How to Talk About Mistakes in a Romantic Relationship

Talking about errors can make a difference in how a couple feels.

When I teach my class on the psychology of close relationships, at some point I get around to talking about the “not so bright and shining” moments that partners have. You know, those moments when someone inevitably takes a wrong turn and does something that’s likely to feel upsetting to their partner. To be clear, even though not all misdeeds are inevitable, it’s a certainty that, generally speaking, an offense of some type or another will happen because we’re all human and everyone makes mistakes.
For instance, perhaps you promised to do your partner a favor and then lost sight of it. Maybe you’re regretting those inconsiderate words you uttered a couple of days ago. Or your partner might have been really opening up to you in a vulnerable way, but you closed up and weren’t listening. No matter whether we’re talking about a mistake that’s more significant or a smaller misstep, stumbles are going to happen in a couple's journey together and, as long as that couple chooses to remain together, it’s healthy and important to be able to repair hurts in an effective way.
This brings us to the question of how couples might be able to fruitfully repair interpersonal wounds. In a recently published study, a team of researchers examined this question as they created a new questionnaire with the idea of “co-rumination” in mind. Co-rumination is “the extended and or recurring discussion of issues in social relationships.” They drew upon past psychological research suggesting that how an individual person thinks about difficult experiences is linked with that person feeling better or worse. More specifically, they referred to two concepts that have been linked to the idea of rumination: Reflection and brooding. Reflection involves thinking about the problem to try and work it out, whereas brooding involves repeating the same types of thoughts about what’s wrong and how upset a person feels, and magnifying the problem.
As you can probably guess, the former is useful and gets you somewhere, and the latter can be harmful, even though it can seem compelling. Although these elements of rumination have been applied to relationships (that is, co-reflection and co-brooding being two sides of co-rumination), the research team pointed out that these ideas haven’t really been used to understand how romantic partners might talk in the wake of a misstep and whether co-reflection and co-brooding may be connected to how the conversation goes.
First, they created and studied a measure of co-rumination and found that it mapped onto three forms of communication: Co-reflection, co-brooding, and co-avoidance. Co-reflection involved trying to reach a shared understanding and address an issue, whereas co-brooding involved focusing on one’s own views and feelings and not making headway on an issue. Co-avoidance involved staying away from the issue altogether. Then, the research team looked at how these three elements were connected with how partners feel after discussions about relationship mistakes. Co-reflection was the only style that was linked with better experiences for partners, such as more dedication to the relationship, more goodwill, and a person’s ability to truly take responsibility and forgive themselves. For co-brooding and co-avoidance, these styles were connected to experiences such as less goodwill, more vindictiveness, less dedication, and less of a capacity to really take responsibility and pardon oneself.
Certainly, no study is perfect. The team correctly highlighted the need for more research with more diverse groups of people. Also, the investigators were right to state that their research doesn’t make it possible to say that co-reflection, co-brooding, or co-avoidance causes a particular outcome, and other studies should clarify the link between how partners talk about relationship errors and what emerges from their conversations. All the same, given that co-reflecting is connected with more beneficial experiences for partners, it’s probably not a bad idea to try it the next time you and your partner are addressing a stumble and hurt feelings.

What could this look like? Based on the team’s research and their questionnaire, here are some possible ideas:
1.Try to really acknowledge, accept, and support how your partner feels (for example, hurt, hopeful, scared, angry, sad, confused).
2.Try to set aside your own position for a moment. Instead, try to really listen to your partner and see if you can understand where they’re coming from.
3.Try to be open and receptive to your partner in the conversation.

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What Does the Term Frenemy Really Mean?

Do you feel like someone might not have your best interests at heart?

A new study published in the Southern Communication Journal offers a succinct definition of a term that has become commonplace in pop culture over the past decade: What it means to be a ‘frenemy.’
“Despite the prevalence of frenemies in popular culture and the significant effect these relationships can have on our lives, frenemy scholarship is limited and contradictory,” says Dr. Jenna Abetz, the lead author of the study. “Developing an in-vivo definition of the frenemy relationship portrays the realities of these relationships as they are lived.”
To land on such a definition, Abetz and her team interviewed 29 adults between the ages of 19 and 62 to get a better sense of how individuals who have had a frenemy define and understand the term.
They found that many of the interviewees shared similar feelings about frenemy relationships, leading the researchers to land on the following definition: “Relationships, often negative, steeped in situational ties and shared social connections that outwardly appear friendly but are fraught with underlying competition, jealousy, or distrust.”
Unlike genuine friendships, the researchers found that frenemy relationships displayed three prominent characteristics:

