Say something nice

Building better relationships through positive messages.

Michigan State University Extension is committed to helping people improve their health. Part of being a healthy human is nurturing healthy relationships. It is important to have connections to people we can depend on for support. An important piece of maintaining a support system is having good communication.

Life happens, and most of what happens involves communicating with others. We have the choice of how that goes. We can communicate in negative ways, or we can interact in positive and helpful ways. This is true for all relationships, including couples, families, parents and close friends.

Interestingly, the breakdown of a relationship is not always caused by too much negative stuff. Instead, relationships break because of not enough positive things or good stuff in the relationship. Researcher, Dr. John Gottman finds that good relationships have five positive words or actions for every one negative one. It has been found that people who have lots of positives in their relationship, handle the negatives better.

In addition, in life people of all ages have a desire to have their own social and emotional needs met. One of those needs is feeling that others see the positive things in us. We all have positive characteristics, and it feels good when someone recognizes our ‘good’. When was the last time someone gave you a compliment or said “What I like about you is…”? How did that make you feel? How long did you carry that feeling?

So, why is it so hard to say positive things, especially when you are upset or arguing with someone you love? The problem is that, sometimes, we just seem to get out of practice in giving positive messages. We get stuck in negative communication patterns, or maybe we never had really good examples of how to give someone a positive message.

Can’t think of anything nice to say? Here is an exercise to help you get started. Think of someone important in your life that you would like to have a more positive relationship with. Grab a piece of paper and write out the answers to the following.

  1. When we first met, what I immediately liked about you was ____________________.
  2. I really loved (or appreciated) when you ____________________________________.
  3. I appreciate __________________________________________ the most about you.
  4. Your best character traits are _____________________________________________.
  5. Here are some examples of when I’ve seen them _____________________________.

If you feel comfortable, share your list with that person. It could be a great way to begin improving your relationship with them. They may even be inclined to do the same. However, even if they don’t, you will still benefit from the social emotional benefits of nurturing another human being.

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