To strengthen relationships, celebrate success

On Valentine’s Day, I’d like to turn to Dr Sheldon Cooper, a leading character on TV’s “Big Bang Theory,” to help us learn a lesson about love.

Linda Beech is Ellis County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Kansas State Research and Extension.

Linda Beech is Ellis County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences with Kansas State Research and Extension.

Those of you familiar with the show — which depicts the nerdy antics of a group of brilliant, but socially awkward, young college professors — may be scratching your head and wondering what Sheldon can teach us about building relationships.

OK, I agree, virtually nothing is done by self-centered genius Sheldon to strengthen his on-screen relationship with girlfriend Dr Amy Fowler, but stick with me — I have something specific in mind.

In particular, I’m thinking of the episode when physicist Sheldon belittled his girlfriend’s research article in a prestigious scientific journal because “biology is not a true science.” (I didn’t say Sheldon would be a good example.) Naturally, Amy was crushed. And thus we learn an important lesson about what not to do in love.

Scientists who study relationships have long focused on how couples handle love´s headaches, heartaches, quarrels and stress. But the way that partners respond to each other´s triumphs may be even more important for the health of a relationship.

A 2006 research study found that the way a person responds to a partner´s good fortune — with shared pride or indifference — is a crucial factor in tightening a couple´s bond, or undermining it.

In the study, researchers asked couples how their partners typically reacted to positive news. The researchers also had members of the pairs rate how satisfied they were in the relationship. In their analysis of response styles, the researchers found that it was the partners’ reactions to their loved ones’ victories, small and large, that most strongly predicted the strength of the relationships.

Celebrating a partner´s promotion as if it were your own provides your partner with a tremendous emotional lift, while playing down or belittling the news can leave a deep and lasting chill.  So, when something good happens to your loved one, you’ve got a terrific opportunity to strengthen your relationship by applauding that success.

The K-State Research and Extension publication “PeopleTalk” quotes John Gottman, one of the nation’s leading experts on couple relationships. Through careful observation of hundreds of couples, Gottman has come to the conclusion that to maintain a good relationship, positive interactions should outnumber negative ones by at least five to one.

But when it comes to building an even stronger relationship, you get more “bang for your buck” by truly celebrating your loved one’s accomplishments. It’s a lesson Sheldon Cooper should learn.

For those who want to learn more about strengthening relationships, the Ellis County Extension Office offers the fact sheet “PeopleTalk” and the 6-part personal study course “CoupleTalk” from K-State Research and Extension. Contact us at (785) 628-9430 or go to and use the search function on the K-State Research and Extension home page to find these helpful resources online.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Linda Beech is Ellis County Extension family and consumer sciences agent with Kansas State Research and Extension.