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The Love Habit

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Laura Gilbert
The Love Habit You Must Learn

Conventional relationship wisdom dictates that expressing the right thing during the rough patches like after a job loss or a devastating death is the proof that you and your guy have a strong bond, right?

Not so fast. Researchers who studied couples' interactions say that the happiest pairs are those who respond positively to their partner's successes. "This was the strongest predictor of current and future relationship satisfaction," says Shelly Gable, Ph.D., psychology professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, who led the study. Read on for when to use these crucial words your guy is craving.

Why It's So Powerful

Favorable feedback does more than just flatter. "It validates accomplishments, but it also validates your relationship by showing that you get what's important to each other," says Michele Marsh, Ph.D., a clinical director for the Council for Relationships in Philadelphia. Plus, talking to your guy about what occurred lets him relive it a bit, only this time he'll associate the positive rush with you. The reverse response is also telling. If you're not stoked by what your guy considers a win, it conveys that you may be jealous, threatened, or just not interested. That may be why couples in the study who weren't thrilled by each other's good fortune were more likely to break up down the line.

Show That You're Psyched

Some victories are easy to identify, like a new job, but tiny triumphs are worth touting too. Give him emotional applause when he mentions getting a compliment, like postproject praise from his boss. Also, appreciate how he deals with annoying situations. "Interpersonal conflicts can be extra stressful for guys, so hearing that they handled one well can be very rewarding," says Marsh.

To make your response resonate beyond a pat "congrats," ask for details ("How did you find out?") or reaffirm how hard he worked on something ("Your hours of studying really paid off!"). Another way to escalate his excitement is to point out a specific trait of his that played a part ("I'm not surprised you're so tenacious!"). "Acknowledging his participation in the larger picture shows another level of understanding," says Gable.

Get Him to Boost You

You deserve kudos too. If your guy isn't effusive about your achievements, it could be that he doesn't know how important his support is. So clue him in like this: When something big is brewing, give him notice, like by counting down the days. Or just say, "Something great happened, and I want to celebrate it with you." That lets him know it's a big deal. When he does share a success, let him know later like the next day or in bed postcelebratory sex that you appreciated him being so happy for you. "If you say he did something right, he'll remember that and be more likely to repeat it," says Marsh.

Laura Gilbert

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