Menu

To maintain a happy relationship keep the 'magic ratio' in mind

There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.

To maintain a happy relationship keep the 'magic ratio' in mind

Whether it's about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage. To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched.

After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90% accuracy.

Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.

That “magic ratio" is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important," Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections."

On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that's unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.

So what's considered a negative interaction?

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn't necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in "Why Marriages Succeed or Fail" that "anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive."

Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.

Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

And what are positive interactions?

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

1. Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely "uh-huhs" that show how closely you are listening.

2. Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.

Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you're having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, "Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together," you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

3. Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is "small things often." The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.

Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you'll handle your inevitable disagreements.

For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you're showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

4. Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner's admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.

Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.

Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

5. Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse's viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

6. Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.

Saying things like, "It makes sense to me that you feel…" will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.

If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad," you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

7. Accept your partner's perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.

While you may not agree with your partner's perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse's experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn't mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

8. Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.

However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.

Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman's research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.

Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumblr.

This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Tenth & Pine: Gender-neutral and butter-soft basics for littles + bigs

In 2016, after a stage four endometriosis diagnosis and a 10 year battle with infertility, Tenth & Pine founder Kerynn got her miracle baby, Ezra Jade. As a SAHM with a Masters in Business, she wanted to create a brand that focused on premium quality, function, comfort, and simplicity.

She sought out premium, all natural fabrics and factories that shared her core values, practicing environmentally friendly manufacturing methods with fair and safe working conditions for employees. As a result, her made in the USA, gender-neutral designs check all the boxes. The sustainable, organic basics are perfect for everyday wear, family photos and any adventure in between.

Lucy Lue Organics: Sustainably and ethically-produced modern baby clothes

This family-owned and operated business was started by a mama who wanted out of corporate America after the birth of her son. Thoughtfully designed to mix-and-match, Lucy Lue's sustainably and ethically produced collection of modern organic baby clothes only uses fabrics that are "environmentally friendly from seed to seam." Their gorgeous, earthy tones and comfy, minimalist styles make the perfect addition to first wardrobes from birth through the first years.

Sontakey: Simple bracelets that speak your mind

Sontakey has been such a hit in the Motherly Shop that we knew it was time to expand the line. And since these beautiful mantra bands look so stunning stacked, more options = more fun.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less
Shop

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

FEATURED VIDEO

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less
Life
Chrissy Teigen/Instagram

When Chrissy Teigen announced her third pregnancy earlier this year we were so happy for her and now our hearts are with her as she is going through a pain that is unimaginable for many, but one that so many other mothers know.

Halfway through a high-risk pregnancy complicated by placenta issues, Teigen announced late Wednesday that she has suffered a pregnancy loss.

Our deepest condolences go out to Chrissy and her husband, John Legend (who has been by her side in the hospital for several days now).

In a social media post, Teigen explained she named this baby Jack.

FEATURED VIDEO

"We are shocked and in the kind of deep pain you only hear about, the kind of pain we've never felt before. We were never able to stop the bleeding and give our baby the fluids he needed, despite bags and bags of blood transfusions. It just wasn't enough," she wrote.

She continued: "We never decide on our babies' names until the last possible moment after they're born, just before we leave the hospital. But we, for some reason, had started to call this little guy in my belly Jack. So he will always be Jack to us. Jack worked so hard to be a part of our little family, and he will be, forever."

Keep reading Show less
News