Enhancing Your Partnership with Active Constructive Responding

There is a joke among mental health
professionals that marriage counseling is about teaching couples how to fight.
While there is some truth to that old joke, marriage counseling is really about
teaching couples to be a positive force in each other’s lives. It’s about
couples learning to not just live together, but to have a happy, healthy,
productive partnership.

So, what do you say when your
partner has good news? Let’s say your partner just came home with the news that
she won a big contract at work. Dr. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the originator of the
study of Positive Psychology, created a two-by-two chart illustrating the
possible responses:





Using this model, an active
destructive response would be something like, “Well, I guess the kids and I won’t
see you for the next three months!” or something similarly negative. A passive
destructive remark would be, “That’s nice, what do you want for dinner?” Most
of us would probably go to the passive constructive response, which would be something like, “Congratulations, good job.”

Most people will immediately see
how the two destructive responses are destructive to the relationship, but what
about the passive constructive response? It’s meaningless static. White noise. So,
we have two destructive responses and one unhelpful response. What, then, is
the active constructive response? The active constructive response is simple,
but it does not come naturally to most people. It’s something you have to think
about and intentionally practice.

The active constructive response seeks
to get the person to relive the experience. Quite simply, the active
constructive response is, “Tell me the story.” The listener then draws the
story out of the person, listening attentively and asking questions for
clarification or for more detail. The listener can ask what qualities she has
that got her the contract, what benefits come with it (income, promotion, etc.),
or ask her to repeat the words her boss said to her. As the person relates the
story, she relives it and all the positive emotions that came with it. By
reliving the experience through active constructive responding, she will
reexperience the joy, pleasure, happiness, and triumph. There is a second benefit
as well. When your spouse relives the experience with you, she then begins to
associate your presence with her good fortune. Before long, it is no longer


victory, it becomes


victory. It’s a team win.

The use of active constructive
responding in relationships has led to an increase in the quantity and quality of sexual
relations, an increase in feelings of closeness, and a decrease in problems and
arguments. Even better news is that active constructive responding is not just
for couples. It can be used with other relatives, coworkers, and friends. It can
be used to bring closeness to any relationship.