When a loved one is going through a stressful time, our first reaction is to give them comfort, positive affirmations and to block out any negativity.
A recent study from Baylor University has found that in times of stress, it is best to say nothing at all. The study claims that during a stressful period, it is better to hold off on criticism, negativity and abandonment, than it is to try to be encouraging and positive.
The study's author, Dr. Keith Sanford is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and explains his findings from the study in a statement,
When people face stressful life events, they are especially sensitive to negative behavior in their relationships, such as when a partner seems to be argumentative, overly emotional, withdrawn or fails to do something that was expected. In contrast, they’re less sensitive to positive behavior — such as giving each other comfort.
The research conducted two assessments of couples going through stressful times. The first assessment focused on 325 couples who had experienced a stressful event in the last month - like losing a job, death in the family, bankruptcy or so. The second assessment comprised of 154 people, who were either married or living with a partner and were dealing with a major medical issue.
Participants in both studies were asked to look back into the past month and jot down a couple of interactions in their relationships that stood out for them, also to mention their feelings about the interactions and their frequency. Some other questions asked were about their satisfaction in the relationship, quality of life and overall well being.
The results from these assessments concluded that couples experiencing stress over medical events showed fewer instances of negative behaviour towards each other. It also indicated that a couple's coping style, and how well they cope depends more on individual well-being, rather than satisfaction in the relationship. Sanford concludes,
When people face stressful life events, it’s common to experience both positive and negative behavior in their relationships. 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.
This study has been published in the Journal of Family Psychology.