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Research: 3 Ways People With Higher Relationship Satisfaction Help Regulate Their Partners’ Emotions

By January 29, 2024Blog
Blog from relationship coach sam owen on higher relationship satisfaction and supporting your partner

Teammate To Teammate

When your partner is going through a tough time emotionally, what do you do?

Do you feel concerned, give them attention, and try to help them? I hope so! But if not, whilst you may think you have a ‘valid’ reason for it, it probably isn’t actually strengthening your relationship.

Caring for someone deeply means being bothered when they are bothered by something.

So when your partner is experiencing negative emotions of any sort, helping them to regulate their emotions from negative back to positive has far reaching consequences:

  • It helps them to be happier and healthier and thus better able to realise their potential and achieve their life goals, including your mutual relationship goals.
  • It helps them to be a better spouse/partner to you and a better parent to your children.
  • It can affect your happiness too as spouses’ happiness levels tend to wax and wane at roughly the same time, over the years [1].
  • And it shows your partner that you care about them, their mental health and wellbeing; that you want to help them; and that you are attentive and present when together.

Instead of being caught up in your own daily chores and challenges, and preoccupied with how their mood affects you, what you do will help them to feel good again, and thus help you too.

So what do those who report higher relationship satisfaction tend to do? Let’s find out.


Research Into Extrinsic Emotion Regulation Methods

In a study with 277 romantically involved individuals, 55% female, with an average age of 36.8 years, participants were asked to rate on a 6-point scale (where 1 was ‘Strongly Disagree’ and 6 was ‘Strongly Agree’), the following ways that they try to make their partner feel better:

  1. expressive suppression (suggesting they hide their true feelings);
  2. downward social comparison (comparing them to others who seem worse off);
  3. distraction;
  4. humour;
  5. direct action (doing something helpful to help resolve the concern);
  6. reappraisal (re-evaluating a situation in a more positive way);
  7. receptive listening; and
  8. valuing [2].

Their level of relationship satisfaction was also assessed by asking participants to rate statements such as, ‘How well does you partner meet your needs?’ and ‘How often do you wish you hadn’t gotten into this relationship?’.

Of all eight, three methods for regulating one’s partner’s emotions, were most strongly linked with higher relationship satisfaction:

(a) valuing, (b) humour, and (c) receptive listening.

So let’s look at these three in more detail.



Perhaps unsurprisingly, valuing had the strongest positive correlation with higher relationship satisfaction than all other emotion regulation strategies used by a partner.

The researchers do note that it’s unknown which comes first; do partners report higher relationship satisfaction because they look at their partner through this positive lens of valuing them, or do they already have higher relationship satisfaction and so then set out to help regulate their partner’s emotions by showing them they value them?

Here’s the thing though. Genuinely showing your partner that you value them for their character, their commitment to you, their skills, how they treat others, what they contribute to your life and mankind, and so on, helps them to feel seen for who they are and helps them to see themselves for how great they are.

By empowering them in this way, such words and gestures enable your partner to see themselves, and the world, and your relationship, through a clearer and more positive lens, one that may have previously been muddied by stress, unhappiness, worry and even past trauma. Thus, making it easier for them to overcome obstacles.

And remember, as their partner, it’s your duty to help clear their view, help them to regulate their emotions, and help them to more easily overcome life’s challenges.

Make valuing a frequent part of your life together; it is vital for a happy relationship. And when it’s genuine, you’ll do it effortlessly.

And it doesn’t matter which comes first, whether higher relationship satisfaction leads to valuing or whether valuing leads to higher relationship satisfaction, because you should always show your partner that you value them anyway.

Plus, there’s a reason those higher in relationship satisfaction use this method. So add it to your arsenal because there are many (scientific) reasons why this would work.



Humour being the second most strongly linked to higher relationship satisfaction, aside from directly enabling you to switch your emotions from negative to positive when using positive humour to reinterpret a negative situation [3], perhaps the humour also creates a sense of empathy and togetherness. Helping you to feel like you’re ‘on the same wavelength’ which in turn helps you to feel bonded and safe.

