It’s not just about the romance. Having an attentive, responsive partner is better for your health, too.
Jason Wimberly, a celebrity fitness trainer, leads a fast-paced life in Los Angeles.
He runs a business and helps the members of his gym, The Wall, achieve their physical fitness goals through leading vigorous exercise classes.
Like many people living in the modern world, Wimberly chronicles his personal and public life on social media, which shows daily updates of his clients and his own personal accomplishments.
Yet every date night, Wimberly turns on the “do not disturb” mode on his smartphone to sit down to dinner and unwind with his partner, Zai Holder.
That’s when the pair can discuss each other’s day and focus on one another.
“For me, leaving my phone in the car or at home during date night with my partner is the ultimate luxury,” Wimberly confided to Healthline. “My work is very public and around people constantly, so having the ability to disconnect and focus on each other is what we both want at the end of the day.”
He added, “It’s become more and more normal to never clock out of work, but there has to be a time as a loving boyfriend where you just have to turn it off.”
As it turns out, the simple act of turning off a smartphone and engaging with your partner on a regular basis means good news for the health of couples like Wimberly and Holder.
This study began about five years ago, when a team of researchers from universities in the U.S. and abroad — Sarah Stanton, PhD, Emre Selcuk, PhD, Allison K. Farrell, PhD, Richard Slatcher, PhD, and Anthony D. Ong, PhD — began investigating the connection between social relationships to physical and mental health.
“We had this idea that one of the reasons why responsiveness is really good for us is that it allows us to be better-equipped at [adapting to] stressors,” said Slatcher, an associate professor at Wayne State University, about the origin of the study.
By stressors, Slatcher is referring to any event or condition in a person’s life that can cause stress, be it a death in the family or just a tough day at work.
For data, these researchers drew from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, which provided assessments of PPR from 1,208 adults across the country in three waves over the span of 20 years.
From the journal entries of these participants, the researchers found that adults who indicated that their spouse made them feel cared for, appreciated, and validated did indeed have a lower risk of mortality after two decades had passed.
A responsive partner, it turns out, can help you be less “stress-reactive.”
This doesn’t mean a person will be less stressed, but rather that they will be better able to cope and deal with it.
“If you have a really responsive partner, it turns out that you’re less likely to really respond to that outside stress, or in a way that’s filled with negative emotions. And so that in turn really predicted greater longevity,” summarized Slatcher.
The American Psychological Association reports that chronic stress can help cause the six leading causes of death, including cancer, suicide, heart disease, cirrhosis, accidental injuries, and respiratory disorders.
Researchers at Yale School of Medicine even found a link between mental stress and “sudden death,” since it can cause a potentially lethal heart rhythm in those implanted with a cardiac defibrillator.
Slatcher hopes the study educates the public in “how key responsiveness is in relationships” — and not just mortality.
For example, general levels of happiness are “hugely impacted” by having an engaged partner. So your life won’t just be longer from having a responsive partner — it will likely be happier as well.
It starts with being a good conversationalist.
When your partner is talking to you, try “really giving them your full attention,” recommended Slatcher, and try “to empathize with them when they’re going through something difficult.”
Be responsive during the good times, too, like “celebrating with them, in terms of the attention that you give them when something goes well,” he added.
One of the biggest challenges of being a responsive partner today is the ubiquitous presence of smartphones, which keep people plugged into their jobs, the news cycle, and social media accounts for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Like Wimberly and Holder demonstrate, it’s important to practice putting the phone down when a partner is trying to engage with you.
“Really give them your full attention,” advised Slatcher. “People think that they can multitask and look at their phone and talk to their partner at the same time. And at least our preliminary findings are suggesting that phones can really get in the way of responsiveness and then negatively impact the relationship.”
Even those who believe they’re good at multitasking should give the phone a rest.
“You can’t in that same moment be scrolling through Snapchat or Instagram and also be an attentive partner,” Slatcher said. “You really need to do those things at different times.”
Setting aside a regular time during the day, such as dinner, to put away phones can be an effective way of becoming a more responsive partner — and family member.
“We’ve been looking at responsiveness in parent-child interactions and their response to the effects of responsiveness on kids are just huge,” Slatcher said. “So the same [advice] goes for parent-child relationships as well.”
Slatcher said he also practices what he preaches.
His research into responsiveness has inspired him to make adjustments in his own life by not only “trying to be a more responsive partner to my spouse, but also to my kids, to really try to be mindful and present when I’m with them and to give them my full attention,” he said.
For Slatcher, that includes putting away the smartphone during family gatherings like dinner.
In doing so, the researcher has found that he can become a role model to his spouse and his children in how to have more responsive relationships, which in any family, can’t be a one-way street.
“You can’t ask your spouse to put his or her phone away when you’re talking to them, if you’re not going to do the same thing yourself,” he said.
Slatcher encourages others to begin their own journey toward better responsiveness — and a longer life — with the simple act of communication.
“Let your partner know also about these findings so they can be responsive to you,” he advised.