When I think of romantic relationships there are two things that consciously come to mind: 1) a person you can count on in bad times and 2) a person you can share the good times with. The first is obvious and would just be called support (see posts from last week).
When I think of the second, however, I naturally think about doing something positive and fun together WITH my partner. However, there is a lot of life you live without your partner (hopefully…but that’s another post). And in that time away from your partner, good things will also happen! Likely, you’ll be excited to share this news with your partner.
In Psychology, this could be called 1 of 2 things. Either “disclosing positive news” or “capitalizing.” They are the same thing, but the second term implies an implicit reasoning for why people share good news—because they want to savor the moment, keep remembering it, and continue the positivity (i.e., capitalize on the positive moment).
There is one more piece to this puzzle however. So, let’s say you tell your partner this good news and capitalize on the positivity. Does it matter how your partner responds?
Well, yes and no (according to research).
First, yes. Of course, if you are partnered with a very sour human stealing away from your thunder all the time, then that isn’t fun. That will turn these positive events into such a burden. Likely you’ll start drifting from your partner, turning to other friends to share your positive news with. There is only so much you should stand for if your partner does not want to be supportive in this way. Hopefully there is communication about this and at some point you try to work with your partner and express your needs (which are super valid needs that most anyone would have, but still you gotta phrase in such a way that doesn’t make your partner defensive. This can also be another post sometime.).
I also go into detail on 4 ways partners can respond when it comes to news in this week's podcast episode if you want to see more on that. For this blog post, I will focus on why it doesn’t actually matter what your partner says in response to your capitalization attempt.
Self-esteem. It is really an elusive creature at times. Have enough bad instances in a row and most people would start to question if they are really as good as they think they are. I know this is something I used to struggle with…a lot. It still creeps up, but I can work through it much faster now. All of the friends that have walked out of my life. All of the relationships that have gone so poorly and borderline abusively wrong (I’m positive that I’ll make posts about these relationships as well in relation to research at some point if you are interested)—you can really start to doubt yourself!
Why does self-esteem matter for relationships then?
Well, through self-esteem, we see the world. It biases what we see and how we perceive it. Someone with good, healthy self-esteem will be able to acknowledge the positive. Someone with low, unhealthy self-esteem will likely acknowledge the negatives, if not falsely create negatives.
This even happens within romantic relationships according to research.
Let’s create an example using two iconic characters from the show, Scrubs. We have J.D., who will eagerly play the role of someone who has low self-esteem, and we have Turk, who will gladly showcase himself in an example for high self-esteem. (J.D. = low self-esteem for many reasons, but one explicit example is when he said this to Turk, “Holy inferiority complex, Batman! How low is my self-esteem that I'm the sidekick in my own fantasy?!). Turk = high self-esteem also for many reasons, but perhaps the best example is when he, without hesitation, danced to Poison by Bel Biv Devoe, as seen here, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvVZegDnbJU&ab_channel=coolhand719).
J.D. will talk to Eliot, another character on the show. They have quite the romantic history together.
Turk will talk to Carla, who is his wife on the show. Their dynamic is on point.
According to the research this is what would happen, on average:
Low Self-Esteem Scenario
J.D.: Hey, Eliot! I just got some good news. I finally got a compliment from Dr. Cox. I think he may really be warming up to me.
Eliot: That’s great, J.D.. I am glad to hear you are doing well. I know you two have had a contentious relationship and how much it means to you that he would actually say a compliment. He hasn’t even given me one yet in the past 3 years here.
J.D.: Haha…yeah….yeah…. thanks. Um, but also does this really have to be about you right now. I just feel like, I came here wanting to share my good news and you are just stealing the spotlight. Like this is MY time. I guess, it’s fine. You’re right. I’m sorry you haven’t gotten any compliments.
High Self-Esteem Scenario
Turk: Hey, Carla! I just got some good news. I finally got a compliment from Dr. Cox. I think he may really be warming up to me.
Carla: That’s great, Turk. I am glad to hear you are doing well. I know you two have had a contentious relationship and how much it means to you that he would actually say a compliment. He hasn’t even given me one yet in the past 3 years here.
Turk: That’s right! He really is such a mean person. I have seen it with you and others on the floor as well. But I am glad you realize how important this is for me and how much more impressive it is that DR. COX of all people did that. Amazing. Thank you, Carla!
Someone with a lower self-esteem could potential view even positive responses as threats, not positive enough, or otherwise not affirming enough. Because that person may not be secure with themselves, they need others’ views to really fuel their sense of self. However, this is a bit of a losing game because it is really difficult to find yourself when constantly searching in others. When we don’t have much, our resources are scarce, and don't have a sense of self, we have to be defensive and fight for ourselves. This can really cause unnecessary conflict and disappointment within a relationship. And it isn’t as easy as simply telling a person with low self-esteem to just…appreciate the positives more.
First, that’s condescending. Second, it is dismissive. Third, be more empathetic. There are times when we all find it hard to appreciate the positives around us. But, now imagine someone constantly feels this dread or doesn’t have a sense of self or confidence in anything they bring to the table. Like, they have other things on their mind and breaking them down more proooobably won’t help.
Someone with higher self-esteem likely won’t have to do deal with all of this while conversing with their partner. Because of that, they are probably going to be able to take in their partner’s message and sentiment more clearly, if not even positively bias their perception.
So, in conclusion, the thing is that yes of course what your partner does matters. They should be responsive to what you bring into the relationship whether that is positive or negative. But, we also have our own parts in this and someone can find every reason to be happy or unhappy or anything in between. Perhaps before blaming your partner, however, take a second to check in with yourself and see if you are being objective about the situation or if there is something else going on.