A job offer. A trophy. A great haircut. A promotion. A surprise visit with an old friend. A great comeback to an offensive co-worker. Good things happen to us all the time, and when we share the news 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.
Previously, I've focused on what not to do when things go wrong in our relationships. In this post, 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 a wife comes home to tell her husband that she got a promotion at work.
- An active-constructive response from him would be enthusiastic support: "That's great, honey! I knew you could do it, you’ve been working so hard."
- A passive-constructive response would be understated support—a warm smile and a simple “That’s good news.”
- An active-destructive response would be a statement that demeaned the event: “Does this mean you are going to be gone working even longer hours now? Are you sure you can handle it?”
- Finally, a passive-destructive response would virtually ignore the good news: “Oh, really? Well you won’t believe what happened to me on the drive home today!"
Why do these responses to good events matter?
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 other types of responses.
Gable 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 the partner sharing the news, and by outside observers) would be a better predictor of who stayed together and who broke up after two months.
Which do you think would be 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 you when things are bad? On the other, 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 remained in their relationships.
The importance of being there for your partner when things are good.
Most people know they need to be supportive of their partner when something bad happens. When that husband comes home and lets his wife know he didn’t get the promotion he was hoping for, she would have to be pretty cold-hearted not to be supportive and try to make him feel better. But it's 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, so what does 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 that you understand how important it 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?
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: 10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.11
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: 10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1684