Written by Amy Miller
For those of you who don’t know John Gottman, he’s basically the number one guy in understanding couples and marriages. He’s also really fun to listen to! I respect him for his many theories in marriage, but this one is one of my favs because it’s fairly easy to remember AND it makes a daily impact on your marriage! It’s called the 5 to 1 ratio for healthier marriages.
How It Works
For every 1 negative thing we do in our relationship, it should be accompanied by 5 positive things.
There's some really smart reasoning behind this concept. We are bound to make a mistake or two throughout any given day or week, or just miss the opportunity to do a kind thing for our spouse. But your spouse is less likely to dwell on those negative events when there are all kinds of other positive things you’ve done! Now, that's not some excuse that enables you to “get away with” something your spouse wouldn’t approve of! Rather, it’s about making sure more positive encounters are happening on a daily basis with your spouse than negative things.
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Example: A wife kisses her husband goodbye for the work day. At lunch time she texts him to see how his day is going. In the afternoon she does something like run an errand for him that he wasn’t able to do. Then she makes a yummy dinner and has it ready for when he comes home. She plans a date night for later, too. But then she realizes that she forgot to pick up the dry cleaning of something her husband needed the next day. Because there was a pattern of positive things happening in their relationship throughout the day, her husband doesn’t feel as annoyed or inconvenienced when he has to make a stop at the dry cleaning on his way home from work.
That is a typical scenario (at least for me!) of stuff you already do or would have planned to do. One of my husband's positives would be that on Tuesday nights he takes out the garbage cans to the curb. It’s something he’s been doing for about two years now, but I still appreciate it and it’s still a positive!
While the little things you're already doing for your spouse certainly count in this 5 to 1 concept, out of the ordinary things have an even bigger impact. For example, giving a back rub to your spouse, taking the kids for the night so the other can have quiet time, bringing home a little surprise, etc. Or, in my case, I could take the garbage cans to the curb and my husband could see that as a surprise positive thing. The possibilities are endless here!
What If the Ratio Flipped
To help you understand it further, think about it the other way around. If you did 1 positive thing for every 5 negative things, it would be much harder for your spouse to recognize that one good thing you did. Of course, this may happen once in awhile because life can be hard and unexpected things throw off your day. But when this is happening on a consistent basis, it can lead to feelings of doubt and mostly just unhappiness in your marriage.
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This technique can become a scale for measuring how we can improve. John Gottman said that the strongest couples have much higher ratios of positive things to negative things. So maybe they experience 10 positive things for every negative thing. And most couples who heavily struggle had a positive to negative ratio of 1 to 1, and usually ended their relationship. Don’t let your ratio get that low!!!
The whole point of this technique is two fold: 1) keep a mindset of serving your spouse, and 2) focus on the good in them! Service is what keeps that spark of love burning through the years! Honestly, I think service is the absolute secret to a happy marriage. It's like this good Karma cycle - if your spouse is continually serving and appreciating you, you will want to serve and appreciate them right back! Having that feeling of being appreciated, loved, and cared for by your spouse also keeps your mind focused on seeing the good in them.
I suggest checking how your marriage compares with this 5 to 1 ratio over the next few weeks. It shouldn’t be a competition to see who is the better spouse! Your intentions should be focused on improvement, not pride. It’s just for seeing how well you are already doing with this idea and to make sure it’s not a consistently low ratio. If you are at this point, you can reconnect! Don’t let that doubt continue! Begin doing more positive things and your spouse is sure to do more positive things back!
Photo Credit: Jason Corey Photography
Amy is a marriage specialist all about helping couples progress in their marriage! She is continually inspired by her loving husband, Hobby Lobby, Dr. Pepper, and reality television.
"What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility."
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