Emotional Self-Medication: Good bids, Bad bids, and Canceling Out

2 min read

You can tell a lot about how a relationship is going (and how it’s going to go) by the emotional bids in the relationship.  The better the ratio of positive:negative “bids” or interactions (even tiny ones), the better the relationship. The effect of these emotional bids is even demonstrated in subconscious physiological responses, where couples who routinely fought could be sent into flight/fight responses merely by proximity, but those who were doing well were more relaxed around each other.

I want to take this idea a little bit further.  I have a hypothesis based on anecdata:

The cumulative amount of positive bids in a person’s life can help offset the negative bids in a relationship.

Here’s a hypothetical example:   Jane is in a crappy relationship with her husband.  Their positive:negative interaction is somewhere around one good one to three bad ones ( +1:-3).  But she has a friend at work where the interactions are overwhelmingly positive ( +4:0).

While those two don’t cancel out to +2:0, I suspect that the positive relationship makes the bad one not seem so bad.

Even if that’s just a platonic relationship (and especially if it isn’t), my suspicion is that the positive interactions elsewhere may mitigate the effects of the bad relationship.  That is, no number of good other relationships in your life are going to improve that bad one, but it may make it not seem as bad.  Good makes bad more tolerable, but not better.  It’s emotional self-medication.

Maybe it’s because the other relationships (platonic or otherwise) provide the appearance of an “escape”. Maybe it’s because you haven’t hit rock bottom, or how women’s close friends can pull them through a crappy relationship.

It’s a hypothesis, and one I have a little bit of anecdata for.  What do you think?

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