Partners’ Positive Support Can Improve Physical Well-Being in Couples

There are numerous studies that demonstrate a link between positive romantic relationships and good physical and mental health. Although the reasons are many, one reason for this phenomenon could be the way in which partners help each other cope with stress. High stress levels can have many negative health consequences, including high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and cardiac problems. Therefore, understanding how partner support can weaken the negative effects of stress is an important clue toward overall better physical and mental health as well as relationship satisfaction.

Nathalie Meuwly of the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland wanted to look more closely at how partner interactions influenced stress and stress recovery. In a recent study, Meuwly recruited 123 male/female romantic couples and exposed one of the partners in each couple to a stress-inducing experiment. She evaluated the attachment orientations of the partners and measured their cortisol levels before and after the stress experiment. Meuwly found that positive support and adaptive coping skills of their partners directly impacted the participants’ stress increases and stress recovery periods. Specifically, Meuwly discovered that when the stressed participant received adaptive coping input from their partner, they had smaller stress increases and took less time to recover from stress than the participants who did not receive positive coping support.

Another interesting finding was the influence of attachment orientation. For women in particular, anxious attachment decreased the benefits of partner support, whereas as all the men benefited from partner coping strategies, regardless of whether they had avoidant or anxious attachment styles. Meuwly believes this finding can be explained by the elevated stress levels the anxious women had prior to the experiment. If the women were already experiencing stress, then they may have had sharper increases and smaller decreases after the induction, regardless of the type of support they received. Another possibility is that the support that men provide women may vary depending on the attachment anxiety of the women. Or perhaps women are more sensitive to the needs of men and are able to provide support that specifically addresses their stress reactions. These are theories that should be explored in future work. Regardless, this study clearly demonstrates a link between positive partner support and stress patterns. “This finding may have relevance to physical well-being, in that effective cortisol stress recovery appears to be a marker of good health,” said Meuwly.

Meuwly, Nathalie, Guy Bodenmann, Janine Germann, Thomas N. Bradbury, Beate Ditzen, and Markus Heinrichs. Dyadic coping, insecure attachment, and cortisol stress recovery following experimentally induced stress. Journal of Family Psychology26.6 (2012): 937-47. Print.

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  • constance


    January 16th, 2013 at 2:34 PM

    if there is one thing I have learned in life it is that I need and deserve a partner who helps to alleviate the other tension and stress in my life, not create more

    i think that there are many women like i used to be who wanted someone so bad in my life romantically that i forgot that they were supposed to care for me mind, body, and spirit and i let far too many men get away with treating me as less than i deserved.

    older and much much wiser now, won’t let that happen again

  • Debbie


    January 16th, 2013 at 11:10 PM

    Having someone to support you in difficult times is priceless.And if that person is your partner that you have known for quite sometime then it’s even better.You know each other well and having that someone be there for you at all times is what makes partner support so valuable.

  • Tim Houston

    Tim Houston

    January 17th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    I think that a lot of this is basic information that most of us already know, but knwoing and doing are two very different things. It is hard to always put this into practice in our daily lives because of all the stress and pressure that most of us are feeling. Sometimes the person that we take it all out on is the person that we know we love the most, yet we think nothing about hurting them to let out our own bad feelings about work or life in general. I pledge to starting today find other ways to relieve some of those work stresses as it is not my partner’s responsibility to do that for me.

  • Quinton


    January 17th, 2013 at 10:56 AM

    My wife is definitely my rock. When I’ve had a bad day, all I have to do is come home and be around her and I already feel better. We just do the normal stuff like eating dinner and watching TV. Nothing fancy. She just makes me feel better.

  • Reba


    January 17th, 2013 at 11:00 AM

    i have been married 2 times. and the first one we didn’t help each other at all. if i was upset it was like he ididn’t care and just walked away. but now with my second husband it is so much better we really help each other. when i am upset, he will always sit with me even if he don’t say much. It makes me feel good that he is there and cares.

  • Stewart


    January 17th, 2013 at 11:03 AM

    I think the biggest challenge is when both are stressed and needing support. My partner and I just had a situation like this last night. We were both really upset (not at each other, just at a situation). Fortunately, we are like opposites. I hold onto the anger and want someone to feed off of it with me. He, however, tends to cool down quickly and look at things more rationally. But, one thing is for sure. We are better when we are together and can work through these types of situations.

  • Thom


    January 17th, 2013 at 11:04 AM

    It sounds so simple and filled with common sense. Yet it is so hard to practice!

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