Have you ever wondered what distinguishes good relationships from poor ones?

It may come as a surprise to you that it often has little to do with how couples deal with problems or distress, but rather how good news is celebrated in each other’s lives. In fact, how you respond to another’s good news can be more predictive of strong relationships as opposed to how you bicker.

According to some psychologists, there are four ways to respond to another person as outlined in the following table, and only one builds relationships.

For those interested in seeing how these play out, you can watch this video put together by the University of Pennsylvania.

Shelly Gable and her colleagues advocate ‘active constructive responding’ (ACR), which has been shown to build solid, strong and lasting relationships (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). ACR focuses on proactively listening to an individual’s good news and responding positively to it, which conveys understanding, provides validation and demonstrates caring for another, thereby increasing the wellbeing of both parties (Gable et al., 2004).

I’d like you now to consider the following scenario: your partner has just told you that they have received a promotion and raise at work. What would be your initial reaction? Be honest, would this good news trigger positive or negative emotions for you? And typically which response type would be your default?

The reason why only the active constructive type of responding plays a part in building relationships is because, research has shown, that it is directly linked with commitment, satisfaction, intimacy and trust (Gable et al., 2004). On the other hand, if passive or destructive responses become commonplace, partners will eventually stop sharing what makes them happy as they learn that good news will not be received with enthusiasm or support.

The use of ACR is not restricted to partners only but can be used with friends, children and colleagues also. Given the impact that language can have on the quality and longevity of relationships, leading workplaces and schools in Australia have even been rolling out ACR training.

So the next time someone tells you about something good that has happened, try and respond actively and constructively to them. Hopefully not only will they feel good, but sharing in their positive emotions will make you feel good too, and a closer relationship will be built.

If you want to learn more about how to practise ACR and enable your relationships to thrive, you can watch this video featuring Martin Seligman.