What’s the most romantic thing you can do for your husband this Valentine’s Day? Planning a special dinner? Choosing the perfect gift?
Those gestures are wonderful, of course, but the most powerful thing for your marriage might actually be showing your excitement when he tells you he aced a presentation at work or that he hit his exercise goal for the month.
Recent research highlights the value of celebration, positivity and enthusiasm in creating a happy relationship. That might seem intuitive, but it’s something we often overlook. We tend to talk about the strength of a relationship in terms of how a couple weathers challenges or hard times together. But the way we handle the “for better” part of “for better or for worse” is just as important.
A UCLA study found that the way dating couples discussed positive events was more closely related to the health of their relationships than how they talked about negative events. Another study discovered that sharing good news with someone else and getting an enthusiastic response enhances the value of the good news to the sharer and strengthens the relationship with the responder.
And just last year, a brain-imaging study added more evidence for the power of positivity. New York Magazine’s Science of Us blog describes the study as showing that “the relationship satisfaction of longtime married elderly women is particularly related to the neural activity they show in response to their husbands’ displays of positive emotion, rather than negative emotion” and notes the possibility “that marital happiness goes hand in hand with sensitivity to our partners’ positive emotion.”
How can you use these findings to strengthen your own relationship? Christine Carter of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center recommends remembering to share your own good news with your partner and reacting with enthusiasm when he shares good news with you. The key word here is “enthusiasm.” A distracted “that’s nice, Honey” just doesn’t have the impact of genuine interest and excitement. We all have an innate need to be “seen” and cherished by the people who are important to us. When that happens in a relationship, the bond between partners strengthens. Also remember that all the seemingly little positive and negative things you do in a relationship add up over time. Responding enthusiastically when your partner has good news is a great way to make a “deposit” in the emotional bank account of your relationship — and ensure that you’re ready for any “withdrawals” in difficult times.
To learn more about infusing your relationship with positivity, check out my book Strong Women, Strong Love. And don’t forget to throw in a few high fives (figurative or literal!) for your husband amid all the hearts and flowers of Valentine’s Day.