When people recite traditional wedding vows, it’s the latter part of this classic phrase that tends to get all of the attention: “in good times and bad.“
But it turns out that while it’s important to stand by your partner during a crisis, supporting your better half’s accomplishments and enjoying those skimmed-over “good times” together may be even more important.
Sharing good news with someone else is a process psychologists call “capitalisation,” and it turns out that studying exactly what capitalisation looks like in a relationship offers a frighteningly accurate picture of whether or not things are going well.
When people in a relationship regularly respond to each other’s good news enthusiastically, they are more likely to be happy and satisfied, researchers reported in 2004 study. In fact, they concluded in a 2006 follow-up, “responses to positive event discussions were more closely related to relationship well-being and break-up than were responses to negative event discussions.”
Amie M. Gordon, a social psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley, offers some examples on her Psychology Today blog of how these responses might play out in reality, say, after “a wife comes home to tell her husband that she got a promotion”:
- 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!”
The one you want to practice doing is the “active-constructive” response, where you not only acknowledge a partner’s good news, but make them feel even better about it.
The 2004 and 2006 studies aren’t conclusive, of course, but the general idea agrees with much of what previous studies have suggested about happy relationships. “Research consistently shows that relationships thrive when they are filled with more good than bad,” Gordon writes. “Being able to share in your partner’s joys is one way to boost the positives in your relationship.”
The authors of those two studies on sharing good news, led by Shelly Gable of UCLA, point out that our cultural emphasis on sticking with someone when the going gets tough may be misguided, with potentially disastrous consequences.
“The disproportionate focus on processes such as conflict, social support, and jealousy, although clearly important, may have unintentionally led to our failure to empirically notice the importance of positive experiences… in the lives of couples,” they write, in the conclusion to their 2006 study. “Feeling that your partner is there for you when things go right and… your partner actually being there for you when things go right play important roles in the health of relationships.”
So don’t just support your significant other through the bad times, dry their tears, and pick them up when they’re down. That’s all important, but remember also to cheer them on through the good times, share in their joys, and high-five their accomplishments.
“Indeed,” Gable and her coauthors conclude, “positive emotional exchanges may serve as a foundation on which stable and satisfying relationships rest.“
And that’s one relationship secret that’s probably not a secret at all to anyone in a happy, long-lasting relationship.
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