Expert Suggests Tried-And-True Strategies to Strengthen Your Relationship

Jan. 9, 2013 — What are you doing to keep your relationship alive? A University of Illinois study highlights the importance of five relationship maintenance strategies that couples can use to preserve or improve the quality of an intimate relationship.


 

“Relationships are like cars in that you have do certain things to keep them running, especially when your goal is to strengthen and preserve your bond with your partner,” said Brian Ogolsky, a U of I professor of human and community development.

To determine which factors are the most important in promoting healthy relationships, Ogolsky and colleague Jill R. Bowers conducted a meta-analysis of 35 studies and 12,273 individual reports.

The research showed that openness, positivity, assurances, shared tasks, and a shared social network are strategies that couples can use to make their relationship better, he said.

To “open up” your relationship, the researchers encouraged not only talking about your feelings but getting your partner to talk about what she is feeling as well. Positivity entailed being a “fun” person and acting upbeat and cheerful as you interact with each other.

“It’s also important to assure your partner that you’re in the relationship for the long haul, to divide household chores and responsibilities equally, and to make an effort to include your partner’s friends and family in some of your activities,” Ogolsky said.

The study showed that a person who practices one of these five strategies is likely to practice the others as well. And a partner who notices that one of the strategies is being used is apt to be tuned in to their partner’s efforts in the other four areas, he said.

“Persons who use any of these maintenance strategies will not only be more satisfied with and committed to their relationship, they are also likely to continue to love and, yes, even like each other throughout its duration,” he said.

Although these strategies work, challenges may arise when couples don’t see or value each other’s efforts in the same way. These approaches had the most influence on the quality of the relationship when persons believed their partner was also performing relationship maintenance, he said.

The study suggests that what you do doesn’t matter as much as whether the things you’re doing are noticed by your partner. In other words, he said, relationship quality is not only at risk when couples don’t employ these strategies, but also when one partner believes the other is not making an effort or doesn’t recognize those efforts.

Sometimes a person’s thoughts don’t transfer into actions, he explained. “Say you’ve arrived home from work and your intention all day has been to buy some flowers for your partner and surprise her with dinner. Then you get wrapped up in a business phone call and your good intentions fall by the wayside. You may feel as if you’ve put considerable effort into your relationship, but your partner didn’t see it so it does you no good.”

The fact that couples get busy, become enmeshed in routines, and take each other for granted is all the more reason to consciously adopt these relationship strategies, he said.

“Even a small attempt at maintenance, such as asking how your partner’s day was, sending a humorous text to make him laugh, or picking up the phone and calling your mother- or father-in-law, can have a positive impact on your relationship and make you happier,” he added.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided byUniversity of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences.

Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above.


Journal Reference:

  1. B. G. Ogolsky, J. R. Bowers. A meta-analytic review of relationship maintenance and its correlatesJournal of Social and Personal Relationships, 2012; DOI:10.1177/0265407512463338
University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (2013, January 9). Expert suggests tried-and-true strategies to strengthen your relationship.ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 12, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130109110059.htm

Sometimes Expressing Anger Can Help a Relationship in the Long-Term

ScienceDaily (Aug. 2, 2012) — It is not always best to forgive and forget in marriage, according to new research that looks at the costs of forgiveness. Sometimes expressing anger might be necessary to resolve a relationship problem — with the short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation benefiting the health of the relationship in the long-term. The research is part of a larger effort to better understand the contexts in which some relationships succeed and others fail, and also to understand how close relationships affect our health.

(Credit: http://rodneyhunt.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/taking-a-time-out-when-anger-and-frustration-rise/)


A popular research trend in recent years, positive psychology has offered the promise that with forgiveness, optimism, kindness, and positive thinking, people can turn around their relationships even after a serious transgression. But as James McNulty of Florida State University investigated positive psychology and well-being, he began to see a different trend: “I continued to find evidence that thoughts and behaviors presumed to be associated with better well-being lead to worse well-being among some people — usually the people who need the most help achieving well-being.”

