You Don't Have to Be Nice to Your Partner During Hard Times ... Just Don't Be a Jerk

You Don't Have to Be Nice to Your Partner During Hard Times ... Just Don't Be a Jerk

It's OK, science says so.

By Marianne Garvey

Don’t worry about being nice to your partner when going through hard times. Science says so.

A new study from Baylor University finds that just stopping yourself from acting like a complete jerk toward your partner has better results than actually being nice to them during fights.

In other words, hold your tongue. That’s all you have to do.

“Refraining from bad behavior toward a significant other during stressful life events is more important than showing positive behavior. Compared with positive gestures, negative ones tend to trigger more intense and immediate responses,” according to the study. “When people face stressful life events, they are especially sensitive to negative behavior in their relationships, such as when a partner seems to be argumentative, overly emotional, withdrawn, or fails to do something that was expected.”

Researcher Keith Sanford, Ph.D., professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor's College of Arts & Sciences asked 325 couples and 154 partnered individuals, about negative behaviors, such as blaming your partner during fights, and found negative remarks “tend to trigger more intense and immediate responses” than showing support when the going gets rough.

"Because people are especially sensitive to negative relationship behavior, a moderate dose may be sufficient to produce a nearly maximum effect on increasing life stress," Sanford said. "After negative behavior reaches a certain saturation point, it appears that stress is only minimally affected by further increases in the dose of relationship problems."

The study, called, ”Negative Relationship Behavior Is More Important Than Positive: Correlates of Outcomes During Stressful Life Events" is published in The Journal of Family Psychology.

Two studies were done to determine the outcome:

“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, experiencing a child's death, not having enough resources to afford basic necessities, 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 hospitalization 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.”

Participants were asked to go over the past month and “write a few words describing different memories of interactions occurring in their relationships.” They also answered questions about how “their relationships were, their general well-being (such as being active and vigorous), their quality of life (such as health), stress, their coping strategies in general and their coping style in the relationship.”

"When people face stressful life events, it's common to experience both positive and negative behavior in their relationships," Sanford said. "When the goal is to increase feelings of well-being and lessen stress, it may be more important to decrease negative behavior than to increase positive actions."

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