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Introduction

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Most individuals can identify issues or problems they would only discuss with a small group of people that are very close to them.  A person’s closest ties are often referred to as a core discussion group or network, usually comprising a small, intimate and significant number of friends and family.

As core discussion groups are thought to involve strong social ties, you might expect that the composition of a person’s group will be largely stable over time.  However, core discussion groups have been found to change over a person’s life course, with relationships strongly affected by the contexts in which people interact with others (Doreian & Conti, 2012).

Recent research has shown that these networks may be less a ‘core’ and more a highly contextual support network in which members are added and dropped as people shift from environment to environment.  Small (2015) argues that the core discussion network is not always a representation of our strongest ties; it is a combination of people we are close to, people we are not close to but who are knowledgeable about the matters we regularly find important, and people we are not close to but who are available because of our routine activities.

Of interest to Relationships Australia is how core social networks contribute to wellbeing, particularly for families experiencing a significant life event such as separation.  While the social networks of married couples are not well studied, it is not surprising that previous research has shown the social networks of men and women change after divorce (Milardo, 1987).  While changes in social networks are not necessarily positive or negative, we have previous discussed how a reduction in the number of important relationships may lead to a reduction in personal wellbeing.

The focus of Relationships Australia’s May 2018 online survey was to examine how partnering and separation affect the close friendships of visitors to our website, with the aim of better understanding how the wellbeing of people experiencing relationship breakdown might be negatively impacted by changes in their core discussion groups.

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