Love Me Like A Rock: The Michelangelo Effect

What do really successful couples do that keeps their love vibrant and exciting? Relationship scientists have some insight into what works. As you might have guessed it has something to do with communication.

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What do really successful couples do that keeps their love vibrant and exciting?

Relationship scientists have some insight into what works. As you might have guessed it has something to do with communication. But what might surprise you is that it isn’t so much about having fewer bad interactions– it isn’t repairing what went wrong that helps the most. Research shows that good relationships are the very measure of what makes life worth living and people with good social relations tend to live longer and happier lives, so if there is an investment to be made in our own well-being it is in the interactions and communication with the people around us.

The key seems to be in the positive reciprocal influence and support of each other–something known as the Michelangelo phenomenon. Michelangelo was said to have seen the process of sculpting as revealing the hidden magnificent figures hidden in the stone. When we each interact with the other in a way that supports the emergence of the ideal self–each person is working to bring out the best in the other.

It has to do with having a very particular type of communication in your everyday life: How well we celebrate others. It is how we respond to good news from our partner, our work associates, and our family that determines the quality of our relationship. When good news from others comes our way our enthusiastic response is what is most supportive in bringing out their best.

People are like flowers. We turn toward what we need and what makes us grow. Being like a flower is how we need to be in a relationship. The delicate flower can withstand intense wind and rain and long days without sunlight. Flowers are open and vulnerable to the elements, and yet they use these same elements to thrive and blossom. Rain will feed the roots and the wind carries seeds so that new flowers will grow. We both need sunshine and need to be the source of it for others Good relationships involve a variety of ingredients, but two of the more important ones are being open and celebrating each other. Being open means you are able to tell the truth about how you are feeling without being afraid of being criticized. Celebrating each other means learning how to praise each other’s accomplishments, both big and small.

Psychologist Shelly Gable and her colleagues study how positive relationships give us greater life satisfaction and better connections –as well as more positive feelings. The have found that the way you respond to good news can make or break the relationship. The evidence shows that it is not how we respond to the struggles of life, but rather how we respond to the good things that make for strong relationships. The term capitalizing is used when we talk about how we react when good news is being shared. What you do in response to when things go RIGHT makes for a good connection –not how you correct what’s wrong,

When something good happens to a friend is by doing something the researcher call Active Constructive Responding, or ACR. As an example, imagine that a friend of yours just got an A on a big exam. Let’s look at four ways you could respond: You could say: “Great, let me show you the photo of my new ant farm.” This really doesn’t celebrate your friend’s achievement very much. You could also say: “Good for you.” Better, but not really much of a celebration. You could also say: “You probably cheated if you got such a good grade.” Obviously this isn’t going to make your friend very happy, and it probably won’t foster a good relationship going forward. But in ACR the reaction is to be happy for your friend and celebrate the achievement. “Wow! I know you studied like crazy for that exam and it really paid off. When did you find out? What did the teacher say? Give me a high five!

Try it for a week. Listen to the good news people bring to you, particularly those you have a close relationship with. At the same time notice who is there to celebrate you. See who looks at you like Michelangelo looked at the stone and saw the Pietà or David waiting to be revealed.

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