Relationships and Health
by Maryhope Howland

I once took a self-defense yoga workshop. That might sound counterintuitive--we don't often think of yoga types going kung-fu style on their attacker--but my sister and I liked the sound of it, a more emotionally healthy way of defending ourselves in the big city.

The instructors in this class taught us a bunch of moves, how to stand so it's harder to push you over, how and where to hit someone else for maximum impact, and how to take a hit. But they also talked a lot about how we might go throughout the world to invite conflict less. One thing they said, that stuck in my mind, was that we have to give and take in order to be a "whole" person. We can't expect others to behave how we want them to if we don't tell them what our expectations are. We can't get mad when someone doesn't do something we think they should do if we didn't communicate that well. In other words, we have a responsibility to show people how we feel so that they can react accordingly.

There is a psychological study that always reminds me of that advice from the butt-kicking yoga instructors. The researchers (Diamond, et al., 2006) brought couples into the lab and hooked them up to heart rate machines, and then they asked them to have a conversation about their relationship. For some people conversations that bring up relationship issues can be very stressful, and this is definitely true for individuals who are insecurely attached. For securely attached individuals--those who trust that their partners will always be there for them--these conversations weren't stressful, and their heart rates didn't really go up. Folks who were anxiously attached on the other hand, that is they are never sure if their partner is really there for them or not, reported being very stressed out during the conversation, and their heart rates went way up. The interesting thing was what happened for avoidant individuals, who generally don't believe their partners are there when they need them. These folks reported that the conversation wasn't stressful at all, not one bit. But when the researchers looked at their heart rates, they were through the roof! This is what the researchers called "repressive coping,"--they were experiencing a lot of emotion, but were denying it even to themselves.

Research shows that this is an unhealthy coping strategy. If you don't express your stress to your partner you're denying yourself the opportunity to get their support and love, and you're probably not doing much to calm yourself down. This means your heart rate is elevated for longer, which can cause wear and tear over time. It's just like my yoga teachers said--we need to own up to our feelings and share them in order to get from the world what we need.

Diamond, L. M., Hicks, A. M., & Otter-Henderson, K. (2006). Physiological evidence for repressive coping among avoidantly attached adults. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 23, 205-229.



Der Vang
06/22/2011 12:06

When I read about this blog to the part where it said "If you don't express your stress to your partner you're denying yourself the opportunity to get their support and love, and you're probably not doing much to calm yourself down", I can relate to it. There were times when I didn't take the chance I have to say the things that I wanted to say to others and so I get irritated at the smallest thing that went wrong after those chances. I can tell that I wasn't very calm and was itching to snap at someone or something even though I tell myself that I am.
However, there are many factors that may contribute to these repressive copings such as personalities and gender roles. Could these repressive copping strategies also be caused by having too much pride? If a person has to much pride or think they should be macho, would they also not express themselves to their partners that they need emotional support?

06/22/2012 04:08


Leave a Reply