The country pop hit song “Wanted” by Hunter Hayes resonates with individuals in close relationships who strive to make their beloveds feel cherished and desired. Despite the heartfelt nature of the song, the motives for and consequences of this approach to relationships remain uncertain. What drives the desire to make one’s partner feel wanted? How does it affect our relationships? And is the longing to “hold your hand forever and never let you forget it” particularly characteristic of males, as “Wanted” implies?
Fortunately, recent research on social support dynamics in couples may hold the answers to these questions. Fifty-seven self-identified happily-married, middle-class couples in the Midwestern U.S. participated in a study investigating how men and women may differentially benefit from providing versus receiving sensitive support.1 Researchers were interested in how (a) the sensitivity of support provided (i.e., its responsiveness and attentiveness to the spouses’ actions and comments) and whether (b) the husband or wife provided or received the support might predict marital outcomes.
Couple members took turns giving and receiving support. The first ‘speaker’ described a problem in his or her life unrelated to the spouse (e.g., issues with friends or co-workers). The listener responded “normally,” as if having the conversation at home. Each listener’s support sensitivity (a measure of the listener’s ability to provide support) was scored on a 7-point scale. Low support sensitivity scores indicated poor provision of support and low regard for the partner—for instance, if the listener ignored the partner’s comments or provided a negative response, such as criticizing or blaming the partner. Higher scores reflected more sensitive behaviors, such as frequently responding to the spouses’ needs and concerns. Following the interaction, partners independently indicated their support satisfaction regarding the support they had received (e.g., “My spouse was sensitive to my feelings”). After the interaction, partners answered questions measuring their overall marital love and conflict.
Researchers found that husbands’ ability to provide sensitive support was critical for both spouses’ relationship outcomes. Wives paired with highly supportive husbands felt more love in the marriage and were more satisfied with the support they received, indicating that feeling supported is especially important for women. It is likely that when husbands effectively provide support, it matches their wives’ desire to share emotions, leading wives to feel understood and more satisfied. Not only did husbands’ sensitive support make their wives happy, but it also predicted husbands’ own reports of more love and less conflict in the relationship. The researchers speculate that men may particularly benefit from providing support because it gives them an active problem-solving role that lets them make meaningful contributions for their partners (in the song “Wanted,” this rationale maps onto the lyric, “As good as you make me feel / I wanna make you feel better”). Through providing sensitive support and making their partners feel good, husbands can feel useful, resulting in better feelings about themselves and their marriages.
The fact that wives derived greater benefit from receiving sensitive support, while husbands benefitted more from providing it, highlights the importance of considering the role of gender in supportive interactions. As the study described above suggests, the best way to make your partner feel “wanted”—and generate more love all around—may involve different behaviors for men and women: for men, providing sensitive support, and for women, acknowledging and appreciating his support. Without a doubt, experiencing optimal relationship functioning isn’t just about needing one another; as Hayes would say, “You gotta know you’re wanted too.”
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1Jensen, J. F., Rauer, A. J., & Volling, B. (2013; online first). A dyadic view of support in marriage: The critical role of men’s support provision. Sex Roles.
Jana Lembke - Science Of Relationships articles
Jana's research interests include close relationships and positive emotions. She is most interested in the impact of individual-level variables and interpersonal behavior on personal well-being and optimal relationship functioning.
Dr. Brent Mattingly - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mattingly's research, broadly conceptualized, focuses on the intersection of romantic relationships and the self. His specific lines of research all examine how individual-level constructs (e.g., motivation, attachment, self-regulation) are associated with various relational processes.
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