The Couple Domino Effect
Updated: Sep 13
The Couple Domino Effect
A blog series to explore the ways we can positively influence the power of the domino effect to foster better romantic relationships
As a systemic thinker, I take a “big picture” approach when working with couples and the difficulties they come in with. This approach means I view the couple as a “system” – one that is comprised of two individuals interacting and influencing the overall functioning of their relationship. By learning to view our romantic relationships as a system, and by understanding our individual roles within them, we can begin to be better teammates and improve the overall health and happiness of our relationships.
My recent work with couples and viewing their complex problems through a systems lens has led to the same questions of “how did they get here and how could this have been prevented?”. I found myself picturing a domino set, where the action of pushing one domino down initiates other dominos falling and winding down a path to an end – often within the blink of an eye. The idea that one action can lead to a series of others, whether intentional or not, has begun to provide me with a framework for helping couples learn how one action can propel or prevent either positive or negative outcomes.
The first in this blog series looks at the ways emotional support can lead to a positive domino effect in romantic relationships.
Couple Domino Effect No.1: Emotional Support
There will be many times throughout our lives where we will experience an increase in stress that can impact us physically, emotionally, and socially. During periods of high stress, studies have found that emotional support from a partner can be a protective factor for relationship satisfaction and success. Support from a partner can alleviate distress and facilitate coping strategies, thereby mitigating the spillover of stress into the relationship (Neff, 2021).
Emotional support is defined as an intentional verbal and nonverbal way to show care and affection for one another. By providing emotional support to another person, you offer them reassurance, acceptance, encouragement, and caring, making them feel valued and important (Burleson, 2003). In addition, an increase in emotional support can help promote leaning in together and can mitigate the negative impacts from disconnecting and handling stress on our own.
Positive Domino Effect Action
Asking: “How can I best support you during this time?” The key to emotional support is learning about our partners, their needs, and how we can best show up for them. After a length of time, we can start to operate on assumptions on what our partner needs or provide support based on what we would find helpful during our own stressful moments. Therefore, asking your partner the question above can provide you with guidance on what their needs are during that time, and initiates a positive domino effect by allowing them to feel heard, reassured, and cared for by you.
Burleson, B. R. (2003). Emotional support skills. In J. O. Greene & B. R. Burleson (Eds.), Handbook of communication and social interaction skills (pp. 551–594). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Domino effect. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/domino%20effect
Neff, L. A., Nguyen, T. T. T., & Williamson, H. C. (2021). Too stressed to help? The effects of stress on noticing partner needs and enacting support. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47(11), 1565–1579. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167220974490