McNulty therefore set out to examine the potential costs of positive psychology. In a set of recent studies, he found that forgiveness in marriage can have some unintended negative effects. “We all experience a time in a relationship in which a partner transgresses against us in some way. For example, a partner may be financially irresponsible, unfaithful, or unsupportive,” says McNulty, who is presenting his research at the APA annual convention this week in Orlando. “When these events occur, we must decide whether we should be angry and hold onto that anger, or forgive.” His research shows that a variety of factors can complicate the effectiveness of forgiveness, including a partner’s level of agreeableness and the severity and frequency of the transgression.

“Believing a partner is forgiving leads agreeable people to be less likely to offend that partner and disagreeable people to be more likely to offend that partner,” he says. Additionally, he says, anger can serve an important role in signaling to a transgressing partner that the offensive behavior is not acceptable. “If the partner can do something to resolve a problem that is likely to otherwise continue and negatively affect the relationship, people may experience long-term benefits by temporarily withholding forgiveness and expressing anger.”

“This work suggests people need to be flexible in how they address the problems that will inevitably arise over the course of their relationships,” McNulty says. “There is no ‘magic bullet,’ no single way to think or behave in a relationship. The consequences of each decision we make in our relationships depends on the circumstances that surround that decision.”

How attachment affects our health

Psychologists have known for decades that close relationships are critical to a person’s health and well-being. However, the exact processes that govern these health effects have not been well understood. Recent studies show that the attachment processes between two individuals in a close relationship dramatically affect health domains ranging from pregnancy and birth defects to cancer and chronic disease.

“We know that having relationships in general and being socially integrated is associated with a reduced risk of mortality,” says Paula Pietromonaco of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who is also presenting at the APA convention. “Our research follows from attachment theory, which suggests that there is one primary person that people turn to for comfort when they are distressed or frightened.”

In adulthood, that person is often a romantic partner or spouse, she says. “These sorts of relationship partners are especially important when people are faced with a stressful event because they have the potential to comfort and calm the person who is experiencing distress or to hinder that person’s efforts to feel better.”

In an ongoing longitudinal study of 225 newlywed couples, for example, Pietromonaco’s team is finding that the way people feel attached to each other affects cortisol levels in response to stress — and can possibly predict depression or anxiety over time. Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study has preliminarily shown that among couples that include a wife who is more anxiously attached — who desires a great deal of intimacy and seeks reassurance and support — and a husband who is more “avoidantly attached,” cortisol levels spike in anticipation of a conflict discussion followed by a sharp decline in cortisol. “In addition, these same anxious wife/avoidant husband couples appear to have more difficulty in discussing the conflict, and their behavior suggests greater disengagement from the discussion.”

These patterns, Pietromonaco says, may signal difficulty with emotion regulation, and it is possible that individuals in these couples will be at greater risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety over time. The researchers are following these couples over the first 3 to 4 years of marriage, and will be examining the extent to which the patterns they see now predict changes in emotional health over the early years of marriage. Pietromonaco and colleagues also recently conducted a review of studies that examine the effects of two-person relationships on a range of health topics in order to create a better framework for future investigations. For example, they point to several studies that show that greater prenatal social support predicts more optimal fetal growth, higher infant birth weight, and reduced risk of low birth weight. But, they caution that such studies need to be replicated and expanded to take into account both perceived support as well as actual support interactions among both partners.

In general, Pietromonaco says that relationship science studies must look at the expectations, beliefs, and experiences of both partners in predicting emotional and physical health. “Although research on psychology and health has begun to consider these sorts of ‘partner effects,’ they are often not incorporated into studies designed to intervene to help people cope with chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes,” she says. “As Lynn Martire [Penn State] and her colleagues have noted, many couple intervention studies include both partners but assess psychological adjustment for the patient only. Yet how the patient’s caregiver, who is often a spouse, is adjusting and coping may be very important in predicting how patients themselves cope.”