When we feel safe, we feel calm as the brain has no reason to trigger the fight-or-flight response.

Furthermore, positive emotions make us better at creative problem-solving [4] and ultimately, when we’re experiencing negative emotions, that’s a sign that something needs addressing, at which point problem-solving is necessary.

So helping your partner to get into a positive emotional state in which they can better problem-solve, by utilising humour with them, is a good option.

In another study, researchers found that on the days where young romantically involved adults reported better relationship quality – assessed in terms of satisfaction, commitment, and perceived partner commitment – they themselves used humour and found their partner’s humour to be funny, both on the same day, and also the following day [5].

And the effect was the same for both males and females, and regardless of how long they’d been romantically involved.

Therefore, we might deduce that feeling good about one’s relationship makes us engage in more light-heartedness with our partner and that when our partner feels heavy and negative, we might use humour to reinstate that lightness and positivity.

The mechanisms through which humour may help regulate your partner’s emotions are numerous, and given those that are happier in their relationship use humour to help regulate their partners’ emotions, it’s worthwhile testing in your own relationship.


Receptive Listening

Lastly, receptive listening was linked to higher relationship satisfaction, and by responding to their partner in this emotionally intimate way, they allow their partner to be vulnerable in their time of need.

Making your partner feel safe and close to you by being attentive, listening proactively with your eyes and ears and heart, you are essentially signalling that you are there to support them.

When the going gets tough, we massively benefit from someone genuinely being there for us, and receptive listening is one way in which we do this.

When you receptively listen to someone, you show you care, and you can validate them before you’ve even spoken a word – with your eyes, your smile, your head tilt, and your body’s positioning. And presence is powerful, sometimes you don’t even have to say a word.

So receptive listening – both verbal and non-verbal – is a powerful tool for making someone feel supported, understood and thus more happy and safe [6]. And when we’re feeling positive and relaxed, we can think more clearly, access our working memory more easily, problem-solve better, and make good decisions more readily.

As concluded by researchers, ‘Humans need others to survive. Regardless of one’s sex, country or culture of origin, or age or economic background, social connection is crucial to human development, health and survival’ [7].

People power.


A Lover And A Friend

As your partner’s lover and best friend, you can and should help your beloved to regulate their emotions as and when required.

Try valuing, humour and listening receptively when you notice your partner could do with some help regulating their emotions, and see what works for the two of you.

Do it genuinely, compassionately, and mindfully, and you’ll both reap the rewards, now and in the long-run.



1. Hoppmann, C. A., Gerstorf, D., Willis,S. L., & Schaie, K. W. (2011).  Spousal interrelations in happiness in the Seattle Longitudinal Study: Considerable similarities in levels and change over time.  Developmental Psychology, 47(1), 1-8.

2. Walker, S. A., Pinkus, R. T., Olderbak, S., & MacCann, C. (2023). People with higher relationship satisfaction use more humor, valuing, and receptive listening to regulate their partners’ emotions. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues.

3. Samson, A. C., & Gross, J. J. (2012). Humour as emotion regulation: the differential consequences of negative versus positive humour. Cognition and Emotion, 26(2), 375–384.

4. Isen, A. M., Daubman, K. A. and Nowicki, G. P. (1987). ‘Positive Affect Facilitates Creative Problem Solving’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6): 1122–31.

5. Tan, K., Choy, B. K. C., & Li, N. P. (2023). The Role of Humor Production and Perception in the Daily Life of Couples: An Interest-Indicator Perspective. Psychological Science, 34(11), 1271-1280.

6. Morelli, S. A., Torre, J. B., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2014). The neural bases of feeling understood and not understood. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 9(12), 1890–1896.

7. Holt-Lunstad, J., Robles, T. F. and Sbarra, D. A. (2017). Advancing Social Connection as a Public Health Priority in the United States. American Psychologist, 72(6): 517–30.