5 to 1: The Golden Ratio in Relationships

If you want to stay together, remember this equation: Five good things for every bad one.


photo courtesy of Eva Plevier

filed under Advice, Science of Love

Want to be happy and serene in your relationship, but not quite sure how?

Maybe you and your partner seem to rile each other’s nerves even though you really love each other. After all, there’s always some ongoing reason to get annoyed: that pile of bills, those unwashed dishes, your differing sex drives (not to mention your taste in movies), the crying kid. You can’t help wondering where the good times went.

Getting to a better place is a simple matter of the ratio of positive to negative interactions, according to renowned therapist, relationship researcher, and author Dr. John Gottman.

There’s science behind his advice. In fact, Gottman has identified a “magic ratio” for keeping relationships healthy and stable. The formula is simple: Engage in five positive interactions for every negative one. In other words, every time you and your partner snap at each other, you need to make up for the negativity by ensuring that soon thereafter you have five interactions that leave you both feeling good instead of crummy.

It’s like relationship karma: Positive encounters beget positive feelings. Negative scrapes beget stress and pain.

So what can you do to turn the bad mojo around? Do you need to invest the time and money involved in gifts and flowers and romantic nights out in order to chalk up positive encounters?

Absolutely not. “Positive interactions” can be quick, subtle, easy-to-do behaviors like looking your partner in the eye when he’s talking to you, showing interest in what she says, and asking questions that show you care. Other ideas including showing affection—a hug, a kiss, a warm hand on the shoulder—and offering sincere compliments. Lightening the mood between you with non-sarcastic jokes is another good idea, as is expressing appreciation for your partner and everything he contributes to the relationship.

Not that a small gift or a sweet note now and then would be a bad thing. Even a tiny surprise like a Hershey’s Kiss tucked into the pocket of her purse says more than you’d think. In this case, it really is the intention that counts.

The key is to consciously take loving action that will express how much you value your partner’s presence in your life. Do it daily, in as many different ways as you can think of. And remember to double down on the goodness whenever you’ve had some rough moments in order to keep your relationship karma balance high.

  • Dean A Campbell
    Posted at 10:24h, 22 February Reply

    .Thank you Katherine for the practical advice. And……. I would draw attention to these statements: “…….looking your partner in the eye when HE’S talking to you. And: “…….expressing appreciation for your partner and everything HE. contributes …..” I think using the inclusive. THEY. would reinforce the idea that all partners are part of a team. All are contributing. All need and deserve quality attention. When all members of any group are appreciated, they all want to contribute more fully. PS….. I think that traditional Polyamory makes a big mistake by catagorizing the various relations in a group….. ie: Primary….or….Secondary. I believe that all relations are best seen as uniquely loving between the person’s involved and valued for their uniqueness.

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