A Little Known Secret to a Great Relationship

Amy Keyishian

Smile Bento
Pack his lunch, sure -- but sssh!!
When your mate is under stress -- or even when he isn’t -- you want to do something nice for him: encourage him, send peppy little texts, meet him for lunch for a little midday break.

But some relationship experts, like Niall Bolger of Columbia University, have floated the idea that giving support can make things worse. People generally feel better when they have others to lean on. So Bolger's findings seem totally weird: Individual expressions of support can make them feel worse, at least for a short time.

Think about it: How many times has your guy told you how to handle a situation, only to have you snap back, “I know! Just -- back off!”

The solution, Bolger found -- the way to give support that really works -- is to do it with much less fanfare, to find undercover ways to give support to your spouse. Try it and see if that brightens his mood a little more.

Take men specifically. The theory goes that an offer of support lowers a guy's self-esteem -- he can feel weaker, rather than stronger, when someone says, overtly, that he needs help. (Note to my husband, if you’re reading this: Not me! Go ahead and keep offering to help; my self-esteem is just fine!) Offers of support can also leave him feeling like he “owes” you, which just adds to the stress.

The answer, in this case -- if you’ve been noticing that your helpful overtures are met with gloomy glances -- is to go undercover with your assistance. Either do it without telling him -- take care of some onerous tasks so he doesn’t have to worry about them -- or give your advice in an indirect way, as if you were talking about someone else. So cute ... this kind of study is called “politeness theory.”

Anyway, here’s the upshot: If you’ve been trying to help only to get snarled or pouted at, try again with a different tack. It might not be the thought that counts, as much as how that thought goes into action.

Does your mate like the direct method of support, or do you have to be sneaky about it?

Image via gamene/Flickr

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