When our partner is stressed about work, we may worry about the best way to comfort them. Should we back off and give them space? Talk about it directly? Send them flowers? Turns out, it doesn’t take elaborate gestures. You don’t even have to be physically nearby or address the stress. A new study published in Computers in Human Behavior found that comfort can come from just a simple supportive text.
Texting subtle support works best over explicit support 🙂 🙂
To test the power of an empowering text, Emily Hooker and her colleagues from the University of California recruited 75 women to do a task designed to put them on edge with stress —public speaking. The women and their romantic partners were put into different rooms.
The women were told to prepare a speech in four minutes. While they were filling out surveys and preparing a speech, some of them received a text from their partners that gushed support: “Don’t worry. It’s just a psych study. You’ll be fine :-)” and advice like “You could talk about how hard working you are.” Others received no text at all from their partner. Others got a simple reminder of their partner’s nearby presence with mundane texts saying “It’s cold in here” and “I’m filling out surveys.”
The participants who received the explicitly supportive texts said they felt loved and cared for, compared to the participants in the control group. But it was the mundane texts about the weather and the act of filling out a survey, not the supportive texts, that actually sparked a physical response in participants. Mundane, but not supportive messages, reduced systolic blood pressure the most.
Why does gushing support for your partner not calm them down as easily? The researchers suggest that these well-intentioned messages can actually be stressful for your partner to receive. When you send your partner unsolicited advice on a problem, it may subtly hint that you think your partner is struggling and needs help.
“The supportive messages used in this study…indicated that the partner was aware of the stressful task,” the paper states. “The supportive messages may have inadvertently increased evaluative threat….due to the subtle suggestion that the participant needed assistance.”
The supportive texts reminded participants that they had a stressful job ahead of them that they may not be equipped to handle. When your partner is griping about the air conditioning, it just reminds you of their comforting presence. You remember that you have someone who is nearby and here for you. Their unrelated complaints may even take your mind off the stress of the task ahead.
Texts are powerful forms of communication we use every day. “During inevitable, daily stress, this form of communication may have the potential to influence biological and physical well-being,” the paper concludes. Receiving a text has the power to brighten your partner’s day as they go about their work. Choose your words wisely.