We all understand how important it is to know that your spouse will be there to support you during the hard times. Having someone to rely on in difficult times gives couples a sense of security and confidence in their marriage.
In fact, many a couple has come undone in the aftermath of a crisis for precisely this reason – just when their life seems to turn a corner for the better, one or both spouses quit the marriage because the other failed to support them sufficiently in their time of need. But being around in the tough times is only part of long lasting marriage. As it turns out, happy couples not only know how to tough it out together, they also know how to make the good times count.
The Power of Optimism
Research from the positive psychology field* has demonstrated that the way spouses respond to positive events is possibly even more important to marital satisfaction than how they respond in tough times. When a spouse gets a promotion or enthuses about a new experience, a sour response is a killjoy that, if habitual, can become a weight that smothers an otherwise good marriage.
In contrast, the ability, or the willingness, of spouses to encourage and celebrate success with each other amplifies the positive emotion in the relationship creating a strong sense of team identity. No one enjoys being around someone with a pessimistic, negative outlook, especially when the negativity transpires as petty jealousy towards the other or morose self-pity. An optimistic outlook, on the other hand, helps one to notice the blessings in one’s life and to be grateful for them. They generate a positive energy cycle that ‘attracts’ more positive interactions; not only are these couples less likely to get overwhelmed when difficult times surface, they’re less likely to fall into blame and arguments about it.
Optimistic couples have learnt that passion and joy in marriage is not always spontaneous but it can be, and needs to be, cultivated. Our hearts long for companionship in both the sorrows and joys of our life. When couples stand at the altar, most don’t anticipate that the bad times will be as bad or as frequent as often experienced. But what really sets happy couples apart from the rest, is not how well they handle their misadventures, but how well they celebrate their triumphs.
*More information: Shelly L Gable, University of California, Santa Barbara, 2006. A supportive response from a spouse to cheerful statements, was more strongly associated with higher relationship satisfaction than a sympathetic response to negative news. This suggests that how partners respond to good news may be a stronger determinant of relationship health than their reaction to unfortunate events.