04 Sep Marriage and relationship audit

Want a great marriage or relationship?

Time for a marriage and relationship audit. Here’s one way to check out how you’re tracking:

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First, line up (in your mind, or better still, on paper) all the positive interactions that you and your partner have with each other on an average day. Positive things include gestures, tasks and jobs, comments, compliments, conversations, physical affection, thankyou’s… anything that nourishes, acknowledges, and expresses love and affection. Marriage and relationship therapists call these “positive strokes”.

Next, compile another list, but this time list all the “negative strokes”, that is, negative interactions between you and your partner on an average day. These include criticisms, defensive comments, hostile gestures, unloving actions, displays of disrespect or neglect… anything that doesn’t contribute in a positive way to the health and enjoyment of your shared relationship.

You’ll now have two columns: the first itemising your shared “positive strokes”, and the other, your shared “negative strokes”. By now you’ll also have a pretty good idea of which list is longer, or maybe you’ll find that each has roughly the same number of entries.

Common sense would tell us that the ratio of “positive” to “negative” strokes is a strong indicator of relationship satisfaction and success.

Research with married couples conducted by Dr John Gottman and his team allows us to take this notion even further. In analysing couples interacting whilst discussing a conflict or issue, here is what they found:

Couples in relationships that are stable and happy maintain a ratio of 5:1 (that’s 5 positive strokes to every 1 negative stroke)…

… And a ratio of 20:1 (that’s 20 positive strokes to every 1 negative stroke) is displayed by couples who are really getting it right. Gottman and his team call these the “master marriages”. Put simply, these couples are setting the gold standard for happy relationships that thrive.

Most couples headed for therapy have ratios lower than 5:1. Gottman’s research has found that a couple headed for divorce will have a rather alarming ratio of only 0.8:1.

Couples in extreme relationship distress often struggle to recall even one recent positive stroke, but can easily identify many recent negative strokes in their daily interactions.

Successful therapy often starts with taking deliberate steps to turn this ratio around.

It’s not about empty compliments, gushing thanks and appreciation, or endless cups of tea or gifts, and it’s not about keeping a ledger and expecting your partner to match you all the way. It’s also not about trying to extinguish all negative strokes from your relationship (Gottman’s research tells us that even negative strokes are healthy, provided they stay in check).

It’s about looking for opportunities to express and share love, and doing so unconditionally, during good times as well as bad. Every day.

Once couples get the hang of this, they’re well on track for relationship success. With the right mix of chemistry, great communication, mutual respect and love, and a “positive to negative strokes” ratio that ideally hovers somewhere above 5:1 (and as close to 20:1 as you can manage), you’re well placed to have a relationship that thrives.

If you’d like to learn more about how to create emotional and relationship health, contact Pamela. Let’s get started teaching you the skills you need to create your own relationship that thrives.