We all want a supportive spouse by our side to tackle life's challenges, but according to a new study, it's possible for spouses to be "too supportive" -- and that can spell danger for your marriage.
Psychologists Rebecca Brock and Erika Lawrence from the University of Iowa followed 103 newlywed couples through the first five years of marriage and looked at how levels of spousal support affected marital satisfaction. The results of their research were recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
What they found was that "overprovision" -- which they defined as the “wrong kind” or “too much” support -- is more detrimental to a marriage than "underprovision," defined as "not receiving enough support." Those couples who reported receiving too much spousal support experienced a faster decline in relationship satisfaction.
“This really is contrary to how we typically think about support. We generally thought that more support is always better, but our research suggests that it is more complicated than that," Brock and Lawrence wrote in a 2009 study on the same subject. "Overproviding the wrong kind of support is actually worse than not doing anything at all.”
In their latest research, which is a follow-up to the previous study, Brock and Lawrence say that the problem lies in spouses misreading the situation and not understanding how their partner wants to be supported.
For example, husbands who are emotionally distant from their wives overcompensate in times of distress and give support that is unhelpful and unwanted. Brock told The Huffington Post in an e-mail, “Men who tend to emotionally distance themselves are more likely to be in relationships characterized by low intimacy, closeness, and trust. It is this lack of intimacy and trust that leads them to provide support that is unwanted by their partners.”
The research suggests that spouses who are not on the same page don't understand how to help each other in times of crisis, and that a lack of intimacy in couple's relationships is a major reason spouses "miss the mark" when providing support. Brock and Lawrence hypothesize that less intimate couples may not feel comfortable receiving support in general, and that couples with intimacy issues may see their partners as "having ulterior motives for being supportive."
“To the extent that men (and women) are tuned into what their partners are going through, they are going to be better support providers, providing the amount and type of support that is most helpful," Brock told The Huffington Post.
“There is a tendency for us to want to jump in and solve the problem right away, but this can actually be invalidating and unhelpful for some people," the researchers write in the paper. "So, when in doubt, ask. Don’t make assumptions about what your partner needs from you.”