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Keywords:

  • intimate relationships;
  • marriage;
  • social support

The literature on social support within dyadic intimate relationships raises a seeming paradox: The availability of support tends to reduce distress, but its actual receipt is often unhelpful and at times engenders feelings of inadequacy, indebtedness, and inequity—unintended but potent side effects of the support transaction. Our review organizes this literature in order to solve the apparent paradox. Specifically, we theorize that, because support attempts are often unskilled and miscarried, they lead to greater costs than benefits. We identify four ways in which dyadic support can be unskillful, ways pertaining to its timing, content, process, or reciprocation. We suggest that when these are addressed, support can regain its intended goals of enhancing dyadic coping, reducing stress, and strengthening relationships.