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The 3 Most Important Factors For Emotional Regulation & Satisfaction In Relationships

Sarah Regan
August 23, 2023
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
By Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, and a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.
Portrait Of Young Couple
Image by Lea Jones / Stocksy
August 23, 2023

When you consider what actually makes for a satisfying relationship, one thing that probably comes to mind is your partner's ability to help you feel better on a rough day, and vice versa. Surely, the right partner would help—not hinder—your emotional regulation.

And according to recent research published in the journal Current Psychology1, this is not only true, but there are three things in particular that are best for helping regulate a partner's emotions, which in turn boost relationship satisfaction. Here's what to know.

Studying how to boost relationship satisfaction

For this study, researchers wanted to build upon existing research that suggests trying to make a partner feel better is linked with greater relationship satisfaction. Specifically, they wanted to figure out which ways of making a partner feel better are actually most effective for emotional regulation and relationship satisfaction.

To do so, they studied just under 300 people, both female and male, looking at eight different emotional regulation processes:

  • Expressive suppression: The regulator encourages the target to avoid verbally or physically expressing their emotions
  • Downward social comparison: The regulator compares the target’s situation to someone in a worse situation
  • Humor: The regulator tries to increase positive affect by making the target laugh (i.e. telling a joke or sharing a funny story)
  • Distraction: The regulator attempts to reduce negative affect by refocusing the target’s attention away from the emotional event
  • Direct action: The regulator directly changes the target’s situation to reduce negative affect
  • Reappraisal: The regulator encourages the target to shift the way they think about a situation in order to increase positive affect
  • Receptive listening: The regulator encourages the target to express their emotions to help reduce negative affect
  • Valuing: The regulator expresses how much the target is valued and special to increase positive affect

After participants were surveyed on these different processes, along with their relationship satisfaction, the study authors found three processes that stood out the most.

Valuing, by far, showed the strongest positive correlation with relationship satisfaction, followed by humor and receptive listening. The study authors note that these three processes are the "most important predictors" of relationship satisfaction.

What to do about it

Given the findings of this research, the call to action is pretty straightforward: When your partner is having a bad day, lean on these three processes to help them regulate. According to the study authors, it not only helps your partner feel better, but in turn, boosts your relationship satisfaction as well.


Show your partner you value them as they are

We all want to feel like our partner sees and values us, even on (and maybe especially on) our worst days. As the study authors write, "Valuing was the strongest predictor of greater regulator relationship satisfaction, adding, "Complimenting and valuing one’s partner benefits both the giver and receiver of the compliments."


Make them laugh

Sometimes, on a bad day, you just need to hear a good joke to help clear the cloud over your head. This research makes that clear, showing a strong connection between humor and emotional regulation as it relates to relationship satisfaction.

The study authors further note that shared laughter within a relationship predicts "not only relationship satisfaction, but also evaluations of closeness, relationship quality, and social support."


Open your ears

Lastly, when it comes to listening to your partner, do so with open ears and a nonjudgmental heart. Compassion and active listening are the goals here, so don't worry about how you're going to respond, what you think your partner "should" do, or getting caught up on an inconsequential difference in POV.

As the study authors write, when your partner can disclose some of their negative emotions to you, it indicates trust and a desire to connect, which further boosts feelings of closeness and trust between both of you. Even as the listener, the study authors say, "[Receptive listening] ultimately enhances the listener’s perception of their relationship satisfaction."

The takeaway

It can seem tricky to know the best course of action to take when your partner is having "one of those days," but according to this research, it doesn't have to be complicated. By simply listening, sharing humor, and showing you value them, you're helping your partner and simultaneously increasing the intimacy and satisfaction of your relationship.

Sarah Regan author page.
Sarah Regan
mbg Spirituality & Relationships Editor

Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Editor, a registered yoga instructor, and an avid astrologer and tarot reader. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from State University of New York at Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.