Building Strong Relationships With One Easy Step


Aly: “Hey guess what? My professor gave me an A on that English paper and said that my work had really improved!”

Dan (Response #1): “That’s nice.” (walks away)

Dan (Response #2): “Yeah, I actually got an A+ in two of my biology classes. I never even studied. Hey, I’ll see ya later.”

Dan (Response #3) “Well, I doubt it will really help your overall GPA. I mean, unless you do better in some of your other classes too…..”

Dan (Response 4): “Wow, Aly, that is so awesome! I know how hard you have been working and everyone knows that professor never dishes out compliments!”

Any guess as to which one of these responses is constructive and relationship building? The first three responses either ignore the good news, downplay the good news, “one-up” the good news (I’ve got better news than you), or turn the good news into bad news. Response #3 is the worst. It’s the cupcake smasher! It’s the deadly fungus in your fish tank!

How do you suppose those first three responses made Aly feel? Dejected, undervalued, stupid?

Did you ever have an amazing experience, one you couldn’t wait to share, or possess some good news you couldn’t wait to tell? We all have, but did you ever share that good news only to be shot down or deflated by their lack of interest? For some of us, these are painful moments in our repertoire of memories.

Don’t stop reading, because the one simple idea I am about to share with you could alter your relationships forever, help you rebuild struggling ones, and guide you when choosing a future, life-long mate.

Earlier this year, I taught a class through the University of Pennsylvanian’s Positive Psychology Center (PPC) to an audience of soldiers where the focus was on resiliency through relationship-building techniques. Here is a synopsis:

Our culture highly values the idea of “always being there for you” as a quality in a relationship—if “so and so” is by your side when everything hits the fan then he/she is a true friend, a worthy companion, a faithful spouse, etc. The music industry really likes to capitalize on this “universal truth,” and, after a quick Google search, I discovered that at least 138 of our most popular songs have to do with a person being at our side when trouble comes or abandoning us at our greatest hour of need.

PPC’s research reveals a very interesting fact with regard to our deepest relational attachments. Apparently, relationships do not rise and fall on the “there for you in bad times” mantra. Instead, research shows that what really makes or breaks a relationship is the “there for you in good times” mantra!

When you hear good news, there are four ways that a human will likely respond. Three of those responses are damaging to the relationship, but one is a relationship “builder.”

According to PPC’s research, a person can be “there for you” 100% of the time, but if they fail you during the good times, if they don’t celebrate with you, laugh with you, rejoice with you, that relationship is in serious jeopardy. Wow! As I thought about it deeply, it really made sense. When my husband, for instance, values my accomplishments or listens with sincere interest to the things that are important to me (especially when they aren’t all that interesting to him), this completes my satisfaction, in essence, it completes my joy. I feel special, valued, and cared for.

This technique for relationship building is called active constructive responding which says, “I’ll be there for you in the good times.” It’s so simple and yet so powerful. Try it out this week. Watch and listen for those opportunities to positively and sincerely respond to someone else’s good news. Watch your friendships and other personal relationships grow right before your eyes. You will become a much more positive person in the process, I can promise you.

If you are married, listen to the way you and your spouse respond to each other when good news is given. Do you sincerely rejoice in each other’s triumphs? If yes, great!! You possess a very significant foundational block for a lasting, healthy relationship. If, however, this area needs some work, don’t waste any time. Talk to your spouse about it. Let them know how you feel when your good news is downplayed or ignored. Sometimes, we need to be told because we just don’t realize that we are being negative and/or destructive.

If you are a parent, the same rules apply. Kids deeply desire your affirmation. But they add a deeper challenge. Their artwork is mostly bad! They get excited about stuff that probably doesn’t interest most adults. But because they matter and your relationship with them matters, dig deep and be “sincere” because you sincerely love them.

And finally, if you are looking for Mr./Mrs. Right, watch for this affirming quality in those you meet. If active constructive responding is completely absent, you may want to look elsewhere. You may think you don’t need affirmation, but your future children are going to need it. In the end, we all need it. It’s a real longing that meets a need and binds us to others.


Flickr/Courtney Carmody

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