Can love be distilled into a formula? Can a numerical figure help you keep your marriage happy and thriving?
Dr John Gottman, a research psychologist at the University of Washington, seems to think so. Recently, I read about his work in an article on relationships.
Dr Gottman has studied marriages for over twenty years, and has discovered a formula that is almost guaranteed to make a marriage successful. In all close relationships, there will be both positive and negative interactions. Positive interactions that keep the marriage thriving include compliments, fun, shared activities, expressions of love and co-operation. But there will also be negative interactions such as disagreements, hurt feelings and complaints.
Gottman’s formula is to apply the ratio of 5:1 between positive interactions and negative interactions. That is, for every negative interaction, there needs to be five positive ones.
Gottman observes that spouses who have five time more positive interactions to every negative interaction are highly unlikely to divorce, and that marriages which are headed for divorce show slightly more negative than positive interactions.
This is an interesting theory, and one that makes sense. As in all human relationships, a positive interaction give good feelings to both the giver and the recipient, and makes the recipient more willing to take the action again.
I don’t mean to be sexist here, but I have observed that with some couples, the husband is very nice and polite with friends and visitors, but is gruff and brusque with his wife. Hm…
It also make makes me think of a negative interaction like complaining or nagging. Okay, this time it may apply more to the wife. Sometimes, when one starts complaining, the activity takes a life of its own and you just can’t stop. In fact, you yourself don’t even know where you’re going or running with your words, but you just feel compelled to go on!
But back to Dr Gottman’s easy-to-remember secret of marriage. So next time, when you want to snap at your spouse, perhaps it might help to visualize or recall the 5:1 ratio. It might go a long way in strengthening the relationship.