Being responsive is the key to improving relationships, research finds.
Responsiveness means more than just listening, it is being tuned in to your partner’s needs and feeling compassion.
The most powerful way of being responsive is firstly, listening to and understanding what they are going through and secondly, responding with sympathy and compassion.
Responsiveness creates a sense of validation and feeling cared for.
Responsive partners make each other feel safe and stable.
For the study, 91 couples discussed stressful aspects of their relationship and how their partner responded.
The results showed that understanding your partner was not enough, they also needed to be concerned.
Dr Lauren Winczewski, the study’s first author, said:
“When people were empathically accurate — when they had an accurate understanding of their partner’s thoughts and feelings — they were more responsive only when they also felt more empathic concern, more compassion and motivation to attend to their partner’s needs.
People might assume that accurate understanding is all it takes to be responsive, but understanding a partner’s thoughts and feelings was helpful only when listeners were also feeling more compassionate and sympathetic toward their partner.
When listeners had accurate knowledge but did not feel compassionate, they tended to be less supportive and responsive.”
Being responsive has been repeatedly shown to reduce stress, improve the emotions and boost self-esteem.
Dr Winczewski continued:
“You can know very well what your partner is thinking and feeling — maybe you’ve heard this story 17 times, the fight with the boss and so on — but if you don’t care?
Having accurate knowledge in the absence of compassionate feelings may even undermine responsiveness.”
Over time, people build up a picture of their partner’s responsiveness from many small interactions.
Dr Winczewski said:
“People use these kinds of interactions as diagnostic of their partner’s motivation and ability to respond to their needs.
‘If that’s how you’re responding to me now, is that how you’ll respond to me again in the future?’
Over time, you may build trust in your partner’s responsiveness or you may start to wonder if your partner is even willing, let alone able, to respond to your needs.”
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 Psychological Science (Winczewskiet al., 2016).