When a partner tries to offer solutions, instead of emotional support, things often go south. What to do? According to a recent study, “couples may be well-advised to provide emotional support to one another instead of informational support.”

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When couples have trouble communicating well, what seems to always happen is that women want support, which men seem to think is equal to wanting advice. That’s bound to cause trouble in most cases, according to a new study, which found emotional support, rather than informational support, makes couples feel more connected and valued.

In his famous book, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, which sold millions of copies, John Gray basically concludes that many problems couples face can be traced to a mismatch between logical and emotional mindsets. Men will often use a problem-solving, goal-orientated approach to address an argument with their partner. However, what women need in most situations is understanding, Gray argues. The whole experience can be extremely frustrating for both partners — and I think most people reading this are no strangers to such feelings.

Gray’s ideas of gender differentiation that explain the supposedly inherent tensions between the sexes and common problems couples face have gathered a lot of flak from the scientific community. A new study, however, seems to offer some evidence supporting his claims.

“I know how that feels”

A team of psychologists at the Universities of Maryland and Wyoming studied 114 male-female newlywed couples, whom they interviewed in order to see which type of support each person looked for from their partner but also which type of support they offered. For instance, the participants had to rate how much they agreed with statements like my partner “said he/she thought I handled a situation well“ or “shared facts or information with me about a situation I was facing.”

“Matching theories of social support suggest that receiving the amount and type of support one prefers from one’s romantic partner promotes more favorable affection and higher relationship satisfaction. Individuals who feel they are provided with less support from their partner than they desire (underprovision) generally experience less positive affect, more negative affect, and tend to be less satisfied in their relationships,” the authors wrote in the Journal of Family Psychology. 

Regardless of whether the participants said they’d prefer informational or emotional support, the results suggest that, across the board, more emotional support was associated with higher relationship satisfaction.

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Another interesting finding was that wives told the researchers they wanted more of both types of support than they actually received. Husbands said they’d also want to receive more emotional support from their romantic partners than they get but were generally fine with the informational support they received.

At the subset level, husbands who said they preferred more informational support felt better when they received it. However, among wives who said they’d rather receive more emotional support but were met with informational support instead, they experienced depressive symptoms.

An important takeaway from these findings is that what works for you doesn’t necessarily have the same effect for your romantic partner. So if trying to offer solutions to the “problem” doesn’t get you anywhere — or makes matters worse — perhaps being more supportive on an emotional level is a better course of action. Sometimes saying something as simple as “I know how that feels” can help couples go a long way.

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