Lots of people celebrated love on Wednesday, but not all of those in same-sex, interracial or reconstituted relationships could express affection in public because of antagonism from society, their in-laws or even their children.

These realities were discussed in a recent international conference in Malta about relationships in couples.

One of the researchers who addressed the meeting, Suzanne Piscopo, spoke of the findings of a qualitative study conducted following quantitative research which had found that 65 per cent of those who had separated were subsequently cohabiting with another partner.

When it comes to such couples, also called reconstituted families because one or both partners was previously married or partnered and had children from previous marriages or partnerships, it transpires that it was difficult for them to reconsider marriage.

One barrier is not feeling comfortable in doing so because of their children. Some do not even feel comfortable enough to hold hands or hug in front of their children, Prof Piscopo explained.

The research she was quoting, Sustaining Relationships: The Expectations and Lived Experiences of Maltese Couples, was carried out by the National Centre for Family Research within the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society.

Following this research, the centre, in collaboration with the International Commission on Couple and Family Relations, held a conference on relationships in the 21st century.

Prof. Piscopo formed part of a panel discussing diversity across couple relationships and single people chaired by Clarissa Sammut Scerri.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Dr Sammut Scerri noted that while maintaining a couple relationship was hard work, there were several added levels of complexity if it was interracial or same-sex, for example.

She referred to research by another panel member, David Frost from University College London, who spoke of minority stress in same-sex couples. Here, Dr Frost says, the pressure piles on because of the stigma two partners face as members of a minority group. This is counteracted, however, by the resilience which couples gradually build, given that both members face the same type of adversity.

Sitting on the same panel, Renee Singh of the London Intercultural Couples Centre spoke about the ‘safe haven’ often created by interracial couples, who feel that, away from the public eye, they can be themselves and not be singled out because of their relationship choices.

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