Friends and loved ones attribute the strength of their relationships to many things. Liking the same things, sharing confidences, and experiencing similar life events are some of the factors that bond people in friendship. Emotional support is another key component of a close friendship. People rely on their friends to provide positive reactions when good things happen, and for emotional support during stressful times. But is it the perception of emotional support — the idea of believing a friend will be there in bad times — or the actual enacted support that produces positive feelings and strengthens bonds? Shelly L. Gable of the University of California Santa Barbara recently led a series of studies examining that question. Gable assessed how enacted support during positive events differed from enacted support during negative events. Additionally, she assessed how positive support influenced perceptions of future support during negative events.
Gable found that the participants were more receptive to support during positive times than during negative times. Specifically, individuals who experience stress may have expectations of how a friend should support them. Usually under such conditions, the friend is unaware of what is expected and cannot offer the type of emotional support that is needed. This can lead to anger and resentment on the part of the friend in need and the supporter, resulting in a strained relationship. However, when a friend offers support during a positive time, the receiver perceives that the same person will be available during difficult times, and the result is a higher level of friendship commitment and satisfaction. “In relationships, when close others are responsive to our needs consistently during the ups of daily life, it lays a solid foundation of belief in their accessibility during the down times,” Gable said.
Gable, S. L., Gosnell, C. L., Maisel, N. C., Strachman, A. (2012). Safely testing the alarm: Close others’ responses to personal positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029488
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