Last summer when my brother was getting married, I inundated him with the science of happily married couples. I wanted to give him a guide to not making the mistakes I had made. My “best woman” toast was very nearly a litany of advice. It was a bit much for him. “Why would I listen to my DIVORCED sister when it comes to managing my marriage?” he once teased, trying (in vain) to shut me up.
Well, given what I’ve learned about happy marriages, I think there a few good reasons to listen to me—more on that in a minute—but first, I gotta be straight with you: I was not particularly good at being married the first time around. I picked a terrific person—my ex-husband is a great guy—who was totally wrong for me in just about all the ways that count.
I try to practice what I preach, and that means practicing some things that I definitely haven’t mastered yet (like using non-controlling language when I ask my kids to do things).
This is how people get good at things: They challenge themselves to the point of failure. Athletes do it. Entrepreneurs do it. Personally, I’m working on being a gold-medal parent and spouse. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t lost some races along the way. I made a few key mistakes in the ten years I was married to my children’s father, from which I’ve learned a lot.
But the main reason to take my relationship advice is that it really isn’t MY advice. Everything I write about is based not on my opinion, or even my experience, but on what scientific studies tell us. I’m still amazed by how insular academia is; there is so much great research out there that doesn’t make its way into real people’s lives—except for you, because you are reading this blog. And I’m about to reveal some good stuff.
So here begins a series on how to improve your romantic relationship. Lest you think that romance has nothing to do with raising happy kids, please think again: The happiness of your romantic relationship, whether or not you are married, is intertwined with both your own happiness and the happiness of your children.
Here is one of my favorite things that researchers have noticed that happy couples do: They yell things like “WHOO-HOO!!!” when their partner shares good news.
There are two key pieces of advice to take away from that finding. The first is that when you have good news, share it, because it will make you happier. This is Savoring 101: Positive emotions are amplified when we share them with others.
The second piece of this advice concerns how to respond to good news from your partner, and it’s a key to making your relationship happier.
When your partner shares positive news with you, you don’t actually have to whoop or cheer, as my mother and I are prone to do, but you do need to respond enthusiastically. It isn’t enough to be positive and loving —but not particularly emotive—with your partner. Your response to good news needs to be active. Silent support doesn’t count in this realm.