If you rarely fight with your spouse, Dr. John Gottman would consider your marriage to be an unstable union. His research indicates that strong marriages require a certain amount of negativity — too much harmony between couples leads to relation-stagnation.
Throwing in the hot pepper of an occasional argument creates a partnership that is dynamic and far more interesting.
How much conflict is just right? Let’s find out…
The Solid Marriage Equation: 5 to 1
Gottman’s research revealed that couples with a ratio of five positive emotional interactions to one negative interaction had the strongest marriages.
For example, last Saturday Jake and Susan had six emotional exchanges. One exchange was humorous, the second, an expression of trust. The third was a playful interaction and the fourth involved criticism. A mix of compassion and acceptance comprised the fifth. The sixth was a passionate encounter.
Five of Susan and Jake’s dealings were positive, and one (criticism) was negative. Both partners were paying attention and responding to each other. If this is the couple’s usual pattern of communication, their marriage is on solid communicative ground. Besides criticism, negative exchanges include anger, resentment, disrespect, whining, being defensive, or being aloof.
Abusive behaviors do not have a place in Gottman’s ratio. If your words or actions go beyond an “asshole” or “bitch” level, you have likely gone too far.
The Rule of Exchange
Many people are so uncomfortable with conflict that they develop skills to avoid it. If one or both partners are not expressing any disagreement or anger with the other, one or both are shutting out feelings they believe disagreeable.
Both negative and positive expressions must be an exchange. If one person shuts down, or one person dominates, no interaction (exchange of information) is taking place. Dr. Gottman also discovered that in good marriages, both people are nearly equal in their openness to sharing personal thoughts and feelings.
If you are married, you can estimate where your relationship fits within the five to one ratio. If negative interactions are missing, or are more frequent than the positive interactions, you might consider couples counseling.
Threads, Not Chains, Hold a Marriage Together
Should this means of assessing your relationship interest you, let your spouse in on it. With both of you aware of the ratio, you will begin monitoring your interactions without even thinking about it all that much.
Remember, Simone Signoret once said:
“Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.”
While Dr. Gottman’s study was conducted 15 years ago, it rings true to this writer from professional and personal experience. Naturally, you must decide for yourself whether this advice might work for you in your relationship.
Gottman, J. (1994). Why Marriages Fail. Family Therapy Networker, 18(3), 40.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Jun 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Experts, Y. (2012). Why Fighting With Your Spouse Might Save Your Marriage. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 12, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/06/22/why-fighting-with-your-spouse-might-save-your-marriage/