We typically think of significant others as an important source of support when things go wrong in our lives; someone to catch us if we fall. If you were to lose your job, you’d turn to your partner for support to help you through that rough time. However, your partner’s support for positive life events is equally as important. When good things happen, like a new great job falls into your lap, is your partner supportive? “That’s a great opportunity! I’m so excited for you!” Or are they uninterested or negative about your good news? “Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. Are you sure you’re up for it?”
Telling others about positive events in your life is known as capitalization.1 Clearly you feel good about getting that new job, but you feel even better if you tell others about your good fortune. Telling someone about the event allows you to relive it, which feels good. It also allows you to get a sense of your relationship with someone; if people are happy for you it means they care about you, which also feels good. Of course, any benefits of sharing only occur if your partner responds positively to your good news; having to defend your good news or feeling rejected by a partner who doesn’t share your enthusiasm is a downer.
Shelly Gable and colleagues1,2 have proposed that capitalization is a marker of relationship quality and, in happy relationships, partners are more likely to react positively to each others’ good news. This makes sense given what we know about closeness, which has been defined as a merging or overlap between two people (see here and here for more about this idea). Capitalization may be a sign of closeness with another person; if we are close, I feel good when good things happen to you.
But capitalization goes beyond your relationship’s well-being – it affects your general life happiness too. In an upcoming study to be published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, researchers tracked students over the course of a month.3 A third of the students were randomly assigned to write about what they were grateful for each day and were instructed to share their experiences with their partners. Another group also wrote about grateful experiences each day but were not required to share with their partners. Finally, a third group was instructed to keep track of what they were learning in their classes each day and share that with their partners.
By comparing responses on daily happiness and life satisfaction across the three groups, researchers were able to isolate the effects of thinking about positive events versus communicating with one’s partner. The researchers found that participants who shared grateful experiences with their partners reported more life satisfaction and happiness than participants in the other two conditions. In short, there’s an additional boost from telling your partner about the good things in your life, above and beyond the positive life events itself and talking to your partner about other things.
In a subsequent study, researchers showed that when your partner responded positively to your good news you feel even better than you would if they simply shrugged it off or changed the subject. So it’s not just that you should tell your partner about the good things in your life; when they respond positively it’s especially good for your happiness.
So, what does this mean for your relationship? First, pay attention to how your partner responds to your positive news. It’s likely to be an indication of how he or she feels about your relationship. If your partner feels close to you, ideally he or she should respond positively to your successes. Second, if you want to communicate that you care about your partner, respond positively and attentively when they share their successes with you! It will make them feel good and is good for your relationship.
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1Gable, S., Reis, H., Impett, E., & Asher, E. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87, 228-245.
3Lambert, N. M., Gwinn, A. M., Baumeister, R. F., Fincham, F. D., Gable, S. L., Strachman, A., & Washburn, I. J. (2013). A boost of positive affect: The perks of sharing positive and grateful experiences. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30, 24-43.
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.