Even people in supposedly happy long-term relationships can miss key signs that their partner is unhappy.
In fact, people in happy relationships can be particularly bad at spotting the fact a partner is bottling up negative emotions – or trying to see a ‘silver lining’.
The researchers from Washington University in St. Louis and Stanford University asked 120 straight couples at colleges in Northern California questions about their relationships.
‘Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,’ said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study.
‘They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.’
What the researchers found – and why we miss ‘warning signs’
The researchers focused on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).
Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.