Listening from the heart can improve relationships, research finds.
Clear and explicit support helps to reduce tension and stress levels and improve the other person’s emotional state.
This helps build stronger relationships and even contributes to better long-term health.
Here are three tips for providing supportive communication:
- Acknowledging the person is under stress
While the situation might not seem stressful to you, remember that people are different.
Acknowledge that your partner requires comforting.
- Use verbal and nonverbal forms of communication
Listening and asking questions, using eye contact and touching can all help reduce stress levels.
- Provide emotional support
Unless someone asks for advice, do not offer it.
Instead, focus on providing emotional support.
This just involves listening and asking questions so you understand the problem.
Professor Jennifer Priem, who led the research, said:
“The fastest stress recovery comes from explicit messages.
When a partner is stressed they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well.
Clarity and eye contact help.”
One of the classic mistakes people make is to dismiss their partner’s stress, Professor Priem said:
“If your partner is feeling stressed, telling him or her ‘don’t worry about it’ or trying to distract the person from the stress by changing the subject is generally not going to help.”
The conclusions come from a study in which 103 people did stressful tasks while being supported by their dating partner.
Levels of the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol, along with ratings by trained observers, helped assess the type of supportive communication that was effective.
It emerged that really supportive communication helped lower cortisol levels.
Other research has shown that this can help improve sleep, reduce headaches and even benefit the heart.
Professor Priem said:
“Cookie cutter support messages don’t really work.
Stress creates a frame through which messages are interpreted.
Support that is clear and explicit in validating feelings and showing interest and concern is most likely to lower cortisol levels and increase feelings of wellbeing and safety.
If you aren’t seeing improvement in your partner’s anxiety, you may need to change your approach.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Communication Research (Priem et al., 2015).