Posts Tagged Close Relationships

Close Relationships Influence Health, Happiness


Close Relationships Influence Health, HappinessWhile sociologists and psychologists have known that having a close relationship improves one’s health and happiness, the biological underpinnings that influence these health effects has been obscure.

Learning how relationships provide protective health benefits has been accentuated with new findings that show dramatic benefits of being in a relationship for health issues 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,” said psychologist Dr. Paula Pietromonaco of the University of Massachusetts.

“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, 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.

That is, our emotional quotient, as associated with being in a relationship, can influence future mental health challenges.

Researchers say preliminary findings show that when a wife is more anxiously attached – that is, someone 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.”

Pietromonaco believes the patterns 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.

In the study, researchers are following the 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.

Upon a review of studies that addressed the effects of two-person relationships on a range of health topics Pietromonaco discovered several instances in which greater prenatal social support predicts more optimal fetal growth, higher infant birth weight, and reduced risk of low birth weight.

How, the researchers 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.

Researchers say the emerging field of relationship science will explore in what way the expectations, beliefs, and experiences of both partners can predict 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,” said Pietromonaco.

“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.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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Honesty, Not Forgiveness, May Be Best for Couples


Honesty, Not Forgiveness, May Be Best for CouplesEmerging research suggests a marriage in which partners follow the time-honored tradition of forgive and forget can lead to problems.

The finding opposes the strategy of positive psychology — an approach that offered the promise that with forgiveness, optimism, kindness, and positive thinking, people can turn around their relationships even after a serious transgression.

In the new study, investigators discovered that 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.

Experts say the study 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.

James McNulty, Ph.D., of Florida State University initiated the study when he took a closer look at positive psychology and well-being.

“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 said.

These findings lead McNulty 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,” he said.

“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 said.

Moreover, McNulty believes 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.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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