Don’t play with love
« Love’s a hard game to play » This good sound of Stevie Nicks ... Is the song right? And what is the link with Positive Psychology?
This summer, I celebrated 60 years of marriage for my grandparents. Next year, my sister is getting married. This month, it's my turn to enter into a civil partnership (PACs in France). If all these commitments fill me with joy, my understanding of the couple and love has unfortunately started to take shape at 4 years old with the divorce of my parents. Torned between the song "Love is a losing game" of Amy Winehouse and the leitmotiv "They lived happily ever after" of Disney, it was not easy being a kid. I still question myself about the couple.
What predicts the longevity of a couple? Is it even predictable? Positive Psychology seems to provide a positive answer to this last question. Of course, everything cannot be determined with certainty, nevertheless research in Positive Psychology proves that there are indicators of longevity and happiness in a couple.
The recipe of the happy couple according to Positive Psychology
1st ingrédient: Good news!
Positive Psychology research is quite certain: it is the way couples respond to the good news that has the most impact on the nature of the relationship, far more than their ability to support each other in difficult circumstances.
Mutual support is essential in a couple over the trials of life. Nevertheless, supporting oneself against negative events is not a factor as important as celebrating the good news within a couple when it comes to the longevity of a relationship. Happy and long-lasting couples are those who pay more attention to the positive in their lives, which would be less the case for couples who separate or are unhappy. Many studies on how to solve the conflict in the couple have been produced, but there are far fewer studies on how to have fun and laugh together in a relationship. If we stick to research, it is these last ingredients that seem to be the salt of the couple.
According to two Positive Psychology researchers, Shelly Gable and Jonathan Haidt, positive events happen three times more often in our lives than negative events. It would therefore seem easier to celebrate the positive. Yet the human brain anchors more naturally the negative than the positive. It therefore requires an effort to focus on positive events and share them with our partner to boost positive emotions. We also discovered that happy couples feel more pleasant emotions on an individual level (joy, fun, love ...) than unpleasant emotions (anger, jealousy, shame ...).
So how to strengthen the celebration of positive events in our relationship? For that, you have to know how to answer good news. Positive Psychologist Shelly Gable has constructed a theoretical framework that represents the four ways to answer the good news:
You guessed it, active and constructive responding (ACR) is the most effective way to strengthen the positive relationship in the couple. This encourages us to be fully engaged in the discussion, in our verbal and non-verbal behavior. Thus, we give consistency to the relationship and give importance to our partner who will feel it automatically. The use of this technique in the couple leads to a boost of positive emotions, a reduction in the distance between the "me" and the "you", opens the mind, allows to relativize more when negative events occur and develops resilience.
“Positivity broadens our minds and expands our range of vision. The effect is temporary. Just as day lilies retract when sunlight fades, so do our minds when positivity fades. Threatened with negativity, our minds constrict even further. There’s no limit to how often our minds can cycle through these moments of expanded and retracted awareness. As positivity and negativity flow through us, the scope of our awareness blooms and retracts accordingly.”
- Barbara Fredrickson - 
2nd ingredient: Gratitude
Barbabra Fredrickson, one of the pioneers of Positive Psychology, explains in her book Positivity that among the ten most frequently felt positive emotions (joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, fun, inspiration, awe and love), the gratitude seems to be the most important emotion to make a happy and viable couple, with love of course.
Gratitude is the ability to be grateful to life and to people and to express it. Gratitude increases the degree of empathy, according to Rebecca Shankland, and strengthens relationships.It also allows you to take nothing for granted and therefore to act to maintain your relationship.
To test this idea, Algoe, Fredrickson and their colleagues asked people in a relationship to write down the beautiful things their partner had done to them recently and rate the quality of their relationships on a scale of 1 to 7. Positive Psychology researchers then found that the higher the score on the scale, the lower the risk of couple breakdown within six months. So feeling gratitude and expressing it to your partner helps to ensure the longevity of the couple.
An idea to promote the expression of gratitude in the couple is what is called "the pot of gratitude". The principle of this tool that I personally use is to find a nice glass jar, to note minimum twice a week on a paper something that our partner has done (whether it's a great act or a small one) and for which we want to thank him.her. At the end of the month or after a few months, open the small papers together and give each other positive recognition.
3rd ingredient: Share the passion
By passion, I'm not talking about the obsessive passion, the "without you I'm nothing" of Romeo and Juliet, which is neither a healthy nor a viable emotion for the couple. I'm talking about the healthy passion. According to the psychologist Robert Vallerand, healthy passion is a sincere interest for a person or an activity that we love and value. To grow passion in the couple, you have to find activities that both of you like to do. Thus, you will stimulate mutual attraction. Passion entails cognitive and emotional benefits such as better concentration, a more positive attitude, better physical and mental health. It is also a question of what our partner brings us and how he.she enriches us in what we are.
To cultivate the healthy passion, write and share with your partner some of the reasons you love each other, as well as why your relationship is important to you.
Spinoza said "all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare", while Stevie Nicks sang "Remember, starting the fire is easy, the hardest part is learning how to keep the flame ". Loving each other requires effort. Loving each other is risky, loving each other is difficult, loving each other requires courage. But loving each other is also enriching each other, cherishing each other, growing up. Love is movement, when it stops, it dies without even knowing it, loving is accepting that nothing remains constant, that everything changes. During this protean journey, each partner has a role to play in continuing to protect and grow the flame of love. And if we cannot predict the future of our relationship, at least we will know that we have done what we could do.
- Camille Lamouille -
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Shelly Gable and Jonathan Haidt, “What (and Why) is Positive Psychology?”, Review of General Psychology, 2005, Vol. 9, No. 2, 103-110
Positivity, Barbara Fedrickson, Oneworld Publication, 2010 -Barbara Fredrickson -
Les pouvoirs de la gratitude, Rebecca Shankland
“It’s the little things : Everyday gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships”, Sara Algoe, Shelly Gable, Natalya Masel, Personal Relationships, 2017
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