Blindsided, Emotional Cues Study Findings

Even the happiest couples in exclusive relationships are sometimes clueless when it comes to reading signs that their partner is not happy, is hiding dissatisfaction, disappointment, frustration anger etc.

New research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis says “Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples” and as a result “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

Lameese Eldesouky and team focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

Other findings include:

  • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
  • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
  • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
  • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

In another study, co-authors Tammy English and James Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

“Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

“How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”

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