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May 30, 2024

How To Keep Romantic Love Alive

To keep the flame of love burning, learning how to share in your partner's joy when they have good news is essential. While this may sound simple, many people find it incredibly challenging.
How To Keep Romantic Love Alive

Source: Harli Marten @ Unsplash

We have obtained permission from Dr. Edward Hoffman to repost his article on Vietcetera. The original article is aired on Psychology Today.

As summer getaways and vacations beckon, people everywhere are planning quality time with their romantic partners.

For many, it’s an opportunity to become closer—and hopefully, deepen their passion. How to do so? By now, many know that empathy for distressing events is vital. After all, if you’re not feeling emotionally supported by your partner when you’re worried, sad, or demoralized, then how meaningful is the relationship?

Most people also know that romantic ardor disappears after continual negativity like harsh criticism, disrespect, and unresolved conflict. But recently, positive psychologists have uncovered another make-or-break contributor to lasting romance: how you react to your partner’s expressed happiness at good news (known as capitalization) like a job promotion, an award, or some other joyful event.

Researchers have consistently identified four types of responses from best to worst:

  • Active-constructive: Strong enthusiasm (“That’s wonderful! Let’s go out tonight and celebrate!”)
  • Passive-constructive: Tepid supportiveness (“That’s nice. Now, what time again is the electrician coming?")
  • Passive destructive: Indifference/ignoring (“Did you remember to fill up the car tank with gas?”)
  • Active destructive: Hostility, sarcasm (“Great, now you’ll spend even less time at home!”)

Nonverbal Cues

As you might suspect, nonverbal cues like facial expression matter as well as spoken content. A seminal study on romantic love, led by Professor Shelly Gable when at UCLA, was evocatively titled, Will You Be There for Me When Things Go Right? Among dating couples, empathic responses to positive events predicted relationship well-being (such as greater trust, and more fun and relaxing activities together) more than empathy for negative events.

Likewise, John and Julie Gottman, directors of the Gottman Institute in Seattle, have consistently linked marital satisfaction to the ability of spouses to express sincere delight in each other’s happy news.

The ability to share joy with your partner is closely linked to the level of satisfaction in a relationship. | Source: Pexels

Best Friends

Not surprisingly, this ability also seems vital for sustaining friendships. In a recent study by Meliksah Demir at Northern Arizona University and his colleagues, young adults felt closer to nonromantic best friends who provided a high level of active-constructive responses to expressed happiness. Such emotional support also mitigated feelings of loneliness. The researchers concluded, “The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of positive response to capitalization are not limited to romantic partners, but extend into (other relationships).”

As Abraham Maslow’s biographer, I am seldom surprised anymore by how often he anticipated the latest discoveries in human flourishing. That is, in presenting the personality qualities of self-actualizing men and women, he specifically identified the ability to experience delight in another’s growth and accomplishments, rather than feel jealousy or resentment. Of course, Maslow recognized that some people find this easier to do than others, and regarded them as the best teachers, managers, and mentors.


If responding to a romantic partner's good news is crucial for relationship success, why do many people fail to do so? Are they deliberately withholding supportiveness because of angry or hurt feelings? The answer is definitely no. Rather, it lies in "attachment style"—that is, the degree of warmth and physical affection they experienced in early childhood.

Some psychologists believe that individuals raised with a "highly secure attachment," usually involving their mother, are better able to respond caringly to others. They feel confident in navigating the emotional straits omnipresent in friendship and romantic love—and therefore, responding wholeheartedly to the happiness of others comes easily.

In contrast, those whose formative attachment was marked by parental coldness or aloofness grow into adults who become anxious when faced with emotional intimacy. As a result, they automatically “shut down” upon hearing their partner’s happy news.

An anxious or avoidant attachment style can make you hesitant to share joy with your partner. | Source: Pexels

Caveat: Culture

There is an important caveat to this: Culture also matters. Research shows that people from East Asian countries are more reticent to share happy news with friends and loved ones, as it gives the cultural appearance of self-congratulatory “boasting.” However, even for East Asianers, the active-constructive response is strongly linked to relationship satisfaction.

Can people learn to change their habitual pattern of communicating—to express genuinely supportive feelings rather than remain aloof? A study led by Todd Kashdan at George Mason University suggests that a key may be to help the emotionally reticent individual become more confident and less anxious in social relations. Although few interventions in this domain have yet been reported, I believe the most fruitful approach would involve “coaching”—incorporating both role-modeling and training—rather than traditional forms of psychotherapy.

A Guided Activity

To develop this skill, begin by learning how to share joy with those around you. | Source: Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha K-Drama

During the next week, be sure to express at least two separate (that is, unrelated) supportive replies each day on hearing other peoples' good news. To confirm you're performing this activity consistently, make an entry in your journal each time you do so. Indicate the person's name, specific happy news, and your supportive comment. By the end of the week, you'll have made 14 replies—a respectable number in helping to make habitual this important skill for making love last.