Offering your spouse what you believe to be positive support could have negative physiological effects on them, Binghamton University in the United States said in a press release on Tuesday, citing new research by the institution.
While communication skills are often the focus of many clinical interventions, the study suggests that skill in delivering and receiving social support – by using more “positive” support behaviour – is not consistently linked to actual reductions in cortisol (a hormone that helps regulate stress in the body), nor increases in perceived partner responsiveness, says Hayley Fivecoat, a former Binghamton University student who published the results in her dissertation.
In fact, more positive behaviour may have unintended negative consequences, and classically defined negative behaviour can sometimes have positive effects.
“Say a husband is giving advice to his wife when she has a problem. Even though giving advice is a constructive thing to do, it may not be helpful to her at the moment; maybe she just wants someone to listen to her,” co-researcher Nicole Cameron, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University, says.
“Or maybe there could be the opposite, where the husband is being more of a supportive listener but the wife really wants someone to give her some advice. All of those things are positive, but one is going to have a better effect than the other. What this tells me is that social support is more idiosyncratic and specific to the person and the problem.”
In helping couples support each other, clinicians may work together with them to identify the ways they prefer to be supported in order to capitalise on the positive effects of perceived partner responsiveness on relationships, Fivecoat says.
This may be a more fruitful approach than advocating for more general positive and negative communication behaviour while giving and receiving support.
Cameron’s dissertation is titled “Spousal social support is associated with perceptions of partner responsiveness and fluctuations in cortisol for married women”.