When couples come to my office for help, they have been unhappy for a long time. According to research it takes six unhappy years before they see a counsellor. Often, at the time of the first appointment one partner has already checked out as a result of resentments that have been built up.
Today, I would like to talk about an easy tool that can help detect imbalances in the Giving and Taking as soon as they arise and give opportunity to get back on the right track.
There is this little ‘magical’ relationship formula created by the Gottman Institute and it’s pretty accurate at predicting the stability of a relationship. A relationship is likely to be stable and future proof when the interaction between the partners has a ratio of 5 positive to 1 negative interactions. To be happy and stable a relationship needs five times as many positive interactions than negative, i.e. it needs five positives to counterbalance one negative interaction.
Positives can be a wide range of verbal and non verbal actions, showing affection, prioritising the partner, physical touch, expressing appreciation, empathise, laugh together, be gentle in arguments etc.
At first it does not seem to be surprising that a lack of positive interaction leads to dissatisfaction and eventually to separation, however, it seems surprising how little it takes to set back or hurt the other person: A ratio of one to one (1:1) has shown to be a reliable predictor that a year later the relationship has come to an end.
What is the guesstimated ratio in your relationship? Is it in the vicinity of the Magic 5:1? If not you may want to think about how you can positively contribute to your relationship? Are you good at expressing affection and initiate laughter? What about spending more quality time with your partner, in which you dedicate your attention to listening to your partner’s views and feelings. Can you express more appreciation and gratitude for the little (or big) things your partner does. Do you go out of your way for your partner? This, and a lot more – the sky is the limit – may help you get back to the magic. And … your partner will respond to your positive interactions and will contribute positively as well.
By the way, the ratio of five to three seems to be the tipping point from which a relationship moves slowly from happy to unhappy. Therefore, turning inwardly and checking your Relationship Ratio might be a good idea, and also counts towards your mindfulness exercise. With time and consistency it may become your second nature.