In the study, published in the journal PLOSOne, the researchers used an infrared camera to examine the fascinating link between marriage and stress in BYU psychology professor Wendy Birmingham's lab.
The researchers worked with 40 couples who were instructed to complete an intentionally challenging task on a computer. The scientists randomly assigned some of the couples to work alone. The other participants were allowed to work while sitting near their spouse and holding their hand.
As the participants tried to accomplish the task, the researchers used the infrared camera to measure pupil diameter for the duration of the test. Pupil diameter is "a direct signal of the body's physiological stress response."
Steven Luke, a study co-author who is also a psychology professor at BYU, explained that the pupils respond "within 200 milliseconds to the onset of a stressor." Pupils can immediately reveal how you react to stress, and if having social support from a loved one can influence the stress response. Luke added that this extraordinary technique works on "a different time scale."
The researchers reported that the experiment initially stressed-out volunteers in both groups.
However, the participants in the spouse support group calmed down significantly sooner. The volunteers who were near their partners were able to work on the task at reduced stress levels.
This unique study successfully measured the health benefits of social connection in real time, and the research adds to studies at BYU, which show that relationships can help improve longevity.
Birmingham explained that being near your spouse can significantly help you manage your stress levels. This benefit is a crucial one, mainly since being able to deal with your stressors affects your mental health. She believes that there is a link between this study and a line in the BYU Mission Statement which says: "All relationships within the BYU community should reflect a devout love of God and a loving, genuine concern for the welfare of our neighbor."
Birmingham shared that BYU research concerning physiology and relationships helps researchers understand why people "should be loving and supportive to everyone as Christ taught." Birmingham concluded that showing Christ-like love for one's spouse improves their physiological health and helps them cope in a time of need.
If you want to improve your relationship with your partner, here are some tips that can help you identify stress, comfort each other, and overcome stress together.
Look out for stress symptoms.
Don't let each other get used to "unchecked stress" because this makes it easy to overlook the harmful consequences of chronic stress.
Common signs of stress include one or both partners being angry, cranky, hyper, moody, overly excited, restless, or withdrawn. Some stressed individuals may also self-medicate with substances like alcohol, drugs, or food.
Talk to your partner.
The moment you spot signs of stress, kindly ask your partner if they're having a rough time.
Listening and communicating to your partner shows them that you care, which is important in any relationship.
Comfort your partner.
Don't focus on resolving their problem. You should first comfort your spouse, which can help relieve their stress. (Related: Relationship Tips for a Happy Marriage and a Healthy Life.)
Taking part in physical activities together can help reduce your stress.
Make a list of stress-relieving habits.
Write a list of "comforting rituals" that help relieve your stress, such as reading a book or taking a walk. If you notice that your spouse is feeling particularly stressed, ask them if they want to try one of their rituals.
Ask your spouse how you can help them.
You can show your support for your partner by asking them if there's anything you can help them with. If they're not sure how you can help, try to do something that can help them relax, like giving them a massage or helping out with their chores.
Ask them about their day.
Take the time to ask your partner if they have anything planned for a certain day, or how the day went. Doing this helps you spot potential stressors.
Think of other ways to help your spouse.
While it's impossible to completely relieve another person's stress, knowing that someone cares enough to try may be all that they need to feel better.
Paying attention to unchecked stress can help improve your relationship with your partner, so let them know you care by comforting them whenever they feel stressed.