Have you ever wondered how a text stands up to a phone call? Or a phone call to an in-person meeting? What about emails? How have all of these modern developments affected our human relationships?
There is new research coming out now that these forms of electronic communication are NOT equivalent to the old-fashioned face-to-face talking/interacting. Which makes sense when you consider that the human brain would have a lot of trouble evolving at a pace to keep up with the latest iPhone app or emoticon. Our brains were wired for in-person interactions in which we can use data from the visual stream, and vocal tone, volume and pitch. We intuitively know what a frown means even when no words accompany it, and we also know that even if said with a smile certain words uttered in a snarly tone mean a fight is brewing. These kinds of nuances cannot be parsed out by the human brain when the message is communicated via text or email and may only be partially correctly decoded in a phone-call or audio message. Furthermore not only is it likely that the message can be mis-interpreted but our poor brains also can't derive the type of support that they need from these relationship proxies.
In one study done with girls who were put into a stressful situation it was shown that being able to either talk to a comforting person (their moms) over the phone or meeting up with this person after the stressor reduced physical signs of stress (levels of cortisol) compared to texting, which did nothing for stress. Additionally being able to talk on the phone or in person with the support-person caused a release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps us bond and mitigates the effects of stress. Again this effect was not seen with texting.
In another study done on adults over 50 researchers found that the probability of having depression increased as the frequency of in-person contact with other people decreased. Meaning that the less real-live contact that these people had with other humans increased the likelihood that they would suffer depression. Humans need other humans and we need to be with each other in ways that are not purely viritual.
So keep those you love close-- close enough to see, touch and hear without the interloping of wires and circuitry. And reach out to them frequently for contact and connection. Save the less personal forms of communication for business and less significant relationships if you want to be happy and healthy. At least until Mother Nature comes out with thehumanbrain2.0. But I'm not holding my breath.
Yours in health,
In a study published last year (4/29/14) from researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including Dr. Richard J. Davidson, stress levels of married couples were shown to influence each partner's happiness. Researchers looked at how often spouses felt let down or criticized by their partners and found that those in unsupportive marriages had more trouble sustaining happiness. Dr. John Gottman has discussed feeling criticized by one's partner in his research on marriage over several decades. Dr. Gottman has found that criticizing one's spouse is predictive (along with other variables) of divorce. Over time if our spouse has continued to criticize us we may develop a general mistrust of their intentions. For example if they actually say something nice we may have become conditioned to disregard this positive comment or hear some "hidden" negative meaning in it. The only way to prevent this is to fully repair instances where one has hurt one's partner. While this sounds cumbersome to some, learning to quickly and effectively repair is a skill and can be learned. Relationship skills are like any skills and once mastered can be performed easily and fluidly, like learning a foreign language or new sport. So even if it takes effort and practice early on this repairing becomes faster and easier but continues to yield huge results.
If you or your spouse is depressed there are some studies that support the idea that couples therapy may help more than other treatments. In a study done in 2012 Dessaullesa, Johnsona, and Dentonb found that when one spouse is depressed and the relationship is also under stress couples therapy may outperform antidepressants. Leff et al. in the British Journal of Psychiatry (2000) found that partner's depression improved after either couples therapy or antidepressant medication. However the couples therapy group continued to show those gains at a one year follow up while those treated with medication did not.
In summary if you find yourself depressed, or if your partner is depressed, and your relationship could use some attention as well you may get more benefit from couples therapy than medication or other interventions like individual therapy. It's important to remember that depression has very serious health consequences as well as emotional pain and should be treated or it can worsen.
With warm wishes,
Krista Jordan, Ph.D., ABPP
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