Emotion work defined
Your girlfriend’s boss is giving her a hard time at work. She is coming home stressed and it affects her mood overall. She wants to get out of the situation but does not know the solution. You intervene. Listen to her problem, which has been going on for a while now. Understandably, she’s pretty stressed about the whole thing.
What you do to help her is something researchers call emotion work. Basically, it’s putting in the effort to boost her emotions, perhaps by listening to her and letting her express what’s on her mind. You might also tell her you do understand what she’s going through or offer concrete solutions to help the problem.
Good for you too
As it happens, this ‘labour of love’ can be just as good for you as it is for your partner. That’s according to the findings of a recent study of almost 2000 couples in heterosexual relationships.
In the study, participants were first asked how they supported their partners emotionally. There were questions about being there for their guy or gal during stressful situations like the one your girlfriend is going through. The researchers also asked about other sides of emotion work like sharing thoughts and secrets with a partner, and really listening after a fight to understand them better.
How does emotion work affect each partner and the future of their relationship together, the researchers wanted to know.
Willingness to give
Putting in the effort to help your partner out emotionally can actually make you happier in your relationship, they learned. Why would something that takes up time, is pretty draining psychologically, and frankly not a whole lot of fun, lead to you being more satisfied in your relationship?
It might be related to sacrifice, suggest the researchers. Partners who are willing to give up a bit to benefit their loved ones report being happier in their relationship - and those feelings could outweigh the negatives of emotion work.
Though this is true for both men and women, when it comes to the effects of emotion work on how happy a partner is in a relationship, there’s a difference between the sexes, the research showed.
The fairer sex?
When a woman puts in the time to boost her partner’s emotions he’ll feel better about the relationship down the road (as will she), whereas the opposite doesn’t always seem to be the case.
This could have to do with still prevalent gender stereotypes that say women are the ones who provide emotional support in a relationship, say the researchers. If this is the case, then it would explain why both men and women feel good about their relationship when women are the ones doing the emotion work.
But that’s certainly not to say that when a guy tries to boost his partner’s emotions she won’t feel better about the relationship…just that it’s a little more complicated.
The research showed that when an independent guy (i.e. a guy who stands up for his own beliefs and doesn’t necessarily follow gender stereotypes) is emotionally supportive, it can make a major difference on how his girlfriend feels about their relationship in the future.
Reference: A labor of love? Emotion work in intimate relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Published online February 8, 2018.
*To protect the identity, names have been changed and the person/s in the picture is/are models.