Now, with the Chiefs slated to play at Super Bowl LVIII on February 11 at 6:30 p.m. ET, only a matter of hours after Swift's final show of the Japan leg of her tour (on February 10 at 6:00 p.m. JST), the question of whether Swift will immediately hop on a plane post-show and fly across the world to make the game is already swirling, showing the depth of the couple's mutual support. And according to relationship experts, this dynamic—wherein all parties in a relationship fulfill a “cheerleader” role—can indicate whether a connection will stand the test of time.
“When you cheer on your partner, that signals to them that they can trust you to celebrate their wins,” says author, public speaker, and sex and relationship expert Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD (who goes by Dr. Tara). Her 2021 research on empathic expression1 found that five different communication factors play into the kind of empathy that fosters a happy, long relationship: verbal affirmation, experience sharing, empathic voice, emotional reactivity, and empathic touch. “One of these five categories, verbal affirmation, is basically [like] being a cheerleader—it's positivity [directed at the other person],” she says.
“When you cheer on your partner, that signals to them that they can trust you to celebrate their wins.” —Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, PhD, sex and relationship expert
Verbal affirmation is easy to spot during the good times, says Dr. Tara. It can look like celebrating your partner’s recent promotion and affirming how much hard work it took to receive it, or even just lifting them up in response to everyday successes, like after they successfully have a tough conversation with a friend or cook up a delicious meal. In the case of Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce's relationship, this affirmation manifests as showing up to each other’s events and often *literally* being a cheerleader, repping the name of their other half loud and proud.
During the bad times, though, affirmation can take the form of empathizing with a partner's negative emotions and using that cheerleader energy to ensure your partner understands how capable they are of overcoming whatever is challenging them and that you believe they can come out on the other side of it.
While we might never know what goes on between Swift and Kelce behind closed doors (nor should we—hello, privacy?!), their public support of each other’s career pursuits indicates just how much they believe in each other... which is also a prerequisite for a loving partnership. “She is lighting up for him, and I can't tell you how much that matters in a relationship,” says couples therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW, about the star couple. “If you're the light in someone's eye, then you have a secure base.”
Ross, who has helped couples navigate the ins and outs of their relationships for over 30 years, says that this kind of mutual support can offer benefits beyond the relationship: Having a vocal cheerleader in your corner can deliver an extra dose of self-confidence. “When you're in a relationship, and the other person believes in you, then you're [better suited] to go out in the world [and flourish] because you know someone's got your back, and supports you, and believes in you,” says Ross. “It enables us to be complete people.”
On the other hand, when the scales are unbalanced and one partner doesn’t receive the same kind of cheerleader energy they extend to their other half, it can result in a support deficit, says Dr. Tara. This lack of reciprocity can negatively impact the relationship and cause feelings of resentment, low self-esteem, and inadequacy to brew, all of which Ross says can cast a dark pall on relationship conflicts that may have otherwise been easy to resolve.
“If I'm working with a couple who have this foundation of mutual support, reciprocity, and believing in each other, then I can do great work with them,” says Ross, “but if you're in a relationship where you don't have that, it opens the door to a lot of problematic stuff that ultimately can erode the partnership.”
Ross adds that supporting your partner’s pursuits outside of your relationship, work-related or otherwise, can also reinforce their individual identity. And it might sound contradictory, but maintaining that sense of self while in a relationship, says Ross, is important for building a long-lasting partnership. Having friends, hobbies, and passions outside of your relationship grows your self-esteem, and research suggests there’s a strong correlation between high self-esteem and positive relationships2.
While you might argue that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce each have more than enough fans cheering them on at any given moment and reinforcing their self-esteem and personal identity, they're still in a relationship with each other, and there's nothing like getting that unwavering support from a partner. “They get so many accolades from the world,” says Ross, “but, if you're my person, and I'm getting it from you? It's a whole different thing.” At the end of the day, she says, the strongest relationships have a sense of "we-ness."
- Suwinyattichaiporn, Tara, et al. “Conceptualizing and Operationalizing Empathic Expressions: A Communication Perspective.” Communication Studies, vol. 72, (2021):1–18, doi.org10.1080/10510974.2021.1899009.
- Harris, Michelle A, and Ulrich Orth. “The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies.” Journal of personality and social psychology vol. 119,6 (2020): 1459-1477. doi:10.1037/pspp0000265
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