1/12/10 - happy couples

In today's excerpt - happy couples. It turns out that how couples handle good news may matter even more to their relationship than their ability to support each other under difficult circumstances:

"Numerous studies show that intimate relationships, such as marriages, are the single most important source of life satisfaction. Although most couples enter these relationships with the best of intentions, many break up or stay together but languish. Yet some do stay happily married and thrive. What is their secret?

"A few clues emerge from the latest research in the nascent field of positive psychology. Founded in 1998 by psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania this discipline includes research into positive emotions human strengths and what is meaningful in life. In the past few years positive psychology researchers have discovered that thriving couples accentuate the positive in life more than those who stay together unhappily or split do. They not only cope well during hardship but also celebrate the happy moments and work to build more bright points into their lives.

"It turns out that how couples handle good news may matter even more to their relationship than their ability to support each other under difficult circumstances. Happy pairs also individually experience a higher ratio of upbeat emotions to negative ones than people in unsuccessful liasions do. Certain tactics can boost this ratio and thus help to strengthen connections with others. Another ingredient for relationship success: cultivating passion. Learning to become devoted to your significant other in a healthy way can lead to a more satisfying union.

"Until recently, studies largely centered on how romantic partners respond to each other's misfortunes and on how couples manage negative emotions such as jealousy and anger—an approach in line with psychology's traditional focus on alleviating deficits. One key to successful bonds, the studies indicated, is believing that your partner will be there for you when things go wrong. Then in 2004, psychologist Shelly L. Gable, currently at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her colleagues found that romantic couples share positive events with each other surprisingly often, leading the scientists to surmise that a partner's behavior also matters when things are going well.

"In a study published in 2006, Gable and her coworkers videotaped dating men and women in the laboratory while the subjects took turns discussing a positive and negative event. After each conversation, members of each pair rated how 'responded to'—how understood validated and cared for—they felt by their partner. Meanwhile observers rated the responses on how active-constructive (engaged and supportive ) they were—as indicated by intense listening positive comments and questions and the like. Low ratings reflected a more passive generic response such as, 'That's nice, honey.' Separately the couples evaluated their commitment to and satisfaction with the relationship.

"The researchers found that when a partner proffered a supportive response to cheerful statements, the 'responded to' ratings, were higher than they were after a sympathetic response to negative news, suggesting that how partners reply to good news may be a stronger determinant of relationship health than their reaction to unfortunate incidents. The reason for this finding Gable surmises may be that fixing a problem or dealing with a disappointment—though important for a relationship—may not make a couple feel joy the currency of a happy pairing."


Suzann Pileggi


"The Happy Couple"


Scientific American Mind


Jan/Feb 2010


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