Learning to “fight better” is a common theme in couple’s therapy. Don’t use the phrase “you always…” stick to the issue at hand, and by all means avoid saying anything negative about the other person’s mother.
Less focused upon and, in fact, a more effective strategy is learning how to celebrate one another. According to research, how we respond to our loved one’s good news is a better predictor of relationship quality than how couples handle disagreements.
In her research, Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California, demonstrates the benefits of responding with enthusiasm and support when a partner shares good news.
For example, imagine Maria comes home from her job as an associate at a law firm and excitedly tells her husband that she has been assigned to be the lead lawyer on a big case. Her husband might respond in one of the four following ways:
1. Active Constructive Response:
“That’s awesome! What is the case about? Your hard work is really paying off. I am so excited for you. Tell me all about it.” He expresses genuine curiosity and actively listens to Maria tell him about it.
2. Passive Constructive Response:
“That’s nice dear,” he mutters while checking email.
3. Active Destructive Response:
“Are you sure you can handle it? That is going to be a lot of work. Maybe no one else wanted the case.” He focuses on the negative.
4. Passive Destructive Response:
“You will never believe what happened to me today!” He hijacks the conversation to be about him.
The first one, the active constructive response, is the only response style associated with higher relationship quality and greater personal wellbeing. Studies show this style brings couples closer and enhances connection. The other three styles are all negatively associated with relationship quality.
Research shows active constructive responding is beneficial in all types of relationships—with friends, students, co-workers and children. It is about expressing interest and genuine curiosity in something a loved one shares and cares about.
Here is your assignment for the next week:
Listen carefully the next time someone you care about tells you something good that happened to them. It need not be earth shattering. Small good news is more than enough. It may be as simple as them showing you an article in a newspaper that interests them or telling you about a book they just finished. Give them your full attention. Look up from your phone. Ask questions. Relive the moment with them. It may feel strange at the beginning, especially for those who feel inclined to be the “voice of reason” but give it time.
It goes without saying that being there for a loved one during tough times is important.
Being there for them in good times matters too.
I wish you all the best,
Dr. Samantha Boardman