The researchers found that on one important measure of overall health — chronic inflammation — indicators of positive social relationships were associated with lower inflammation only among people who said they were available to provide social support to family and friends, not just receive it.
“Positive relationships may be associated with lower inflammation only for those who believe they can give more support in those relationships,” said lead author Tao Jiang.
That is, having friends to lean on may not benefit your health unless you’re also available to help them when they need it. The researchers found that such relationships are especially rewarding and stress-relieving. And that’s consistent with clinical evidence that positive couples’ relationships are characterized by mutual support.
This study was based on 1,054 healthy adults between 34 and 84 years old and published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
Related: The Ten Fundamental Rules of Love
How To Learn To Give Support — Not Just Receive It
Another study tried to look at that from a different direction than the Ohio State research. An academic study from Ruhr-University Bochum, in Germany, its findings may be limited by its view of the issue, to begin with.
The researchers focused on how people go about “understanding” each other. They examined how people determine what another person thinks, feels, or wants. They related how that, in turn, enables people to engage in successful, mutually rewarding relationships.
Published in the journal Erkenntnis, the study described what they called the “strategies” people use to understand each other. It reported that people figure out the mental states of others based on their behavior, or by “mindreading” from what they observe the other person does.
The researchers thought that such mindreading is central to social cognition, and therefore central to understanding others. And that, one would think, is crucial to knowing how to provide the support the other person needs.
In my view, this study may be flawed by its focus on cognitive “strategies” that enable people to understand each other and build a positive, mutually supportive relationship. They did acknowledge that people combine several strategies to understand others.
But the problem is that mutuality — necessary for healthy intimate relationships, or even for functional relationships, say in a work setting — is not just a cognitive “strategy.” The latter is useful for planning a direction with a project or goal. Rather, mutuality grows from a mixture of mental and emotional awareness, of both oneself and the other person; and awareness of the impact each of you has upon the other.
Here’s what that looks like and how to grow it:
Four Parts Of Positive Relationship Connection
The first two concern your own and the other’s interior life and how it impacts the relationship:
1. Work to expand awareness of your own feelings, desires, and goals — immediate and longer-term — within that relationship. It may require outside help or meditative practice.
2. Expand your awareness into and within the other’s feelings, desires, and goals — immediate and longer-term — within your relationship. Step outside of yourself and tune into that person’s interior world, as best as you can discern it. That may also require help and guidance to “see” a situation from how the other person experiences it.
The other two parts concern the impact each of you has upon the other:
3. Observe and acknowledge the impact you have upon the other. It may be verbal or non-verbal; or even by virtue of physical presence and appearance. In a work setting, it might be role-related. Tune in to what you see in their reaction. Be open to asking.
4. Observe and accept the impact the other has upon you. Similarly, it may be verbal, non-verbal, or aspects of that person’s physical presence or vibes that trigger an emotional response or attitude. And it may be unrelated to that person, per se, but to an association, you’re not sufficiently conscious of.
Think back to the vignette about Jill and Dan. Can you see how the absence of mutuality — giving and receiving support — doesn’t have to continue into a death spiral if they work to grow these four parts of a positive and mutual connection?
Written By Douglas LaBier Originally Appeared On Psychology Today