Relationships and Health
by Lynn Tarkow

I really liked this article. The first idea that struck me in it was the idea that people will remember goals they have when reminded of people in their lives whom they associate with those goals. This could serve as a function to help maintain social networks - when I think of my friend, it makes me want to maintain that relationship, and a goal, whose completion presumably would involve being together if it was associated with him or her, would serve to strengthen that relationship. 

I was also very interested in the author's finding that performance was impaired on the Stroop task at different times depending on the race of the interaction partner. When the same-race interaction partner mimicked the subject's behavior, indicating affiliation, the subject's performance was better than when the partner did not mimic them. However, when the partner was of a different race, subjects performed better when the partner did not mimic them. The researchers attributed this to people expecting better treatment from members of their own race than from members of a different one. The finding was not explained any further. 

Why were the subjects' resources more depleted? More importantly, where had the resources been used that they were unavailable for the cognitive task? Did they go to combat the unexpected treatment by the partner? Or were they somewhere else, creating a new heuristic that could be called upon the next time the subject was in a similar situation? It would have been an interesting follow-up to see if, put in the same situation of non - mimicry by the same race partner, and mimicry by the cross race partner, the subject still had depleted performance, or if their expectations (if those were the culprit) had adjusted themselves. 

On a lighter note, I was happy to read that the study showed that romantic partners were more likely to achieve their goals if they had more social support, especially from their romantic partners. It is a heartening thing to hear that all those "We can do anything - together!" stories have some basis in reality.
In a new  researchers have added insight into when support from a partner is helpful and when it  can actually undermine achieving goals.  The implications are important not only for managing a successful effort to achieve health related goals such as getting more exercise or eating healthier meals, but unhelpful support could also lead to relationship conflict, dissatisfaction and frustration.

It has been known for some time that not all social support is beneficial or welcome.  We tend to think that getting support from a partner would help us achieve our goals and make us feel cared for.  Yet support that is not skillfully provided can make things worse.  Often times, the best type of support you can provide your partner is when he or she does not even realize it; otherwise known as “invisible support.”

In the current study, volunteers were couples who were dieting  and were asked to describe: “How much my weight loss was an important goal for my partner.”  Ironically the more a dieter perceived that their partner was invested in their weight loss, the less likely he or she lost weight and in fact actually gained weight!

Further experiments found that when a person was uncertain about achieving a goal, they were more likely to request that their partner leave them alone.  In contrast, feeling confident about achieving a goal and getting support from a partner led to increased effort and greater goal success.  

You can see how these findings might play out in your own relationships especially when you are trying to help your partner and it only makes things worse.  I am especially aware of this when trying to help my teenage daughter achieve goals that she may feel uncertain about.  Often times, I believe she sees my support as my own goals for her and interprets my advice as controlling and unhelpful.  

It’s no wonder she often replies with “Just leave me alone Dad.”  It may be especially important to recognize when our partner feels less confident about achieving a particular goal so that we provide them the space to figure it out and not get in the way.  Not only do we risk undermining our partner’s effort when they are uncertain by providing overt support, we also are likely to feel hurt and misunderstood when our support is unwanted.