Most marriage counselling and education focuses on conflict and incompatibility. It seeks to help couples find constructive ways of dealing with challenges in the relationship. It’s a ‘damage control’ approach that seeks to minimize the impact of negative experiences. Conflict management and relationship repair are important skills for every marriage, but they are not enough on their own.
One powerful strategy for couples that is often overlooked is ‘capitalising’. Capitalising is when we amplify the benefits of a good situation and so build on the upward momentum of the event. It’s about taking advantage of a good experience to maximise and share the positive emotion that naturally comes with it.
For example, when we come up with a good idea, a capitalising response is one where our spouse reacts enthusiastically and positively: ‘That’s a great idea!” If something positive happens to us, such as a promotion, a capitalising spouse might respond: “Congratulations! I knew you would get it!” It’s an honest and practical expression of an optimistic outlook.
Like most good ideas, capitalising is simple but does not always come naturally. In our case it is something we have to consciously work on because we are both biased towards pragmatism. For us, when a good idea or a positive event is presented, our instinct is to look for the potential problems. So we might say “it’s an interesting idea, but it may cost too much” or “I’m sure your promotion is a good thing, I just hope it doesn’t put too much pressure on you”.
While reasonable responses in themselves, over time they are ‘net detractors’; they don’t build positive momentum and they certainly do not capitalise on the situation. In response, we start to keep our good news and ideas to ourselves because we don’t want our enthusiasm crushed. We may even start to pre-empt our pragmatic spouse by talking ourselves out of our good idea before we’ve even talked about it. We start to downplay our achievements and ideas to avoid the disappointment and humiliation of being undercut with negativity. So instead of “Guess what? I got an end of year bonus!”… we might say… “Oh by the way, I got an end of year bonus although it probably won’t make much of a difference.”
As time progresses we start to look to share our good news and ideas with others, someone who we know will react enthusiastically. And without ever intending or even realising it, we’ve successfully transplanted this important source of positivity and fun out of our marriage and into another relationship.
Capitalising on the other’s positive events and good ideas lifts each other, and our marriage, up. We start to capture the positive energy and funnel it into positive emotions towards each other. Over time, we become the best and most reliable support team in each other’s life. And that’s got to be a good idea!