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71: The Magic Relationship Ratio

Written by: Claire Dinan

This 5:1 "Magic Relationship Ratio was coined by the Gottmans.

If you don't know who the Gottmans are - they are leaders and experts in the field of relationships, famous for being able to predict divorce rates amongst married couples with a 90% accuracy (wild, I know).

Decades of research have led them to the conclusion that the secret to a stable and happy relationship was five (or more) positive interactions for every negative interaction during conflict.

I can already feel you guys bringing out your scorecards.

So let’s address first things first.

Which interactions count as negative and which count as positive?

Hopefully, intuitively, you have a rough idea of what constitutes as positive or negative but we’re going to break it down a little further.

Most negative interactions can be categorised under the following buckets:

  1. Criticism (“you’re so selfish”)
  2. Contempt (“you’re exhausted?! Are you kidding me?! Why don’t you try doing a little more around the house like me?” Eye-rolling is also a big indicator of contempt)
  3. Defensiveness (“No I didn’t do X. You know I’ve been so busy today. Why haven’t you done it?!”)
  4. Stonewalling (Shutting down and not engaging anymore).

The Gottmans call these the Four Horsemen and you can read more about them and how to avoid these relationship pitfalls in our article here.

Positive interactions (yay) are wide ranging but can include:

  1. Showing interest in your partner (”how did that project that you were worried about go?”)
  2. Expressing affection (”I really love X about you”)
  3. Letting them know their thoughts and feelings matter (”I remember you saying you were nervous about meeting my parents today, how are you feeling about it now? Is there anything I can do to help ease the situation?”)
  4. Empathising / apologising (”I’m sorry I made you feel that way, I can understand where you are coming from. What can I do to make it up to you?”)
  5. Trying to bring light heartedness and humour into the conflict conversation (Maybe doing a little dance, or trying a little light-hearted self-deprecation)

The good news is that you can start to include positive interactions in and out of conflict that will help counteract these negative interactions and lead to longer-term happiness.

Put it into practice:

I've put three simple ways you can start tipping the scales in your favour but feel free to do all 3.

Have one more positive interaction with your partner today (it doesn't have to be romantic - it's about practice!)

If you catch yourself engaging in a negative interaction (for me that's often mid eye-roll). Try and implement 5 positive interactions to counteract it (this can be during or after the fact).

The next time you catch yourself about to criticise, stop.
Question yourself on whether the insult is worth the five positive interactions it’s about to negate.
Bonus points if you can turn it into a positive interaction instead.
Can the success of a happy relationship really be as simple as having 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative interaction?