Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Making the most of it when your partner shares good news

A job offer. A great haircut. A promotion. A good visit with an old friend. An award recognizing your effort. A great comeback to a mean coworker. Good things happen to us, and when we share them with others, those good things can feel even better. But recent research suggests that how much better we feel depends on how people respond to our good news. Last week I focused on what not to do when things go wrong in our relationships, and this week I want to talk about what to do when things go right for the people closest to us. 

People’s responses to another person’s good news can be divided into four categories along two dimensions (active-passive and constructive-destructive). For example, imagine that William comes home to tell Kate he got a promotion in the Royal Air Force. An active-constructive response from Kate would be enthusiastic support, something like “Wow, honey, that is so great! I knew you could do it, you’ve been working so hard and this just shows you can do anything!” A passive-constructive response from her would be understated support, such as a warm smile with a simple “That’s good news.” An active-destructive response from Kate would be some sort of statement that demeaned the event such as “Does this mean you are going to be gone working even longer hours now? Are you sure you can handle it? Do you think they just gave this to you because of who you are?” And finally, a passive-destructive response from Kate would ignore William’s good news, such as “Oh really? Well you won’t believe what happened to me today while I was out shopping!” So why do these responses to good events matter?

Well Shelly Gable and colleagues have found that people who receive active and constructive responses to their good news are happier, more satisfied with their relationships, experience fewer conflicts and have more fun with their partners than people who receive the other types of responses.
Gable also videotaped 79 dating couples as they discussed good news and bad news with each other, to find out whether people’s responses to their partner’s good or bad news (as rated by outside observers and the partner sharing the news) would be a better predictor of who stayed together and who broke up two months. Which do you think is more important for relationships – being enthusiastic when something good happens to your partner, or being supportive when something bad happens? On the one hand, who wants to stay with a partner who can’t be there for them when things are bad? On the other hand, who wants to be in a relationship with someone who wants to rain on your parade? In fact, Gable found that the latter was more important: people’s responses to their partner’s good news was the better predictor of who broke up and who stayed together (as well as who was happier for those who were still in their relationships). 

The importance of being there for your partner when things are good
I think most people know they need to be supportive of their partner when something bad happens. When William comes home and lets Kate know he didn’t get the promotion he was hoping for, Kate has to be pretty cold hearted not to be supportive and try to make him feel better. But its less obvious that she needs to share in his good news. He’s already going to be happy that things are going well for him, what’s it matter if she responds enthusiastically or not? But research consistently shows that relationships thrive when they are filled with more good than bad, and being able to share in your partner’s joys is one way to boost the positives in your relationship. Responding enthusiastically to someone’s good news lets them know you understand how important this thing is to them and shows them that you care.

Do you agree with this research that responses to good news are (in a way) more important than people's response to someone's bad news? Why do you think it might be hard to be enthusiastic when something good happens to someone close to you?

The articles:
  • Gable, S., Reis, H., Impett, E., & Asher, E. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (2), 228-245 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.87.2.228
  • Gable, S., Gonzaga, G., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91 (5), 904-917 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.5.904

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