Too stressed to help? : a sequential approach to examining the role of daily stress for support provision

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Nguyen, Thao Thanh Thi, M.A.

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Daily stressors experienced outside of the marriage can have a powerful influence on relationship dynamics inside the marriage, a phenomenon known as stress spillover. Although the harmful consequences of stress on relationship quality may be mitigated if partners provide sensitive support to one another during difficult times, some research points to the possibility that coping with stress may interfere with partners’ ability to provide support to one another. For instance, under stress, individuals become more self-focused and are more likely to withdraw from social interactions. Thus, the goal of the current study was to examine whether individuals will be less likely to notice their partner’s support needs and to provide satisfying support when they are experiencing greater stress compared to lower stress. Using daily diary data from 121 newlywed couples, we examined the associations between providers’ daily stress and (a) their tendency to accurately notice a partners’ support needs, (b) their reports of giving support to a partner, and (c) recipients’ satisfaction with support provided. Results revealed that, on average, spouses were relatively accurate in detecting their partner’s daily support needs, and stress did not moderate this effect. Similarly, although spouses gave more support on days when they perceived their partner’s needed more support, stress did not moderate this effect. Finally, individual’s stress was not associated with their partner’s satisfaction with support provided. As evidence did not support the idea that stress generally undermines support exchanges in relationships, the discussion explores why this may be and whether there may be some conditions in which stress is more or less likely to shape partners’ support provision.


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