Bad behaviour towards spouse is more impactful
Refraining from bad behaviour toward a significant other during stressful life events is more important than showing positive gestures, a study has found.
Compared with positive behaviour, negative ones tend to trigger more intense and immediate responses, researchers said. How a couple works together during trying times is associated with individual well-being as well as satisfaction with the relationship.
"When people face stressful life events, they are especially sensitive to negative behaviour in their relationships, such as when a partner seems to be argumentative, overly emotional, withdrawn or fails to do something that was expected," said researcher Keith Sanford, a professor at Baylor University in the US.
"In contrast, they're less sensitive to positive behaviour," he said. The study also found that low doses of a behaviour are most important, and over time, more extreme levels have less impact. After negative behaviour reaches a certain saturation point, it appears that stress is only minimally affected by further increases in the dose of relationship problems," he said.
For the study, published in Journal of Family Psychology, researchers surveyed couples experiencing stressful life events to measure their behaviour, relationship satisfaction, personal well-being and quality of life.
In the first study, 325 couples who were married or living with a partner all reported experiences of at least one of six possible stressful events within the past month, including: losing a job, becoming a primary caregiver of an older relative, experiencing a parent's death, and experiencing bankruptcy, foreclosure or repossession of a house or car. The second study included 154 people who were either married or living with a partner and experiencing a serious medical issue meeting one or more of these criteria: a condition requiring hospitalisation or a trip to the emergency room, a serious chronic condition and a life-threatening condition.
All participants reported that they had visited a medical practitioner within the past year for treatment of their conditions.
All participants also were asked questions about how rewarding their relationships were, their general well-being and their quality of life. The second study, examining couple's behaviour showed lower levels of negative behaviour than the first study dealing with other types of stressful issues.