Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Warm, warmer, warmest!

I read a very interesting Business Insider long-form post by Emily Smith recently (7 November 2015), about what predicts healthy relationships.

Emily reports on a two continua model being used to predict longevity in relationships. One continuum is passive to active, the other is destructive to constructive. Thus we get four types:
  1. Active constructive: where one person is actively engaged in conversation with the other, is supportive and building on whatever the speaker sharing. This type is the predictor of successful relationships, where we 'turn toward' our partner.
  2. Passive constructive: where one person is half listening to what the other is saying, often answering with platitudes, but  though not actively supportive, the feeling is positive
  3. Active destructive: where one person actively undermines the other's news, minimising what the other person is saying or telling them how they are wrong, flawed or overreaching themselves
  4. Passive destructive: where one party is completely disengaged from what the other is saying, and is only interested in telling their own story.
It was very interesting to read the examples that Emily shared for these types (7 November 2015):
Let’s say that one partner had recently received the excellent news that she got into medical school. She would say something like “I got into my top choice med school!”
If her partner responded in a passive destructive manner, he would ignore the event. For example, he might say something like: “You wouldn’t believe the great news I got yesterday! I won a free t-shirt!”
If her partner responded in a passive constructive way, he would acknowledge the good news, but in a half-hearted, understated way. A typical passive constructive response is saying “That’s great, babe” as he texts his buddy on his phone.
In the third kind of response, active destructive, the partner would diminish the good news his partner just got: “Are you sure you can handle all the studying? And what about the cost? Med school is so expensive!”
Finally, there’s active constructive responding. If her partner responded in this way, he stopped what he was doing and engaged wholeheartedly with her: “That’s great! Congratulations! When did you find out? Did they call you? What classes will you take first semester?”
Active constructive is the only kind and building type of relationship response. Emily (7 November 2015) terms the other three types as 'joy-killers', which I thought was stunningly appropriate.

So this type of active constructive communication is really important if we want our relationships to survive. Emily cites a 2006 study, by Gable, Gonzaga & Strachman, where newly established couples were interviewed twice, two months apart. The couples who were still together used active constructive communication.

If you want your relationships to survive, avoid the joy-killing approaches.


  • Gable, Shelly L., Gonzaga, Gian C. & Strachman, Amy (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of personality and social psychology, November 2006, Volume 91, issue 5 (pp. 904-917). 
  • Smith, Emily Esfahani (7 November 2015). Science says lasting relationships come down to 2 basic traits. Retrieved 17 January 2016 from

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