The Secret Ratio for Happier Relationships (Love the One You’re With – Part 2)

thumbs_up_bciyI was at the Conference on Intimacy and Infidelity recently and had a chance to talk with the world-renowned researcher on marriage, John Gottman.  Together with his wife Julie, John Gottman’s research showed that couples who reported a ratio of 5 things that they appreciate about their partner for every 1 complaint that they have, had a significantly happier marriage than those who’s ratio was lower. GMAT-Verbal As that ratio gets closer to the 1:1 mark, people report being highly dissatisfied in their marriage.  Fascinating!

I love statistics like this because they give us a bearing from which to assess where we are in our own relationship.  Think about your own internal and external conversations.  How much of what you say to yourself or to your partner is some kind of criticism or complaint?  Even off-handed remarks, eye rolling, or muttering convey negative messages.

Dr. Gay Hendricks of the Hendricks Institute  shared another interesting statistic with me:  In studies done with adults and children, for every one positive thing that an adult says to a child, they say TWELVE negative things!  “You didn’t clean up your dish.”  “Don’t do that.”  “You shouldn’t….”  “Put that down.” “No no no.”  “You can’t do that.”   Sound familiar?   It’s amazing how freely the negative comes rolling out of our mouths without even thinking about it.  We don’t even think of it as negative.  We think it’s necessary!

So how can you “tip the scale” towards the happy-enhancing 5:1 ration?  The solution in my family is a game called “Gimme Five!”  It’s quite simple: whenever someone says anything negative,
6302.1 like a complaint or a put down, the other person looks at them and says, “OK!  Gimme Five!”  And that is that person’s cue to come up with 5 appreciations or “put ups” for the recipient of their negativity.  It’s fun and it keeps each of us aware of what we are depositing into the relationship bank!

You can still acknowledge the issue, such as: “Hey, you didn’t take out the garbage!”

“Hmmm….you’re right!  I’ll take it out now.  And when I come back, I’d like five appreciations for all the things I have done!”

Ah!  OK, “I really appreciate that you usually remember to do this.”  “I really appreciate your willingness to respond to my requests. It makes me feel heard.”  “I love the way you make me laugh. It lightens me up.”  “I really liked how you arranged the patio. I enjoy being out on the deck now.”

A little practice will have you shifting your conversations toward the positive in no time and verbalizing your heartfelt appreciations for and acknowledgment of the good that is your partner!

If you find this shift challenging (and many do!), here’s the bottom line on negativity that may inspire you through the very natural resistance to change:  Couples who focus on the negative create a home environment that is unsafe and toxic to the human spirit.  This is often the source of divorce and infidelity.  People find another partner where they feel appreciated and come alive.

Appreciate who you are and are not, and who your partner is and is not.  Think of appreciation as a verb.  It’s something you “do,” not something you just are or aren’t.

Here is a take home exercise to get you started:

For the next 7 days, find something new every day to appreciate about your partner.  Just one thing is enough.  It could be something about them physically, something they do, some aspect of their character.  After all, you chose this person, so there are obviously things you appreciate about them.  Look for those things and return your attention to that, over and over again.   You might be amazed at what begins to emerge from this practice!  After all it’s the focus on the positive that makes new relationships so hot!

I invite you to share your experience with a comment here.