Tag Archives: 5:1 ratio

Low Conflict Does Not Equate with Great Long-Term Marriage

A three-year study completed at the University of Texas at Austin evaluated 156 newly married couples regarding their conflict levels and marital happiness. They were followed for three years to determine whether low-conflict marriages were the happiest. The answer: yes in the short-term and no in the long-term.

At the beginning of the study, when the couples were still newlyweds, they did indeed equate a happy marriage with low levels of conflict. In other words, couples who argued less were happier. However, after three years, things changed. Those who argued a lot early on reported large increases in marital satisfaction after three years, as they had resolved many of their differences.

On the other hand, many of the couples who had little conflict at the beginning of their marriage missed opportunities to cultivate and grow their relationship. Their desire to avoid conflict kept them from working out problems and reduced their marital satisfaction level, say researchers.

A Times of India article about the study concluded that “disillusionment in the early part of the relationship was a powerful predictor of divorce.”

The well-known recommendation by research John Gottman, PhD, advocating five positive interactions for everyone negative interaction comes to mind. The so-called 5:1 ratio is not only about staying positive with your spouse. It’s also about using the one negative interaction as an opportunity to discuss, negotiate or work through areas that are problematic for the couple—in hopes of moving forward and having more satisfied partners.

Are you using your conflicts in a productive manner, approaching them gently in hopes of moving forward in the relationship? Are you balancing them with plenty of positive interactions?

Photo: ©Mykola Velychko/PhotoXpress.com

How You Begin a Fight Determines Whether It’s Harmful or Productive

“I’m feeling overwhelmed and need your help in figuring out the kids’ schedules and activities on the weekends.”  Versus:

“All you think about is yourself. Does it never occur to you that I might need some help with the kids or time to myself?”

Both of these comments address the same problem, but the approach is very different. Author Tara Parker-Pope in her book, For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage, suggests how you bring up a problem is paramount. Your choice to begin with a complaint or a criticism will determine if it becomes a productive fight or a harmful fight. Of course, the second comment puts your partner on the defensive rather than in problem-solving mode. Criticism isn’t helpful in addressing problems or concerns, while stating your needs clearly can help you both come up with solutions.

Parker-Pope is a New York Times health reporter who presents researchers’ findings rather than investigating them on her own. For instance, she discusses Dr. John Gottman’s recommended 5:1 ratio of positive to negative comments, and she summarizes the study that suggests the happier wives are about the division of labor in their homes, the happier their husbands are with their sex lives.

The next time you have a concern you want to address with your spouse, think carefully about the timing of your discussion as well as how you bring it up. Find a non-confrontational way to broach the subject with the goal of discussing solutions or sharing your feelings.

Have you or your spouse recently been frustrated enough to blurt out a criticism that ended up causing a fight? Did it cause you to dig in your heels rather than seek compromise?

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part II: Stay Positive

In the Part I, we learned how important it is to respond positively to our partner’s good news. We also learned that individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships. Positive emotions—even fleeting ones—have the power to help us connect with others.

Having an upbeat outlook enables people to see the big picture and avoid getting hung up on small annoyances,” says psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “This wide-angle view often brings to new light new possibilities and offers solutions to difficult problems, making individuals better at handling adversity in relationships and other parts of life. It also tends to dismantle boundaries between “me” and “you,” creating stronger emotional attachments. (Remember the Power of We in Relationships?)

We’ve heard about Dr. Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship, but Fredrickson studied positive emotions by each individual and found even when the ratio is 3:1 it helps them become more resilient in life and love.

How can we help boost positive emotions? Try to schedule activities often in places that exude positive energy for you, such as a nature hike or meetings in a restaurant you love. Surround yourself with scents and sounds that make you happy. Keep a collage of photos that make you smile on your desk, next to your bed, or wherever you spend time. Keep upbeat music on your ipod or stereo playing positive lyrics. Spend a few minutes hugging your spouse (and children) at the end of the day. Play with your pet.

Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” provides more details.

What do you do to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, or is this a struggle for you? I know when I’m not feeling well, or the weather has been cold or dreary for a long time, I struggle to be positive. Music helps change my mood.

Read Part I, Part III and Part IV for the other three secrets.