In Good Times and in Bad

by Gian Gonzaga, Ph.D.

In Good Times and in Bad

Picture this scenario: Your significant other has just finished a major project. It could be something accomplished at work, around the house or during downtime. The bottom line is, your partner is very pleased with the outcome. After putting in quite a bit of effort, it’s paid off. When he/she shares the good news with you, you do which of the following:

a) Hug and kiss your partner while discussing how happy he/she is and proud you are for half an hour. b) Call out, "That’s great, Honey," as you plop down on the couch to watch the big game. c) Point out the things your partner has neglected because of the project that now need to get done. d) Immediately launch into a tirade about your own big work project until your partner walks away upset. Now, if you are being honest, you’ll admit that your response will vary. We understand. You are human, after all. Your reaction may vary depending on the mood you’re in or the context of the conversation or how your relationship is doing that given minute of that given day. There always seem to be mitigating circumstances. But stop to consider if the situation was reversed and you were the one brimming with good news to share. What would you want your significant other to do? You’d invariably want response "a", right? Again, you’re human. Naturally, you’d want the partner who, despite the lousy day he/she was having or how tired he/she was, reacted enthusiastically when you shared your triumph. In the moment, you wouldn’t stop to consider the mitigating circumstances. You’d be hurt by her disinterest. So making the effort to put aside one’s own issues to share in a spouse’s accomplishment is vital. In fact, more and more experts are finding that this "good news reaction" by our partners could be one simple key to unlocking a marriage that stays strong, vibrant and healthy.

What the Research Says
Does recalling your partner’s reaction to your positive news affect how satisfied you are in the relationship? That was a question posed in a recent eHarmony Labs online study. The results matched previous research findings, which showed that how spouses respond to each others’ good news is directly correlated with how satisfied each is with the marriage. That probably isn’t too surprising. After all, most people feel happier when others celebrate their good news. It’s just human nature to want to feel supported and respected and understood. Even small changes in a partner’s behavior can affect the way you feel about your relationship. Take a close look at the chart below.

So what does it all mean? Even just the memory of partners’ enthusiastic responses makes people feel better about their relationships. That’s pretty powerful. Just imagine what it would be like if you responded to your partner with genuine interest and enthusiasm each and every time he/she told you about a good event (and he/she responded to you in the same way). Imagine how much rapport and good will this would generate between the two of you. Imagine how these positive feelings and associations would accumulate over time, how you would be able to recall these positive moments to sustain you through difficult times in your marriage. Experts agree that being supportive in the moment can reap huge rewards in the dynamic between couples over the long term.

Caring When Your Partner Shares Has your significant other ever accused you of not listening? Ever been slapped with the three little words "You don’t care!" that threaten to kick off WWIII? Most of us would plead guilty. So how can you prove to your partner that you are enthusiastic and supportive in the moment? Remember, it’s not about big, sweeping gestures. Small changes can make all the difference. Keep these three little tips in mind and watch the dynamic in your relationship change almost instantly:

Be empathetic. Empathy can be defined as listening with your heart as well as your head. It means you are trying to truly understand what the other person is thinking, feeling and experiencing. Put yourself in your partner’s shoes and see the positive event from that perspective. We assure you this is one of the greatest gifts one person can give another. Every time you make the effort to empathize, you better understand your spouse’s meaning and strengthen your connection.

Provide feedback. Communication is a two-way street. One person talks, the other listens. The response or feedback your partner receives indicates whether the message was (or was not) received and was (or was not) understood. "Go on, I am listening." Or "I don’t understand what happened. Please repeat what you said." Providing this kind of simple statement and showing attentiveness with your eyes and body language convey that your partner is being understood — that you are genuinely interested in hearing the message being handed to you.

Be generous with supportive statements. We all like to feel good about ourselves. Period. When we give recognition to our significant others and we genuinely compliment their accomplishments, we reassure them of how important they are to us. We not only make them feel even better, we build a strong foundation of safety and rapport for future interactions. In fact, when we feel supported and are supportive, many of the other keys to good communication fall more naturally into place. Too often in relationships we focus on how we care for each other (or fail to) during tough moments. But it is equally important to put great effort into how you support each other during the high points. Think of it as making little deposits in an account that will pay big dividends over time.

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