times. The guidance examines constructive and destructive communication patterns and conflict management alongside a strengths-based approach to practice.

There is a section on relationship support in health visiting practice that is inclusive of fathers and same sex couples with a useful list of resources and links to policy briefings which are helpful and interesting.

I hope like me, you find this a useful toolkit for supporting couple relationships in practice.

Please note that the link to the toolkit is no longer available and has been removed from this blog.


  1. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Foster, C. A. (2003). Parenthood and Marital Satisfaction: A MetaAnalytic Review. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 574–583.
  1.  Coleman L., Mitcheson J., Casey P., Lloyd G. (2013) Couple relationships: Why are they important for health and wellbeing? Journal of Health Visiting. March 2013 Volume 1 Issue 3
  1. Hirschberger, G., Srivastava, S., Marsh, P., Cowan, C., & Cowan, P. (2009). Attachment, marital satisfaction, and divorce during the first fifteen years of parenthood. Personal Relationships, 16(3), 401–420.
  2. Cowan C, Cowan P (1999) When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples. Basic Books, New York

Author: Maggie Fisher RGN. NDN. RHV, Cert Ed, BA (Hons) Ed. PG Diploma Infant and Child Mental Health and PG Diploma in Social Innovation, iHV Fellow.


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