• Amy Capern, Student Therapist

Building Better Relationships, One Positive Moment at a Time

If, like me, you want to live a longer, healthier, happier life, then improving relationships is a great place to invest your time and energy. Relationship investments offer a significant return on investment.

Because as humans we have a strong need to belong, connect and bond, relationships impact our well-being in profound ways. The ability to relate has been crucial to our survival and key to thriving as individuals and as communities, over the ages.

Increased Happiness

Helliwell and Putnam (2004), studied over 100,000 people across 49 countries and found that trusting and reciprocal social ties were significantly related to happiness and life-satisfaction, and create a positive impact on health. Diener and Seligman (2002) also found satisfying social relationships to be one of the key differentiators between very happy people and unhappy people. Howard Friedman’s Longevity Project - which followed participants for over eight decades - found that having friendships has the highest positive correlation with happiness (Friedman & Martin, 2011).

Increased Health

A meta-analysis of over 50 studies reveal that social support calms the cardiovascular system, lowering blood pressure and stress hormones (Uchino, Uno & Holt-Lunstad, 1999; Uchino, Cacioppo & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996). And for those of you in marriages, the seven decade long Harvard study found that a good marriage at age 50 predicts healthy aging better than low cholesterol at age 50 (Vaillant, 2002).

Increased Longevity

In 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy stated “social isolation is linked to shorter lives, to cognitive decline, to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, as well as other healthcare concerns”.

Relationships aren’t just a nice to have, they impact our health and well-being in significant ways.

The research is clearly in favour of building positive social supports through relationships, but how do we make this happen? Although our brains are wired for connection, it is often our behaviours that can disrupt our relationship with others.

When I was at the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) conference in Montreal, Shelly Gable asked this question to the audience: What do you believe would be a better predictor of a good relationship, how you respond to good news or bad news?

She then revealed that her research found that what distinguishes good and poor relationships is not how we respond to one another’s disappointments, but how we respond to good news!

Shelly Gable et al. (2004) research looked at motivation, positive emotions and close relationships, inviting couples into their lab to share some good news with their partner. Her research revealed that responses to positive disclosures were either constructive or destructive, resulting in encouraging or discouraging effects on those who try to connect with us by sharing personal experiences. These responses were also noted as active or passive, showing either engagement or detachment/indifference. The four different types of behavioural responses we can choose are:

  1. Active Destructive Responding (ADR),

  2. Active Constructive Responding (ACR),

  3. Passive Destructive Responding (PDR) or

  4. Passive Constructive Responding (PCR).

Some examples of each:

Scenario: Your partner just got a promotion at work and they share the good news with you.

Passive Constructive Responding (PCR): “Oh, that’s nice sweetie…” (Quiet, low energy acknowledgment, smile or nod to show support, followed by quick change of subject).