How to Kill a Relationship By the Way You Respond

Want to kill a relationship quickly, or would you rather drag it out over a long painful period of time?


Of course I’m using sarcasm here. Most of us aren’t actively trying to ruin a relationship, but that’s what we might be doing based on the way we respond to people.

Think about a time you had something interesting or exciting to share with someone. Did the other person reply in a way that left you cold? Or, did they build upon your enthusiasm and express interest in a way that made you feel understood and appreciated?

In the book, Flourish, by Martin Seligman, he references the work of Dr. Shelly Gable who studies how approach and avoidance contribute to the course and quality of social interactions and close relationships.

Dr. Gable identified four styles of responding to others, which can have a big impact on the relationship:

1. Active constructive: an enthusiastic, encouraging response, such as, “That’s great! What did you do next?”

2. Passive constructive: a neutral or apathetic response, such as, “That’s nice.”

3. Passive destructive: we don’t acknowledge what they said or we change the subject

4. Active destructive: we are overtly critical or imply we don’t believe them

There may be very good reasons why we don’t regularly respond in an active constructive mode. We might be tired or distracted. The person might have said something upsetting, untrue or worrisome.

But if we are aware of our typical way of responding to people, we can choose a more constructive means of communicating.

That way we don’t end up gradually killing the relationship when it isn’t at all our intent.

Do you know someone who ruins relationships because of the way they respond to others?