One simple secret to a more joyful relationship

With Valentine’s Day this week, I’ve been thinking about the intersection between joy and love. Many relationships start out joyful, with lots of laughter, playful banter, and romance, but as time goes on and our connection with our partner deepens, we naturally focus more attention on serious things like communication, growing a family, and supporting each other through life’s daily trials and tribulations. (Not to mention figuring out how to cohabitate without killing each other!)

But joy doesn’t have to fade in a relationship over time. In fact, for many people I know, it continues to grow. And one of the simplest secrets to maintaining daily joy in a relationship is this: celebrate good news together.

Research shows that when partners celebrate each other’s successes, achievements, and daily joys, it has a number of positive effects on the relationship. Celebrating a loved one’s joy with them increases relationship satisfaction, intimacy, commitment, trust, closeness, and stability. And these benefits aren’t just in the moment, but last at least 8 weeks afterward!

It’s important to note that celebrations don’t have to be big. The main thing is that you meet joy with joy, displaying your excitement, pride, and interest in the good news. Researchers call this kind of response active-constructive, because it goes beyond just acknowledging it to heighten the excitement and build on the joy of the positive event. On the flip side, when a partner responds to good news in a passive way (either ignoring it or changing the subject) or a destructive way (involving sarcasm, skepticism, or talking down the accomplishment), it can have profoundly negative consequences for a relationship. In fact, when a female partner does this, it increases the likelihood that a couple will be broken up 8 weeks later. (Why the same doesn’t hold if a man behaves this way is a topic for another study.)

So you can get a clearer sense of what this sounds like, two of the primary researchers of this topic, Shelly L. Gable and Harry T. Reis offer the following scenarios:

Jay calls his fiancé Cynthia from his software engineering job to tell her that he was promoted to the senior engineer position. If Cynthia provides an active–constructive response it would sound something like this: ‘‘That is wonderful news! You have great leadership skills and you will make a wonderful team leader. This means that management recognizes your talent. This is a big step in your career. I am so proud of you. What is your first assignment? Will you be changing offices?’’ A passive–constructive response would sound something like this: ‘‘That’s nice, dear.’’ If Cynthia provides an active–destructive response it would sound something like this: ‘‘Are you ready for that kind of responsibility? You will probably have to work even longer hours. I thought Joe was being considered for that position; he is really talented. I bet there is a lot more paperwork with that position.’’ Finally, a passive–destructive response would sound something like ‘‘Should I pick something up for dinner tonight or do you want to do take out?’’ or ‘‘Wait until I tell you what happened to me today?’’

When we celebrate together, it has benefits not only for the relationship, but also on an individual level. Sharing good news, when others greet that news positively, increases the joy we feel in a positive event, improves our overall life satisfaction and self-esteem, and decreases loneliness.

Verbal excitement is perhaps the simplest way to celebrate, but there are lots of other things you can do too. A few ideas:

  • Do a happy dance (my personal favorite)
  • Show physical affection (hugs and kisses)
  • Pop some champagne (or a fizzy, non-alcoholic substitute)
  • Cook or go out for your partner’s favorite meal
  • Bake a cake (or pick up a cupcake and decorate it)
  • Decorate the house with a festive banner or balloons
  • Light sparklers
  • Bring home some flowers

And remember that you don’t need to wait for big events to celebrate. While a promotion, an A on an exam, or quitting smoking are obviously celebration-worthy, it’s just as important to mark small, daily successes and lucky breaks: giving a presentation at work, making time to go for a run if you haven’t exercised lately, being complimented by a peer, and getting off of work early for a change are all positive events that gain strength when we make time to recognize them with excitement and affection.

Lastly, while I’ve mostly been talking about romantic relationships, research shows that the same principle applies to other types of relationships. When we celebrate our friends’ joy, it increases their trust that we’ll be there for them during tough times, as well as good ones. And when parents’ celebrate their teenage children’s joy, it decreases the risk of depression for the teenager. Based on these studies, there’s reason to believe that every kind of relationship, whether family, work, or friendship, benefits from sharing our joy and amplifying it together.

What are your favorite ways to celebrate a loved one’s joyful event?

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  1. anne ferguson

    I have bought numerous copies of JOYFUL, as gifts,,and mentioned it on Erin FLoret’s website. She is a flower farmer and very joyful in interviewing other flower arrangers and growers to share with us web fans.

    I’d be joyful if I had anything to do with introducing the two of you Joy Spreaders!
    I celebrate for having found you both!

    Anne Ferguson
    ps I am receiving and enjoying the Joyletter !

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