Tell Me Your Good News

When my boys left for university I tucked “launch letters” into their suitcases. While my job as hovering over-protective mother was finished, I felt I would be remiss if I did not impart invaluable maternal wisdom as they flew far away from the family nest.

One of the pieces of advice I gave my youngest in his launch letter this past September was:
There will be times when you will need a virtual hug. Perhaps it will be because of a broken heart, or because of a disappointing grade, or confusion about your course of study. But I think you will want Dad and me even more when you are brimming with excitement about all the great things you are learning, and experiencing—because sharing your happiness with those who love you is the cherry on top.

A recent article in The Atlantic emphasized this point, as it relates to couples. It cites research by Dr. John Gottman that demonstrates the importance of being there for our partners when things go right, even more so than when things go wrong. A couple’s ability to respond with kindness to each other’s good news is a key predictor of relationship success and stability.

In the same article, psychologist Shelly Gable’s research findings suggest there are four ways we can respond to our partner’s good news, and that an active constructive response is the type of response that builds healthy bonds.

Let’s (hypothetically) say that my husband tells me about discovering a new jazz musician who he wants to see in concert.

A passive destructive response would be, “Can’t you see I’m trying to watch television?”

A passive constructive response would be a half-hearted acknowledgement, “That’s nice, please pass the hot sauce.”

An active destructive response would be, “You spend too much money on live music. Just buy their CD.”

An active constructive response would be, “That’s fabulous. Tell me more about what you dig about the music. Do you want me to order tickets?”

Clearly the active constructive response is the best alternative.

How many times have we turned away from our partners rather than toward them when they shared good news? When we give our partners the cold shoulder or fake interest without conviction, they can reasonably assume that they are not very important to us. Worse, there is evidence that people who criticize or treat their partners with contempt hamper their partner’s ability to fight off viruses and cancers (who am I to argue with science).

The heart and soul of a romantic partnership is basking in each other’s happiness. It doesn’t matter how phenomenal our success is if we are left to celebrate alone.

But this basic truth applies beyond romantic partnerships to our children, friends, and colleagues. What good news has someone shared with you today—and how have you strengthened your bond by actively and constructively acknowledging their happiness or success?

Sue Nador hashes out expectations in the messy world of love. Follow her on Twitter: @Sue_Nador and her weekly blog The Relationship Deal.

Image(s): Alias-Ching