I've never been a perfect girlfriend, but I've always aspired to be one. But today, I have good news for all of us bad, overly-expressive girlfriends out there.
Turns out acting like a textbook good girlfriend might not only be bad for your mental health, but also for your romantic relationships.
According to a new study done by researchers from Binghamton University, if you're being super positive when receiving emotional support from your partner (aren't good girlfriends supposed to respond to support positively?) you're going to end up stressed the fuck out.
And feeling stressed the fuck out is never good for your romantic relationship, is it now?
The researchers in the study asked 65 married couples to discuss a stress factor in their life — a stressor that exists outside of their relationship (like work, money, how they can't seem to get to the gym... you know, the stressful shit we all deal with).
Before and after the stress convo, researchers gathered saliva samples from each partner and tested the cortisol levels in their saliva. Cortisol is a stress hormone in our bodies that increases in the blood when we're feeling stressed and anxious. (Increased cortisol levels is also what compels us to stress eat.)
Researchers found that when husbands offered their wives positive support during their stress confession, their cortisol levels went down, understandably.
But here's what is interesting: When the wives responded "positively" to their husbands support, their cortisol levels actually went up. So when they tried to be "perfect girlfriends" with the perfect, sweet responses to the support they were receiving, the ladies ended up feelings more stressed out than they were to begin with!
And here is when the study gets even MORE interesting: When the women responded "negatively" to the support they were receiving, their cortisol levels went down, meaning they became less stressed out.
"What we found, interestingly enough, was that cortisol was really only affected in wives but not in husbands, and only in wives' discussions," Hayley Fivecoat, a former student at Binghamton University who used the study results for her dissertation, told Science Daily.
Basically, when women expressed that they were still upset or asked for a different kind of support from their hubbies, they felt ~calmer~.
Being fake and positive when receiving support stresses women out more than being real.
So, being fake and positive when receiving support stresses women out more than being real. As a girl who doesn't know how to be fake nice — and often shame spirals over what a bad girlfriend she is — I'm liking these study results!
In clinical interventions, couples are often coached to use "positive support behavior," but this study actually suggests that "positive support behavior" can accidentally hurt and stress out your partner more.
Nicole Cameron, assistant professor of psychology at Binghamton University and co-researcher, says that sometimes giving advice to your partner is more damaging than helpful. Sometimes, you just have to shut up and listen, you hear?
Say a husband is giving advice to his wife when she has a problem. Even though giving advice is a constructive thing to do, it may not be helpful to her at the moment; maybe she just wants someone to listen to her. Or maybe there could be the opposite, where the husband is being more of a supportive listener, but the wife really wants someone to give her some advice. All of those things are positive, but one is going to have a better effect than the other. What this tells me is that social support is more idiosyncratic and specific to the person and the problem.
Cameron says she wants more science-based research like this to be done when analyzing a couple's behavior. She says that people often leave couple's counseling not feeling any better, despite following the guidance of their therapist or counselor.
She believes studying stress hormones "as a mark of the change is interesting because it goes further than words — you can really see how the body reacts to discussions."
I'm all about lowering those stress hormones, especially when it comes to my relationship. Stress, babes, is not sexy. So let's keep the research coming!