1.Competitiveness (viewing the other more as a rival to outdo than a friend to support)
2.Jealousy (either in terms of social connections or material possessions)
3.Distrust (a lack of respect and care in the friendship)
The dynamic was described by some interviewees as ‘hot and cold,’ with the frenemy repeatedly giving mixed signals as they shifted between friend-like and foe-like mentalities.
While many of these relationships were found embedded in unavoidable social circles and networks like family, school, and work, some participants stated that frenemy relationships evolved from seemingly true friendships that became pressured due to external circumstances.
Interestingly, having a frenemy was more of a ‘felt’ experience than a verbally defined label. In other words, frenemy relationships have an element of ‘unspokenness’ in them.
This is not to say that frenemy relationships don’t come with their own silver linings. Some interviewees shared positive outcomes amidst the dark cloud of a frenemy relationship.
“For some, the outcome of having a frenemy was better awareness of what they wanted and deserved in a true friendship,” explains Abetz. “Others reflected on those teachable life lessons — and that having a frenemy highlighted future relational red flags for them."
Here are two thoughts shared by interviewees that highlight the positive side of their experience with frenemies:

* “I’m more cautious, I see how they treat others before I get close to them.”
* “You learn how people are and what signs to look out for in a friend. It helps you reconsider all the earlier signs.”
Experience with frenemies or frenemy-like relationships underscores the importance of learning what a good friendship looks and feels like by having experience with a wide range of social relationships. This is especially important for children and adolescents to understand as they learn how to navigate the social world. They need to know that while no friendship is perfect, frenemy dynamics are not genuine friendships and they should not feel compelled to maintain them if there is a clear undercurrent of distrust.
“It is important for parents and educators to be able to assist adolescents in identifying unhealthy relational patterns and how they manifest in friendships,” says Abetz. “While learning how to make and be a friend is one of the central developmental tasks of elementary school, as children age they still need guidance and support navigating challenging friendship dynamics.”
Abetz hopes that her research not only helps people define a somewhat indescribable relationship feeling but that it can be used to teach young adults how to seek out more positive relationships in their own lives.

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The Troubling Truth About Drinking in Moderation

It appears that no amount of alcohol is good for you.

It turns out that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol daily does not—as previously thought—protect against heart disease or contribute to a longer life. Apologies if your alcohol consumption depends in part on this popular belief and (until now) useful rationalization.
For decades, scientific studies suggested moderate drinking was better for most people’s health than not drinking at all, and could even boost longevity. But, a new analysis of more than 40 years of research has concluded that many of those studies were flawed and that the opposite is true.
Just published in JAMA Network Open, this meta-analysis reviewed 107 observational studies that involved more than 4.8 million people. The massive study stressed that previous estimates of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption on the risk of death by “all causes” — meaning anything, including heart disease, cancer, infections, and automobile accidents — were “significantly” biased by flaws in study design.
According to the researchers, earlier research did not adjust for numerous factors that could influence the outcome, for example, age, sex, economic status, and lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, smoking, and diet. Using statistical software, they essentially removed such bias, adjusting for various factors that could skew the research. After doing so, there were no significant declines in the risk of death by any cause among the moderate drinkers.[1]
While these previous observational studies could identify potential links or correlations, they could also be misleading and didn’t prove cause and effect. Moreover, they failed to recognize that many light and moderate drinkers had other healthy habits and advantages and that non-drinkers used as a comparison group often included people who had given up alcohol after developing health problems.
This represents the largest study to effectively call B.S. on the widely held belief that moderate drinking of wine or other alcoholic beverages is healthy. In contrast, it found that the risk of numerous health problems, as well as that of dying prematurely, increased significantly after less than two drinks per day for women and after three per day for men.
This data adds to that of another substantial meta-analysis from 2022 in which researchers in Britain examined genetic and medical data of nearly 400,000 people and concluded that alcohol consumption at all levels was associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.[2]
The modern-day belief that daily alcohol consumption promotes health emerged in the 1980s, when researchers identified the so-called “French paradox,” which suggested that low rates of cardiovascular disease among men in France was associated with daily wine consumption. Although later analyses found flaws in the research, the idea that moderate drinking improved health became broadly accepted. Wine—particularly red wine—developed a reputation for having health benefits after news stories highlighted its high concentration of resveratrol, a protective antioxidant also found in blueberries and cranberries.
However, the hypothesis that moderate alcohol use is health-enhancing has come under increasing scrutiny over the years as the alcohol industry’s role in funding research became clear, revealing that many of the studies that purport the alleged health effects of alcohol have been funded by that industry. A 2020 report found that 13,500 studies have been directly or indirectly paid for by the alcohol industry.[3] Concurrently, a range of other studies has found that even moderate consumption of alcohol—including red wine—may contribute to cancers of the breast, esophagus, head and neck, high blood pressure, and atrial fibrillation, a serious heart arrhythmia.
Dietary guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend that adults limit alcohol intake to two drinks or fewer a day for men and one drink or less for women, adding “that drinking less is better for health than drinking more.” The guidelines also warn that even drinking within the recommended limits may increase the overall risk of death attributable to various causes, including some types of cancer and heart disease, even at levels of less than one drink per day.[4]
This past January, Canada issued new guidelines warning that no amount of alcohol consumption is healthy and urges people to reduce drinking as much as possible. Issued by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the new guidance was a significant departure from its 2011 guidelines, which recommended women limit themselves to no more than 10 standard drinks a week and men no more than 15.[5]
Alcohol is the most used recreational drug, and unfortunately, for those who enjoy drinking for relaxation and recreation, this is unwelcome news. As comforting as it might be to think that it’s good for one’s health, increasingly the science simply does not support it. The extensive new research decimates the hope of many that moderate alcohol use is healthy and makes clear that people should not drink alcohol for the express purpose of improving their health. If maintaining and/or improving health is your priority, in terms of alcohol consumption, less is more.

