Unsupportive Partners Can Impact One’s Wellbeing, Study Shows

In Education

Researchers at Binghamton University found that unsupportive partners can elevate cortisol levels, impacting physical health negatively. Positive support in couples correlates with lower cortisol levels, indicating better understanding and care within the relationship.

The study conducted by Professor Richard Mattson and his team examined 191 heterosexual married couples to investigate whether enhanced communication skills and mutual social support could result in reduced cortisol levels. Cortisol, a hormone linked to stress, was the focus of the study.

Negativity towards one’s partner increases cortisol levels

In the study, couples engaged in two 10-minute discussions about personal topics unrelated to their marriages. Researchers analyzed their communication for positive and negative social support and assessed participants’ perception of the support. Saliva samples were collected to measure cortisol levels.

Researchers found that wives who reacted negatively to support from their partners felt less understood, validated, and cared for, leading to increased cortisol levels during interactions. Conversely, couples felt more understood and cared for when partners demonstrated positive support skills, and less so when displaying negative communication skills.

According to the study, biological stress levels before interactions can predict couples’ behavior and perception. Additionally, perceived partner responsiveness, indicating feeling understood and cared for, also influences couples’ actions and interpretations.

The research highlights the detrimental effects of elevated cortisol levels on physical health, including decreased brain volume, increased risk of obesity and cancer, poorer heart health, and accelerated aging of the immune system. The lead author, Hayley Fivecoat, developed the project during her graduate studies at Binghamton University and currently serves as a clinical research psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Partner perceptions define supportiveness or responsiveness

Fivecoat highlighted the significant impact of perceptions of support interactions on our overall experiences. Partner perceptions during interactions strongly correlate with their beliefs about their partner’s general supportiveness and responsiveness. This suggests that over time, accumulated perceptions of support shape how individual behaviors are interpreted.

Moreover, individuals who perceive their partners as generally supportive tend to exhibit lower levels of cortisol both before and after the interaction, indicating a potential link between perceived support and stress reduction.

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