As a social species, we’re wired to be in relationship with others. As Brené Brown puts it in the wonderful Daring Greatly,

“Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.”

Brene Brown

But man, sometimes it can be TOUGH.

Long time readers of this blog (are you out there? Feel free to say hi) will know that I’ve poked this particular bear with a stick on several occasions over the years; from a whole week dedicated to different aspects of romantic love, to heart-ache, loss and more.

Drs John and Julie Gottman‘s research has revealed that, during conflicts, a ratio of 5 positive interactions to 1 negative one can predict whether relationships make the distance – and that successful couples have an even higher ratio of 20 positives to 1 negative.

What kinds of things are negatives? From the Gottman Institute’s blog;

  • Use of the Four HorsemenDefensivenessCriticismContempt, or Stonewalling
  • Lashing out at your partner when flooded instead of taking a time-out
  • Raising your voice during conflict
  • Neglecting to do something you told your partner you would do
  • Being invalidating
  • Rejecting bids for connection
  • Using a harsh start-up
  • Rejecting a repair attempt used by your partner
  • Not listening to your partner when they speak during conflict
  • Forgetting important milestones and events that are important to your partner

There are many ways to balance out the above negative interactions with positive ones, with a somewhat overlooked one from the field of positive psychology; the way we respond to good news.

Active Constructive Responding (or ACR which, to be fair, doesn’t make it sound any sexier or catchier) is a way of responding to our loved one’s good news in a way which is active (rather than passive) and constructive (rather than destructive) (yes, the clue is in the name).

When someone we love excitedly tells us that they’ve just won the promotion they’ve longed for, we can respond in one of these four ways:

What does responding actively and constructively look like? To me, it brings to mind how a proud parent (or grandparent) responds to a child when they bring a painting home from school. It may be a weird image to conjure when we’re talking about adult-to-adult relationships, but we all still have that little child inside of us who blossoms in the face of warm, kind, undivided attention.

And it’s not just partners who may blossom in the face of such a response; I swear, most of the reason why strangers talk to me in public places is because I naturally tend to respond in an active and constructive manner. But it wasn’t until I saw this matrix that I understood what I was doing.

So, it’s your turn. Tell the truth now; which one is your most habitual response?

Yeah, it’s okay. There are multiple reasons why we may respond in unintentionally destructive ways, as The School of Life reveals;

But these two insights – recognising that the ratio between positive and negative interactions isn’t “one for one” to cancel each other out but much higher, and being aware of how we respond to another’s good news – can go a long way to helping those we love actually feel more loved.

Which can only be a good thing for everyone concerned. Right? 🙂

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Photo by Ba Tik from Pexels

2 thoughts on “Want someone to feel more loved? Try this.

  1. I love this article because is a simple truth well explained. But then again it is written by Anja whose writing ability is superior in every way!
    I’m wondering however, how can active &constructive response be taught. Other than by example. I have noticed that mobile phones appear to be part of the interaction for many of my interactions and requesting that it is not has led to poor beginnings in my life.

    1. Aww, Patti – as ever I’m incredibly touched by not only the fact that you read my words, but that you say such incredibly kind and generous things about them! As for how active and constructive responding can be taught; that’s a tricky one. Despite being one of the small number of positive psychology interventions included in early PP experiments (alongside things like gratitude and mindfulness), it’s seldom mentioned anymore. It would be great if it was shared more widely, as part of psychoeducation, as relationships are at the heart – literally, at the centre of Seligman’s PERMA acronym, and experientially – of what makes a good life.

      As for the predominance of mobile phones in many interactions; alas, many of us are dopamine addicts, trained like Pavlov’s dogs to respond to the ‘pings’ of notifications. I’m so sorry to hear that requesting that they are not part of your interactions has lead to poor beginnings, that sucks 😦 I wonder, how might a non-violent communication framework (“I feel .. when you .. because .. so would you be kind enough to ..”) might land? Bearing in mind, of course, that how others treat us is their path, and how we respond is ours (a thought which often brings me comfort when the response of others is not as kind as I would wish for) xx

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