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2. Not All Support Is Beneficial

When your significant other is stressed but hasn't asked for help, helping in an obvious way is like asking someone if they want a cup of coffee because they look tired. "Suddenly your partner thinks, 'I must be struggling so badly that you had to do something.' That can make them feel like they're failing, and that can affect how happy you both are in the relationship," says Matthew Johnson, PhD, a professor of psychology at Binghamton University and author of the new book Great Myths of Intimate Relationships: Dating, Sex, and Marriage. He points to the study that first brought this effect to experts' attention. Researchers followed New York City couples in which one partner was studying for the bar exam. They kept individual daily diaries of what they were doing for the other, what their partner was doing for them and how happy they were in the relationship. Surprisingly, couples where the non-studying partner reported giving the other a lot of help, but the one cramming for the exam said they didn't receive much support, were happier than couples where the non-studier offered a lot of support and the test-taker noticed. That doesn't mean you shouldn't be there for your partner when they're overwhelmed. Just practice what the authors of the study call "invisible support": helping in ways that make their life a little easier without drawing attention to it, like taking care of a chore that neither one of you relishes without pointing out that you did it. (And putting some faith in the fact that they'll reciprocate.)