Pursueing Rewarding Challenges More Likely With Supportive Spouse

People with supportive spouses are more likely to pursue difficult but potentially rewarding opportunities than those with less supportive spouses.

In addition, those who take on these challenges are more likely to report more personal growth, happiness, psychological well-being, and better relationship functioning six months later, according to a new study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Previous research on how our social lives affect decision-making has typically focused on negative factors like stress and adversity. Less attention, however, has been paid to the reverse: What makes people more likely to give themselves the chance to succeed?

Psychology researchers at Carnegie Mellon University took up the question.

“We found support for the idea that the choices people make at these specific decision points — such as pursuing a work opportunity or seeking out new friends — matter a lot for their long-term well-being,” said Dr. Brooke Feeney, lead author of the study and professor of psychology in Carnegie Mellon University’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

For the study, the researchers recruited 163 married couples to the lab and gave one member of each couple a choice: either solve a simple puzzle, or they were given an opportunity to compete for a prize by giving a speech. The researchers then recorded the couples’ interactions as they decided whether or not to take on the harder but more rewarding challenge.

The researchers found that the participants with more encouraging partners were significantly more likely to decide to compete for the prize, while those with partners who discouraged them or expressed a lack of confidence more often chose the simple puzzle.

Then, six months later, participants who had chosen to pursue the more challenging speech task reported having more personal growth, happiness, psychological well-being, and better relationships than those who chose to solve the simple puzzle.

So what can one do to encourage a partner to embrace life opportunities? The researchers discovered that the most supportive partners expressed enthusiasm about the opportunity, reassured their partners, and talked about the potential benefits of going the harder route.

“Significant others can help you thrive through embracing life opportunities,” said Feeney. “Or they can hinder your ability to thrive by making it less likely that you’ll pursue opportunities for growth.”

Source: Carnegie Mellon University