A new study suggests the old adage is correct: Silence is golden, especially when it comes to dealing with a loved one who is stressed out.
Baylor University researchers say simply listening is more powerful than criticism and negativity, and even better than attempting to be positive or encouraging.
The study’s authors conducted two assessments of couples going through tough times. The first assessment consisted of 325 couples who had dealt with a stressful event within the past month. These stressful events included: losing a job, a death in the family, and bankruptcy, among others. The second assessment was comprised of 154 people, either married or living with a partner, who were dealing with a major medical issue.
Participants in both studies were asked to recall the past month, and write down a few interactions in their relationships that stuck out to them, along with their feelings on the interactions, and how often they would occur. Participants were also asked questions about their relationship satisfaction, quality of life, and overall well being.
The study focusing on stressful medical events displayed lower instances of negative behavior, leading researchers to theorize that couples dealing with medical situations are less likely to blame each other.
“When people face stressful life events, it’s common to experience both positive and negative behavior in their relationships,” says study author Dr. Keith Sanford, professor of psychology and neuroscience. “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.”