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.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.