Lisa, an elementary school teacher from Ambler, Pa., came home from work one day and said to her husband, “Honey, guess what? I landed that summer teaching position I wanted!” “Wow, congratulations!” he replied. “I know how hard you worked to get that job. I am so happy for you! You must be really excited.” The way Lisa's husband reacted to her good news was also good news for their marriage, which, 15 years later, is still going strong; such positive responses turn out to be vital to the longevity of a relationship.
Numerous studies show that intimate relationships, such as marriages, are the single most important source of life satisfaction. Although most couples enter these relationships with the best of intentions, many break up or stay together but languish. Yet some do stay happily married and thrive. What is their secret?
A few clues emerge from the latest research in the nascent field of positive psychology. Founded in 1998 by psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania, this discipline includes research into positive emotions, human strengths and what is meaningful in life. In the past few years positive psychology researchers have discovered that thriving couples accentuate the positive in life more than those who stay together unhappily or split do. They not only cope well during hardship but also celebrate the happy moments and work to build more bright points into their lives.
It turns out that how couples handle good news may matter even more to their relationship than their ability to support each other under difficult circumstances. Happy pairs also individually experience a higher ratio of upbeat emotions to negative ones than people in unsuccessful liaisons do. Certain tactics can boost this ratio and thus help to strengthen connections with others. [To measure your positivity ratio, see box on page 52.] Another ingredient for relationship success: cultivating passion. Learning to become devoted to your significant other in a healthy way can lead to a more satisfying union.