Active Constructive Responding: How to React to Good News

Maintaining positive relationships with important people in our lives is essential for well-being (Seligman, 2011). This is an especially pertinent issue for mental health during the pandemic, with international studies showing increased loneliness in the past year (Dahlberg, 2021). Much focus has been placed on the ways in which people support each other in difficult times, yet an equally important part of building positive relationships is how we react to the good times. In particular, when a partner or a friend shares good news with us, the way in which we respond can mean the difference between damaging the relationship or increasing trust, commitment, and overall relationship satisfaction (Gable et al., 2006). Learning about the best way to respond to good news, and why this practice is so powerful, can therefore boost our connection to others and increase relationship flourishing.


This topic is directly related to Mission 7.4 of relationship development app LIFE Intelligence’s 9-Mission program. LIFE is an app available on iOS and Android that can help you build positive relationships, manage anxiety, and boost productivity. Its exercises and missions are designed to improve functioning in all areas of your life.

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Active Constructive Responding


Think of someone close to you, such as a parent, child, good friend, or partner. How would you respond if they shared some exciting news? How do you typically respond?


These instances in which someone shares good news with us are called capitalization interactions; they are an often-overlooked but incredibly important part of relationships (Reis et al., 2010). In romantic couples, successful capitalization interactions are closely tied to relationship satisfaction, likely because they build trust, which in turn provides a framework for commitment and general well-being for both people in the relationship (Zahavi et al., 2018). Even with strangers, sharing good news and can lead to increased trust, liking, and willingness to share personal information (Reis et al., 2010).


So how does one make the most of these capitalization interactions? The best way to react to good news, researchers have found, is through active constructive responding (Seligman, 2011; Woods et al., 2015; Gable et al., 2006). Active constructive responding (ACR) is a way of reacting to fortunate events that can help turn a good relationship into an excellent one. In essence, active constructive responding simply encompasses a response that is emotionally engaged, showing excitement and joy through words and body language

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ACR is one of four ways of responding when a companion shares a positive event, and it is the only style that builds relationships. Using the example of a partner getting a promotion at work, the four styles are:


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In relationships, active constructive responding is related to increased intimacy, commitment, relationship quality and satisfaction, and love (Gable et al., 2004; Gable et al., 2006). Couples who use active constructive responding are also more likely to engage in fun and relaxing activities and less likely to experience conflicts on a daily basis (Gable et al., 2006). One of the reasons that this form of responding is so special is that it conveys that the listener understands that a positive event is important and cares about the sharer’s personal life. Thus, active constructive responding demonstrates understanding, validation, and caring (Gable et al., 2006).


As important as using active constructive responding is, it may not be easy for everyone.  Those with social anxiety (Zahavi et al., 2018; Kashdan et al., 2013) or with insecure attachment styles (Shallcross et al., 2011) may have particular difficulty navigating capitalization interactions successfully, often because they either underestimate their partner’s responsiveness or they are not responsive enough themselves. To learn more about attachment styles and how to identify and change yours, download LIFE Intelligence and complete Mission 7, which focuses on secure and insecure attachments. Fortunately, couples who are trained to use active constructive responding do show increases in feelings of gratitude and perceived relationship satisfaction, ultimately boosting their relationship well-being (Woods et al., 2015).

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Sharing good events not only builds relationships—it also directly benefits the sharer. Telling someone about a fortunate event can increase positive feelings about that event, especially when a listener responds with enthusiasm (Reis et al., 2010). This effect may be due to the fact that people have increased memory for good events when they talk about them with others, allowing them to savor the good times more (Gabel et al., 2004). For the person sharing the good news, these capitalization interactions can also boost their overall mood, increase well-being, and increase life satisfaction, going far beyond the positive impact of the fortunate event on its own (Gable et al., 2004). These benefits are even more pronounced when capitalization interactions include a listener who responds actively and constructively. Thus, sharing good news is beneficial both for the person sharing and for the relationship between the sharer and the listener. 


Active constructive responding is an incredible tool with a wide variety of benefits to oneself and others. This is especially useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, when it has become more difficult to support close connections with those around us. Nonetheless, we can continue to build positive relationships through this time by capitalizing on opportunities to celebrate the good news with friends or loved ones, effectively using active constructive responding to promote flourishing in all of our relationships.

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LIFE Intelligence is one app for every aspect of your LIFE. Our 9-topic self-development journey provides science-backed content, exercises, and reflections to help you better understand and manage yourself and others. Our mood tracker and emotional management toolkit helps you deal with difficult situations on the fly. These combined help you comprehensively manage stress and anxiety, improve work productivity and career fulfillment, and build lasting relationships.

Nolan Lindenburg
June 28, 2021

References

Dahlberg, L. (2021). Loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aging & Mental Health, ahead-of-print(ahead-of-print), 1-4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33491474/

Gable, S. L., Gonzaga, G. C., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91(5), 904-917. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-20034-008

Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What do you do when things go right? the intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2004-16828-005

Kashdan, T. B., Ferssizidis, P., Farmer, A. S., Adams, L. M., & McKnight, P. E. (2013). Failure to capitalize on sharing good news with romantic partners: Exploring positivity deficits of socially anxious people with self-reports, partner-reports, and behavioral observations. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 51(10), 656-668. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3776926/

Reis, H. T., Smith, S. M., Carmichael, C. L., Caprariello, P. A., Tsai, F., Rodrigues, A., & Maniaci, M. R. (2010). Are you happy for me? how sharing positive events with others provides personal and interpersonal benefits. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 311-329. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/45364484_Are_You_Happy_for_Me_How_Sharing_Positive_Events_With_Others_Provides_Personal_and_Interpersonal_Benefits

Seligman, M. E. P. (2011). Flourish (1st ed.). Free Press.

Shallcross, S. L., Howland, M., Bemis, J., Simpson, J. A., & Frazier, P. (2011). Not "capitalizing" on social capitalization interactions: The role of attachment insecurity. Journal of Family Psychology, 25(1), 77-85. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21219073/

Woods, S., Lambert, N., Brown, P., Fincham, F., & May, R. (2015). “I’m so excited for you!” how an enthusiastic responding intervention enhances close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 24-40. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0265407514523545

Zahavi, T., Bar-Kalifa, E., Sened, H., & Rafaeli, E. (2018). Partners’ support during good times: Associations with fears of positive and negative evaluation. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 37(8), 559-581. https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/10.1521/jscp.2018.37.8.559


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