Does the Squeaky Wheel Get the Grease? Negative Expressivity and Partner Responsiveness in Relationships
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Feeling that a partner is responsive to one’s needs is crucial to intimacy (Reis, Clark, & Holmes, 2004). Just as the well-known expression, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” suggests that people who voice the most complaints elicit the most support from others, existing theory and research suggest that the more one expresses one’s emotions, the more one’s partners should behave responsively—with caring, understanding, and validation (Reis et al., 2004; Reis & Shaver, 1988). However, I suspected that when a person frequently expresses negativity, individual negative disclosures seem less diagnostic of true distress, and thus elicit less responsiveness from partners. Building on Biernat, Manis, and Nelson’s (1991) shifting standards model, I predicted that people use person-specific standards—taking into account the expresser’s typical (baseline) level of negative expressivity—when interpreting a close other’s negative disclosures. Results of six studies employing both correlational and experimental methods supported the hypothesis that people who frequently express negativity may have the severity of their distress underestimated and elicit less concern and responsiveness from their partners when they make negative disclosures. These findings provide insight into why even close relationship partners may fail to behave responsively to each other’s negative disclosures.