This morning’s *New York Times* includes an article: “For Couples,
Reaction to Good News Matters More Than Reaction to Bad” by Benedict Carey.
Here’s the article:
Scientists who study relationships have long focused on how couples
handle love’s headaches, the cold silences and searing blowups, the
childcare crises and work stress, the fallouts over money and ex-lovers.
But the way that partners respond to each other’s triumphs may be even
more important for the health of a relationship, suggests a paper
appearing in the current issue of The Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology. The study found that the way a person responds to a
partner’s good fortune — with excitement or passive approval, shared
pride or indifference — is the most crucial factor in tightening a
couple’s bond, or undermining it.
“When something good happens to your partner, it’s a terrific
opportunity to strengthen the relationship — that’s what this study
really says,” said Art Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook
University in New York, who was not part of the study. “It fits with
this whole thrust in the field, focusing on how to make things better
rather than trying to avoid making them worse.”
In the study, researchers asked 79 heterosexual couples who had dated at
least six months to fill out questionnaires characterizing how their
partners typically reacted to positive news. People often had different
styles in different contexts: a boyfriend who withdrew when his partner
was upset or overwhelmed might glow with shared excitement if she was
promoted. The researchers filmed the couples interacting in the lab, as
they discussed positive events that happened to one or the other, to
check their self-reports. The researchers also had members of the pairs
rate how satisfied they were in the relationship, based on a battery of
questions at the start of the study and again two months later.
The study was conducted by Shelly Gable, a psychologist at the
University of California, Los Angeles; Gian Gonzaga, a psychologist
formerly at U.C.L.A., and Amy Strachman, a graduate student there.
In the laboratory as in life, constructive support is generally better
for a relationship than detachment, as many people have learned the hard
way. Couples who lace their arguments with sarcasm and mean jabs,
studies find, are usually headed for a split. But in their analysis of
response styles, the researchers found that it was the partners’
reactions to their loved ones’ victories, small and large, that most
strongly predicted the strength of the relationships. Four of the
couples had broken up after two months, and the women in these pairs
rated their partners’ usual response to good news as particularly uninspiring.
Celebrating a partner’s promotion as if it were one’s own provides the
partner with a tremendous emotional lift, said Dr. Gable, while playing
down or belittling the news can leave a deep and lasting chill.
In most relationships, positive events outnumber negative ones by at
least four to one, studies have found, and “you get much more bang for
your buck” by amplifying life’s rewards than by soothing its bruises, as
important as that is, Dr. Gable said.
“When you’re seeking support from a partner, there’s a lot more going on
than when you’re sharing good news,” she added. “Your ego is on the
line. You’re admitting that maybe you can’t handle this by yourself. And
the best your partner can do is relieve your distress. It’s not the most
scientific thing I can say, but for the partner it’s also a bummer to
have deal with it, too.”