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Perception of Partner’s Emotions Impacts Lovers’ Quarrels

Within any romantic relationship, conflicts inevitably occur. And, as most of us are well aware, the fighting evokes intense emotions.

New research now suggests that how each person perceives the other partner’s emotion during a conflict greatly influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in themselves.

Baylor University’s Keith Sanford, Ph.D., and his research team studied 105 college students in romantic relationships communicating through different arguments over an eight-week period.

Sanford focused on how emotion changed within each person across episodes of relationship conflict. He and his colleagues found demonstrated links between different types of emotion, different types of underlying concern, and different types of perceived partner emotion.

Sanford distinguished between two types of negative emotion as “hard” and “soft.” “Hard” emotion is associated with asserting power, whereas “soft” emotion is associated with expressing vulnerability.

Sanford’s research also identified a type of underlying concern as “perceived threat,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is being hostile, critical, blaming or controlling.

Another type of concern is called “perceived neglect,” which involves a perception that one’s partner is failing to make a desired contribution or failing to demonstrate an ideal level of commitment or investment in the relationship.

Sanford said the results show that people perceive a threat to their control, power and status in the relationship when they observe an increase in a partner’s hard emotion, and they perceive partner neglect when they observe an increase in a partner’s flat emotion or a decrease in soft emotion.

Both perceived threat and perceived neglect, in turn, are associated with increases in one’s own hard and soft emotions, with the effects for perceived neglect being stronger than the effects for perceived threat.

“In other words, what you perceive your partner to be feeling influences different types of thoughts, feelings and reactions in yourself, whether what you perceive is actually correct,” Sanford said.

“In a lot of ways, this study confirms scientifically what we would have expected,” he said. “Previously, we did not actually know that these specific linkages existed, but they are clearly theoretically expected. If a person perceives the other as angry, they will perceive a threat so they will respond with a hard emotion like anger or blame. Likewise, if a person is perceived to be sad or vulnerable, they will perceive a neglect and will respond either flat or soft.”

The study appeared in the journal Personal Relationships.

Sanford said some of the most interesting results in the study pertain to a complex pattern of associations observed for soft emotion.

As expected, partner soft emotion was associated with decreased concerns over neglect, whereas self soft emotion was associated with increased concerns over neglect.

Sanford said this is consistent with the idea that soft emotion is a socially focused emotion, often triggered by attachment-related concerns, and that expressions of soft emotion signal one’s own desire and willingness to invest in a relationship.

Source: Baylor University

Perception of Partner’s Emotions Impacts Lovers’ Quarrels

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2015). Perception of Partner’s Emotions Impacts Lovers’ Quarrels. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 11, 2018, from https://psychcentral.com/news/2011/01/13/perception-of-partners-emotions-impacts-lovers-quarrels/22603.html

 

Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 6 Oct 2015
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 6 Oct 2015
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.