Don’t Be A Joy Thief. How Couples Fail To Communicate — And How To Do It Better.

We can’t change our communication patterns unless we know what they are.

James E. McGinley, PhD
3 min readMay 18, 2022
Couple together by the water.
Photo by Kirill Palii on Unsplash.

The researcher Shelly Gable and her colleagues at the University of California at Los Angeles studied the communication patterns of couples and how these patterns impacted the health of their relationships. They summarized what they found in a research article, What Do You Do When Things Go Right? The Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Benefits of Sharing Positive Events (link).

They identified 4 communication patterns based on whether their behaviors were passive or active, constructive or destructive.

In an effort to make the communication patterns more understandable, they were recharacterized by Dr. Karen Reivich of the University of Pennsylvania as the following; the Conversation Killer, the Conversation Hijacker, the Joy Thief, and the Joy Multiplier.

Table presenting 4 conversation styles.
Image source is author.

Conversation Killer (passive constructive)

In this style a person provides quiet, understated support for their partner. We don’t outright…



James E. McGinley, PhD

James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor.