Exploring the associations between unwanted affection, stress, and anxiety

Lisa J. van Raalte, Kory Floyd, Dayna Kloeber, Alaina M. Veluscek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Although giving and receiving affection are beneficial, the benefits often depend on who is providing the affection and in what context. Some affectionate expressions may even reduce well-being. This mixed-method study examined perceptions of unwanted affection and its relationship to stress and anxiety. Participants described a memory of unwanted affection and their reactions to it. Additionally, participants reported on their stress, somatic anxiety, and cognitive anxiety. Thematic analyses revealed that expressions of unwanted affection ranged in verbal (e.g., disclosure rate, saying “I love you”) or nonverbal (e.g., hugs, handholding) behaviors and participants responded by explicit rejecting the affection, reduced/stopped contact with the person, and ignoring the affection. Feelings reflecting the perceived negativity of the event were related to higher stress, somatic, and cognitive anxiety. Generally, results indicated that retrospective cognitive anxiety and stress were worse when experiencing unwanted affection from well-known partners (e.g., romantic partners) than from strangers. Conversely, the perceived negativity of the recalled unwanted affectionate event tended to worsen with lesser known partners (e.g., strangers, acquaintances).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-543
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Social and Personal Relationships
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Affection
  • affection exchange theory
  • anxiety
  • stress
  • unwanted affection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Communication
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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