Keeping your relationship’s well-being can seem daunting to some. However, there is a way you boost your relationship well-being and satisfaction that does not require a night out, or a dent in the bank account. Believe it or not, but the way in which you respond to your partner’s positive news can either enhance both of your well-being and relationship quality, or do the opposite. When your partner discloses a positive event, it is known as capitalization, and how you respond to capitalization is crucial. Take this example:

Your partner comes home and tells you that he or she got an “A” on their medical school exam. You respond in 4 different ways:

  1. Active-constructive response: “That is so amazing! You’re hard work and dedication is really paying off, I knew you could do it! I am so proud of you, let’s celebrate.”
  2. Passive-constructive response: “That’s great”, followed by a smile.
  3. Active-destructive response: “Wow, if you really want to be a doctor you’re going to have to keep working really hard like you did for this exam. Are you sure you can keep pushing yourself like this?”
  4. Passive-destructive response: “Wow, you won’t believe what happened to me at work.”

If you are more likely to respond like the first example, an active-constructive response, then you will boost you and your partner’s well-being as well as relationship quality. On the other hand, if you are more likely to respond with examples 2-4, then you will actually negatively affect your relationship well-being (1). Why? Well, let’s look deeper into why an active-constructive response is more effective and positive:

  1. It confirms that the event is important, and shows how it will be beneficial through communicating positive information about the event (1).
  1. It communicates how the responder understands and knows the personal significance of the event and the responder’s feelings toward the other. This conveys positive information about the responder;s relationship with the other (1).

Think about it in terms of responding enthusiastically: there are two mechanisms that make this response beneficial.

For one, a study found that sharing positive news and receiving an enthusiastic and supporting response will validate that event (2). If you think about it this way, when you share that you were promoted to another job, and your partner says “That’s awesome, you are going to do so well, you are so skilled!”, then you will in turn see that the job is beneficial to you and that you deserve it. Another mechanism found is that enthusiastic responses promote closeness, trust, and the ability to share and benefit from each other (2). While this may seem overwhelming, the bottom line is that responding actively and enthusiastically to your partner’s positive news will boost your relationship well-being on many levels. Yes, it’s that easy!

If you still have doubts that this simple and easy supportive response will boost your relationship, take a look at how it affects those with breast cancer. In one study, women with breast cancer and their partners were asked to keep a daily diary tracking when they shared negative and positive events with each other and how it made them feel. It was found that when the partner responded in a positive, validating, and understanding manner to capitalization (sharing positive events), the sharer had an increase in daily intimacy and positive feelings (3). If responding with active-constructivism made those with breast cancer feel better, then what excuse do you have not to try it out? 

(1) Gable, S.L., Gonzaga, G.C., & 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, 904-917 (e)

(1) Gable, S.L., Gonzaga, G.C., & 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, 904-917 (e)

(2) Reis, H. T., Smith, S. M., Carmichael, C. L., Caprariello, P. A., Tsai, F. F., Rodrigues, A., & Maniaci, M. R. (2010). Are you happy for me? How sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of personality and social psychology, 99(2), 311–329. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018344

(3) Otto, A. K., Laurenceau, J. P., Siegel, S. D., & Belcher, A. J. (2015). Capitalizing on everyday positive events uniquely predicts daily intimacy and well-being in couples coping with breast cancer. Journal of family psychology : JFP : journal of the Division of Family Psychology of the American Psychological Association (Division 43), 29(1), 69–79.

5 Replies to “An easy and efficient way to boost relationship well-being with one simple response: active-constructivism

  1. I love the examples you gave for the four types of responses! I am wondering if there is a scenario where a partner responds in a manner similar to an active-destructive response but perceives that as being honest and benevolent to the partner? What are your thoughts on “brutal” honesty in a relationship? Does individual differences and attachment style? I feel like I’m not quite getting at what I’m trying to say here — I mean if an individual really values honesty and constructive criticism, would they prefer a partner who responds in ways that are considered actively destructive here?

  2. I really like how you compare the “active-constructive” response to engaging enthusiastically, especially because this rhetoric of doing something enthusiastically is spreading to many different domains so your comparison provides a really understandable application of the principle. The concept of enthusiastically engaging in discussions and enthusiastic consent are what come to mind for me, as similar to active-constructive responses, they’re supposed to signal support, a willingness to engage, and genuine care and respect for the person you’re interacting with.

  3. Interesting post. I would like to see the difference in the sharing of negative and positive events of those undergoing breast cancer treatment. Although in the Gable study, it said that enacting support during negative situations can actually be detrimental, I wonder if in this case it would have a better outcome, as cancer can be such a terrifying and tiring disease to have, so I think partner support during negative times would be incredibly important.

  4. Really interesting blog post! Your inclusion of the “multiple choice” situation definitely helped solidify my understanding of the types of responses a partner can have. I am particularly taken with the outside study you included that focused on breast cancer patients and their feelings relating to partner responsiveness. This area is research is so applicable today in an era when interactions are increasingly online and it is hard to understand emotions and responsivness screen-to-screen. I can imagine how many groups could be included in these kinds of studies (e.g. individuals with diabetes, interracial couples, and LQBTQ+ relationships to name a few).

  5. I really like the way you broke down the significance of what an active-constructive response can do. It really nicely proved the benefits of enthusiastically and genuinely engaging with your partner’s successes and triumphs. It made me wonder, though, if there’s something about your partner’s success that is concerning for whatever reason, is there a way to communicate that honestly without doing harm? Taking the example of the “A” on the exam, if your partner had to pull multiple all-nighters, is it possible to rejoice in their success while also expressing some aspects of active-destruction, without it being destructive?

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