Healthy communication in a relationship is a powerful weapon against the wear and tear of daily stress. In Jennifer Priem’s lab, salivary samples are used to indicate when the stress hormone cortisol increases and when it decreases during supportive conversations between romantic partners. Her research focuses on determining which specific qualities of these interactions can be linked to physiological benefits as measured by a reduction in cortisol levels.
On Psychology Today, Jennifer’s blog, Stressing Communication, tackles the questions related conversations, relationships, health and stress reduction.
Areas of Expertise (6)
Dyadic stress and coping
Features of supportive communication
Physiological responses to supportive communications
Pennsylvania State University: Ph.D., Interpersonal Communication, Stress, and Health
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: M.A., Interpersonal/Organizational Communication Certificate of Mediation and Negotiation
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee: B.A., Psychology
Media Appearances (6)
How Stress Hits Women’s Brains Harder — and Why Men Don’t Always Get It
Priem has found that problems arise between couples when each person has a different perception of what's stressful. So how do you get the response you want when you need it? "When a partner downplays the significance of something, the person who's stressed may hold on to it more or feel they have to convince the other person it's true and that they have a right to feel that way," says Priem. "You might say, 'I'm really upset right now, and I feel frustrated when it seems you're making light of my feelings. It would make me feel better if you'd be more responsive to the fact that I'm upset, even if you don't understand it.'"
How to support your partner through stressful times
“The fastest stress recovery comes from explicit messages,” says Priem. “When a partner is stressed, they are unable to focus on interpreting messages well. Clarity and eye contact help.”
Want to help your partner stress less? Listen from the heart
When we feel supported, we feel less stress. But sometimes we think we are being supportive of a romantic partner and we're not. "Cookie cutter support messages don't really work," said Priem. "Stress creates a frame through which messages are interpreted. Support that is clear and explicit in validating feelings and showing interest and concern is most likely to lower cortisol levels and increase feelings of wellbeing and safety. If you aren't seeing improvement in your partner's anxiety, you may need to change your approach."
New study aims to help couples work through stress
Jennifer Priem joined WFDD’s David Ford to discuss her research on supportive communication. “There’s a lot to get past when people are working through that frame of stress to see supportive messages as very supportive or very positive messages,” said Priem. “The most explicit messages are the ones that tend to be picked up most easily as supportive.”
Stress hormones drop when partners engage in these support techniques
Jennifer Priem points out that partners have the power to reduce certain stress hormones, such as cortisol, in their partners by engaging in certain supportive techniques. Saliva samples can determine the increase and decrease of cortisol levels, giving a unique look into how certain interactions affect its rise and fall.
Reducing stress in relationships
Priem was interviewed on what features of supportive conversation may help lower cortisol and reduce stress in a relationship between dating partners.
What is supportive about supportive conversation? This study assesses how qualities of supportive interactions, operationalized from the perspectives of the support receiver and third-party observers, predict emotional improvement and cortisol recovery following a stressful experience.