There are any number of ways we can deflate, deprive or disadvantage the positive moments expressed by another person, and as many reasons, conscious or otherwise, why this might happen. In any relationship the way a partner chooses to respond to good, bad or even mediocre news can have a big and lasting effect. It sends messages about reliability, trustworthiness, and the satisfaction and value they place on the relationship and maybe even whether they’ll be supportive and helpful in the bad times.
Here’s an example. Having spent your evenings working towards a qualification you finally learn that you’ve passed. According to Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, there is only one way of responding that conveys genuine enthusiasm, support and interest. She calls this an active constructive response and it would go along the lines of, “that’s fantastic. We must celebrate, tell me more.” But Gable also points out there are three less than positive ways of responding, which effectively throw a wet blanket over everything. She describes these as:
A passive constructive response: “That’s good. Have you seen the car keys?” Which depletes the news and shifts the topic.
An active destructive response – or what Gable describes as “finding the cloud in the silver lining” which goes something like: “How did you manage that, hack into the computer and change your grades?” A clear display of negative emotion couched as cynical and undermining humor.
A passive destructive response: which Gable says can take one of two forms like, “we’re out of milk,” where the news is completely ignored, or, “that’s good, but wait until I tell you what happened to me today,” which is self-focused.
Gable’s research involved a study of several hundred couples. The quality and durability of a relationship, she says, can be judged by which one of the four possible responding styles is most prominent. Relationships have a much higher chance of hitting the rocks if the preference is for using any of the three more negative responses.
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. Vol 91(5), 904-917