03 Mar 5:1
I have mentioned John Gottman in a couple of my previous blogs. He has some of the best research out there on relationships and relationship troubles. He has done better than almost anyone prior in identifying and even quantifying certain important components of relationship interactions. You might recall, for example, a blog of mine from some time ago talking about “the four horsemen of the marital apocalypse” that Dr. Gottman discovered through his research. In case you have forgotten, these “four horsemen” are criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling and his research says that those four things left unchecked can lead a couple down a path toward relational dissolution. Yikes!
There are other things that his research has uncovered and this blog is about one of those. Dr. Gottman has discovered an important ratio in relational interactions that you might find interesting. He says that the ratio between positive and negative interactions in couples has to reach a certain level to be stable and healthy. That ratio is 5 to 1. That is, for every one negative interaction, couples need at least five positive ones to maintain balance and relational health.
In some ways, this is pretty scary. The correct implication is that negatives are more powerful than positives in a 1 to 1 ratio. That is, saying one nice thing after a hurtful thing is not a balance. I’ll bet at a gut level you know this is true and it turns out to be true according to the research as well. The scar or wound from a negative exchange is deeper and harder to heal than a simple “I’m sorry” or some other single attempt to soften the blow.
In another way, though, this is a very hopeful statistic. For all of you logical thinkers, imagine this. You don’t have to guess anymore about what will make things better in your marriage. You no longer have to try to find that magical formula. The fact is there is no magic but rather a simple formula. If you and your partner are going through a hard season, one thing you can do to make it better is for you to intentionally seek ways of communicating the important loving, celebrating, uplifting, encouraging things about your partner that you know to be true. Find the overt ways of telling and showing them how much you value them and want to be with them. If the research is right, both of you doing this at a 5 positive to every 1 negative ratio will greatly (statistically) increase your chances of not only getting through the hard time but also of taking your relationship to a higher level!