In times of need, most of us are likelier to turn to family rather than friends.
In a survey, nearly 19 people out of 20 said they rely on their husband, wife or partner for help when they have a problem, far more than would look to a friend. The findings go against the idea that a network of friends can provide all the support a spouse can, as depicted in the hit American TV show 'Friends'.
In practice, the study found that only 24 per cent of men would confide their feelings to another man. Among women, 46 per cent would share their deepest feelings with another woman. Both men and women were more likely to confide in friends of the opposite sex.
More than four out of ten women said their friends understood the way they felt, compared to seven out of ten men. Only 4 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women had no one at all in whom they could confide. The importance of family over friends was demonstrated by the newly-developed Understanding Society database that is designed to track the lives of people from 40,000 homes.
The long-term study, financed by the Government's Economic and Social Research Council, has already provided evidence that married couples are happier than cohabitees, and about the short duration of most cohabiting relationships. "Spouses or partners were largely described as providing positive support," the Daily Mail quoted Professor Heather Laurie at Essex University, who led the latest research, as saying.
"Some 88 per cent of respondents said their partner understood the way they feel, with only 10 per cent admitting that they had felt let down by their partner when they were counting on them," Laurie added. Some 94 per cent said they could rely on their partner if they had a problem, and 90 per cent said they could talk to their partner a lot or at least 'somewhat'.
The study found: "Family members and friends can also provide positive support, but it seems that men are more inclined to rely primarily on their partner, if they have one, while women are happier to turn to family and friends." The study did not explore the differences between the ways in which married and unmarried couples trusted and supported each other.
Professor Laurie, who heads the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, said: "Gender differences in perceptions of social support from a partner, family and friends appear quite marked. "Men who have a spouse or partner rely heavily on that person for positive social support while women tend to look more widely to other family members and friends. "This suggests that men and women differ in their approach to their relationships with family and friends," he added.