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Home > Research Articles > In Some Couples It's 'You Hurt Me, I Hurt You Back'

Reuters Health

Monday, January 13, 2003

Thu January 9, 2003 09:01 AM ET

By Alison McCook

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The more valued people feel by their mates, the better they handle the occasional hurts and stresses that come with long-term relationships, new research suggests.

All long-term relationships contain difficult moments, and even the most selfless person can appear to do something hurtful to a partner. But just how the partner responds to the hurtful moment varies, and appears to depend on how well regarded the partner feels by the other.

These difficult moments can include when a partner appears to complain about the other, or ignore the other, or act selfishly.

In the current study, Dr. Sandra Murray and her colleagues at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York examined a group of mostly married couples. Each member filled out a questionnaire about how they believed their partner felt about them, and then submitted daily logs for 21 days about what had happened in the relationship and how they had reacted.

The researchers discovered that people who said they felt relatively less well-regarded by their partners were more likely to feel hurt and rejected the day after a difficult incident occurred. In response to that hurt and rejection, Murray told Reuters Health that less valued partners tended to start "behaving badly" toward their partners, by being difficult or hurtful themselves, for example.

However, Murray noted, when partners who feel generally valued by their partners say they have been hurt by the other, these partners tend to "compensate" for the incident by drawing closer to their partners, rather than pulling away.

Why such differences? Murray explained that people who feel undervalued may lash out at their partners after being hurt as a way to protect themselves, and reduce the pain of the previous wound.

"It hurts less to feel rejected if...you can convince (the person who might reject you) that they are not worthy themselves," Murray noted.

"But, of course, it's not very good for the relationship," she added.

And when people feel valued by their partners, they may draw closer to them after feeling hurt as a way to protect the relationship. For instance, an argument can feel as if it threatens the solidity of the relationship, and people who get a lot out of the relationship may simply recall good experiences or other positive aspects of the partner to compensate for that feeling, and keep the relationship together, Murray noted.

These findings, which are published in the recent issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, clearly demonstrate that how appreciated a partner feels can play an important role in relationships, Murray noted.

The findings stem from a group of 154 couples, all but 2 of whom were married. The average age of the study participants was 34, and they had been together for an average of 8 years.

SOURCE: Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2003;84:126-147.