The Effects of Interpersonal Emotional Expression, Partner Responsiveness, and Emotional Approach Coping on Stress Responses

Heidi S. Kane, Joshua F. Wiley, Christine Dunkel Schetter, Theodore F. Robles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Expressing emotions is a common strategy for coping with stress. Yet, little is known about the effects of using this strategy in close relationships, or when and for whom emotional expression is effective. This study examined romantic partner responsiveness and the dispositional tendency to use emotional approach coping (EAC; the processing and expression of emotions) as moderators of the effects of experimentally manipulated emotional expression on stress responses to a laboratory stressor. We brought couples (N ± 145) to the lab and randomly assigned 1 partner (the participant) to perform a stressful task. We manipulated whether participants expressed their feelings about the task to their partner (expression vs. no-expression), and whether participants received supportive messages from their partners (as an indicator of partner responsiveness; support vs. no-support). We examined physiological stress responses (cortisol and salivary alpha-amylase [sAA]), negative emotional stress responses (anxiety and self-conscious emotions), and post-task ruminative thoughts. Participants high in EAC showed larger sAA and cortisol responses and reported more negative post-task ruminative thoughts after emotionally expressing to their partners, but partner support mitigated the effect on cortisol. Participants low in EAC showed smaller cortisol responses and reported less negative emotional responses and fewer negative post-task ruminative thoughts after emotionally expressing to their partners. Receiving partner support reduced negative emotional responses for people high in EAC, but increased negative emotional responses for those low in EAC. These results may help explain when and for whom emotional expression is an effective means of coping in the immediate context of a stressor.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1315-1328
Number of pages14
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • Cortisol
  • Emotional approach coping
  • Emotional expression
  • Romantic relationships
  • Support

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