The Magic Ratio That Will Improve Your Relationships

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Posted July 30, 2012 by Monica O'Connell in Life After Five
We’re all starting to learn that in healthy relationships, there is inevitable conflict. Couples have gotten smarter recently because when they come into my office, they usually say that they want to figure out how to fight smarter. And since we just spent last week learning about how to meet our own needs in a relationship, we may have already begun to change the way we show up in our relationships. This could mean identifying the place we cause conflict.  We make mini waves in our relationship when we do things differently, when we grow. 

As a therapist, I’m a big conflict fan. I love when couples fight in front of me. It’s a great way to see not only the negative interactions of couples but the positive ones as well.

Dr. John Gottman, a therapist and researcher on relationships identified a ratio that is phenomenally helpful for couples.  His research shows that couples that are successful have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. In other words, couples who experience just one negative interaction have five positive ones to counterbalance it. Conversely, Dr. Gottman finds that couples who end their relationships have about a 1:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions: for every negative there is one positive. 

What does this even mean? Let’s break it down a little more with some definitions.

  • A negative interaction is characterized with criticism, anger, hostility and hurt feelings.
  • A positive interaction has interest, kindness, asking questions and empathetic interactions.
  • Negative interactions pack a punch.  They impact the relationship with more depth and intensity than positive interactions.
  • Positive interactions, while lovely, snuggly and heart warming, don’t carry as much weight.  They are valuable AND we need a lot of them in order to be successful.

How do you use this information? Even if you aren’t in a romantic relationship, this totally applies to your friendships, family and work relationships. Like usual, start paying attention to the type of interaction. Please hear this: healthy conflict is useful. Conflict helps us highlight differences and from healthy conflict, the relationship gains enhanced feelings of connectedness and clarity.  Keep your conflict and increase your positive interactions to support it.

One great way to increase positive interactions is to increase your knowledge about the person with whom you’re in a relationship. Play some fun question games like “What if?” or “Would you rather?” to increase your basic understanding of the person’s hobbies or likes/dislikes.  This is a simple thing to do while you’re eating supper or going on a walk together.  Right there, you’ve tackled two positive interactions in one. Chances are good that you already know how to increase your positive interactions so your opportunity is to maximize those.


About the Author

Monica O'Connell

Monica O’Connell is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In her practice, she spends her career cheering on “Career Girls” as they learn how to get the most out of life. Monica works with arguably some of the most successful, intelligent, inspiring women in the Twin Cities who tackle self-discovery, career success, and what’s getting in the way of their true desires. She shares her favorite moments as those “best described not by words but by the stomach aching, face soreness that comes from spending an entire day laughing with loved ones.”

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