Honey, Let's Take a Breather Together

Relationship satisfaction may decrease after picking up extra slack after a hard day

(RxWiki News) Picking up the slack when your partner has had a hard day is thoughtful. But, if you’ve had a hard day as well, the extra work may put you over the edge.

In a recent study, a group of romantically involved couples were asked to fill out a survey about their relationship every day for a week.

The results of the study showed that individuals who picked up the slack when their partner was stressed could reduce relationship satisfaction if that individual had also had a rough day.

The authors recommended that couples work on communication and acknowledging each other's small, daily sacrifices.

"Thank your partner for his or her efforts."

Casey Totenhagen, PhD candidate and researcher at the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences at the University of Arizona, led an investigation into the inner workings of the small sacrifices individuals make in romantic relationships.

Big and small sacrifices are a part of being in a romantic relationship. Making a sacrifice can provide an opportunity for one person to show commitment and dedication to the other person. But there may be a tipping point to small personal sacrifices, according to this study's authors.

“A lingering question is whether sacrifices continue to be beneficial for relationship quality once the stress of daily hassles is considered. That is, if an individual had a hassling day, is engaging in sacrifices still beneficial for the relationship, or will it add to stress and be negative for the relationship?” the study authors asked.

For the study, 164 couples were recruited from classes at a large southwestern university and asked to keep a seven-day diary on a specified website. Participants ranged from 18 to 66 years of age and their relationships ranged from two months to 44 years in length. Nearly one-quarter of the couples were legally married.

The web-diary consisted of a number of survey questions. The surveys asked about daily sacrifices or adjustments made to accommodate partners, daily hassles and relationship quality.

The sacrifices included extra chores or childcare duties, changing personal schedule, cutting out time with friends, hobbies or exercise, less intimate behavior, less time to communicate with the partner and extra financial contributions.

The surveys also measured each partner’s daily hassles like extra work, money trouble, household stressors and social hassles.

Finally, the surveys asked partners about their relationship quality through questions about satisfaction, closeness and commitment.

The results of the study showed that small, daily sacrifices did not play a role in relationship satisfaction and closeness. However, daily hassles did play a role in decreasing satisfaction and closeness for both partners in the relationship.

These results mean that individuals did not report less relationship satisfaction on days they had to pick up slack, unless that person had also had a rough day, in which case the picking up of extra slack resulted in lower relationship satisfaction.

The results also showed that when only one partner had a rough day, both partners felt the stress.

“We found that sacrifices did not significantly predict satisfaction and closeness, but we found that hassles played a pretty big role for those two outcomes. And it didn’t matter which partner was having the hassling day; it likely affected both individuals,” Totenhagen said in a press release.

The researchers discovered that when one partner made small daily sacrifices, he or she felt more committed to the relationship. But that increased commitment was only felt by the sacrificing partner, and only on low-hassle days for the sacrificing partner.

The results of the study showed that around 25 percent of positive, helpful behaviors went unnoticed by the other partner.

The authors recommended couples work to recognize each partner’s contributions and sacrifices, communicate about what sacrifices are most valued and improve coping techniques to deal with daily stressors.

Couples counseling can vary widely based on insurance coverage and location. A standard therapy session can range between $0 to $200.

This study was published in the May issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

No specific funding was used to support this research. The authors had various academic research grants. No conflicts of interest were found.

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Review Date: 
May 6, 2013