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Is Exercise as Effective as Medications or Talk Therapy?

A large meta-review suggests it is.

In the United States, when someone is experiencing a chronic health condition or persistent negative mood states, medications or talk therapy tend to be first to the rescue. Exercise is sometimes relegated to the category of “complementary and alternative medicine” for those who have tried medications and therapy and found them to be “ineffective” based on either provider opinion or a patient’s experience of subjective relief. However, this is not the case everywhere. In countries like Australia, behavioral approaches coined “lifestyle management,” which include exercise, is considered a front-line approach.
A new meta-review by a group of behavioral scientists from the University of South Australia highlighted the equivalence of physical activity to medications and psychotherapy in the treatment of depression, anxiety, various chronic diseases, and maintenance of overall health. The current findings, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that physical activity has a medium effect size on depression, anxiety, and chronic disease, which is larger than the typical small effect sizes found in behavioral health research. This association improved with increased intensity of movement compared to treatment as usual. Critically, the effect size for physical activity on depression (median effect size = -0.43) and on anxiety (median effect size = -0.42) was comparable, though slightly greater, than medication or therapy (median effect size ranges = -0.22 to -0.37).
Though there have been dozens of randomized controlled trials or meta-analytic studies exploring the positive health impacts of exercise, they are typically limited due to examining very narrow demographics at a time, which may not generalize well to the larger population. The authors of the newest study attempted to include as many forms of physical activity as possible without focusing on specific subgroups of any one population to see what patterns emerged from data, which included over 128,000 participants across 1,039 clinical trials.
Any adult 18 years or older who participated in a research trial that aimed to increase physical activity was included in the analysis. Physical activity was defined as “any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscles that results in a substantial increase in caloric requirements over resting energy expenditure.” The physical activity intervention had to occur across time (versus a single physical activity event, like a one-time marathon). Studies which included confounding variables in their intervention such as dietary changes, medications, or psychotherapy were excluded to be able to highlight the impact of physical activity alone on health outcomes. Participants included in the study ranged from 29 to 86 years old, with a median age of 55 years old.
Results showed depression and depressive symptoms were significantly reduced with a medium effect size as a result of physical activity in over 62,000 participants across 875 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) from 72 meta-analyses. Anxiety symptoms were significantly reduced with a medium effect size as a result of physical activity in over 10,000 participants across 171 RCTs from 28 meta-analyses. Psychological distress significantly reduced with a medium effect size in more than 500 participants across six RCTs from one systematic review. Importantly, effect sizes varied highly by the assessment instrument used, highlighting the importance of measurement-based care, utilizing validated screening tools to assess symptomology in patients and research participants.
Perhaps even more promising than the massive number of participants for whom these impacts of physical activity on mood symptoms held true is the finding that all modes of exercise were effective in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. Regardless of strength-based movement, mind-body practices like yoga and tai chi, aerobic exercise, or mixed-mode exercises which include both aerobic and resistance training, exercise was shown to be effective in improving negative emotions and health distress. Higher intensity exercises were found to be more effective in ameliorating depression symptoms than lower or moderate-intensity exercises, while both moderate and higher intensity physical activity was found to be effective for reducing anxiety symptoms.
As the overall physical activity treatment was extended beyond 12 weeks, the amount of reduction in mood symptoms paradoxically diminished. This highlights the importance of structuring physical activity interventions for discrete periods of time, consistent with how individuals set effective behavioral goals, compared to giving patients open-ended guidance on physical activity which is not time-bound. Limiting physical activity interventions to a “sweet spot” of roughly three months is also more effective for patients, medical systems, and payers alike, reducing the burden of healthcare costs while maximizing health outcomes.
Weekly physical activity close to or under 150 minutes each week is ideal, compared to exercise beyond 150 minutes weekly which showed diminishing health impacts. Exercising a moderate amount, of 4-5 times per week, was found to be more closely tied to better mood than exercising at higher frequency like daily or at lower frequency like only 1-2 times each week. For anyone wondering what the optimal length of an exercise session may be, the authors found 30-60 minute exercise sessions are most effective. Given the potential benefits of physical activity as an intervention and the minimal negative side effects, it stands to reason that exercise should be considered a front-line approach for mood and chronic health problems when possible. Or at least, exercise should be given equal consideration as medications and psychotherapy for improving health outcomes.

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