PERMA: Positive Relationships


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A few months ago I asked several friends how they define happiness. More than one person’s response included meaningful, fulfilling relationships with partners, family, coworkers and friends. The individuals who responded thus understand that we are not meant to live this life alone. We want to be understood—to be validated—and to provide that same gift to others. We humans are social creatures. When we unite in a good cause we thrive.

Do you ever wonder how you can better connect with someone you know? Whether you consciously think this or not, ultimately this is a question all humans are asking.

Here are a few tips from the latest research:

Speak Kindly

The first is called the Critical Positivity Ratio, and is based on an intriguing question: can we mathematically calculate the ratio of positive to negative comments in order to deem a relationship healthy? The question was first addressed when John Gottman, a world famous researcher on marriage, questioned and studied dozens of couples. He was able to predict with over 90% accuracy whether these couples would divorce. One of the key factors in his prediction was counting the amount of positive to negative communications. Then an organizational psychologist named Marcial Losada took this question into the world of work. He observed several workplaces in business meetings and pinpointed exactly what level and kind of comments causes a business to be productive. Finally, Barbara Fredrickson, a positive psychologist, applied the idea to education, testing hundreds of college students. Want to know the results?

In marriage and at work, the critical positivity ratio is 5:1. At college, it’s 3:1. In general, if you have 3-6 more positive comments than negative ones, you will do very well.

Just in case you’re wondering, it is in fact possible to have too much positivity. By and large once the ratio hits 9:1, that’s when the positivity becomes counterfeit and thus counterproductive. That’s a rather high number, isn’t it?

For more information, including an informal test to find your personal daily ratio, visit

Celebrate Positive Events

The second tip is about “capitalization”, or responding well to the positive life events of others.

Shelley Gable, a forerunning researcher on this topic, categorizes receivers’ responses into four categories: active constructive, active destructive, passive constructive and passive destructive.  Picture this scenerio: a husband shares with his wife that he got a raise at work. Here are examples of each category of response:

Active constructive response: “That’s so great! I’m proud of you! How shall we celebrate?”

Active destructive response: “Are you sure you can handle that responsibility? Managing that money is just going to be another chore.”

Passive constructive response: “That’s nice,” stated without enthusiasm or eye contact.

Passive destructive response: “That’s not enough to pay the bills,” stated without enthusiasm or eye contact

Gable tested how each of these responses affected the relationship. Only an active constructive response was associated with statistically significant relationship well-being.

But what about when we confide in each other about what is going wrong? Doesn’t that enhance a relationship as well? The short answer is maybe. It depends on one’s gender, and the effects don’t seem to last as long. In a follow-up study, Gable and her colleagues studied how capitalization affects dating relationships in the long term when compared with negative event disclosures. They found that for men, sharing a negative event with their significant others had no effect on the relationship’s well being whatsoever, while positive event disclosures did. For women, both initially affected the state of the relationship, but when they interviewed the couples eight weeks later, the effects of sharing the negative event had disappeared, while the effects of capitalization stayed.

In short, sharing and responding well to good news is a powerful way to enhance a relationship. So try it out!

Here are two psychology journal articles on the topic:

Gable, S., Gonzaga, G., & 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.

Gable, S. L., Impett, E. A., Reis, H. T., & Asher, E. R. (2004). What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events. Journal Of Personality & Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245.

Express Their Love Language

Gary Chapman, a Marriage and Family Therapist, has observed from decades of experience a pattern in how we express love. He has identified five categories. Here they are:

  1. Quality Time: Giving someone one’s undivided attention.
  2. Words of Affirmation: Using words to validate and lift.
  3. Acts of Service: Actions speak louder than words.
  4. Physical Touch: Touching someone in proportion to how one feels.
  5. Receiving Gifts: Offering visible and tangible symbols of love.

Most of us have felt loved one way or another in all of these five ways, but each of us has a primary love language. It is the way we most often demonstrate love and the way we most often like to receive it. This applies not only to romantic relationships but also our interactions with family, friends, coworkers and others.

There are dozens of books and articles on the topic. To discover your primary love language and tips on how to understand that of others, go to




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