Relationships are challenging, to say the least. Two people with two separate mindsets and two different ways of communicating having to try to find a way to connect? It sounds difficult to me.
In his column, Tools for an Intentional Marriage, therapist and writer Zach Brittle revealed the one most common trait that can be found among the many different kinds of happy marriages.
What is it? Positivity.
And if you want to have a truly happy marriage, there really isn’t a secret formula — just be positive and be kind to your significant other.
During his three decades of researching how to make relationships stronger, Dr. John Gottman discovered that all happy couples had an abundance of positive sentiment at a ratio of about 5:1. For every one negative in a relationship, there were five positives.
It is also based on this magic ratio that Dr. Gottman is able to predict divorce.
So, as long as there are five times as many positive interactions between partners as there are negative ones, the relationship is more likely to be stable, healthy, and happy.
A few examples of positive interactions that healthy couples use regularly include expressing affection towards each other, finding ways to demonstrate that your partner matters, being interested in what’s going on in their life and what they tell you, intentionally appreciating them, showing empathy and giving apologies, accepting their perspective on things, making jokes, and always trying to find opportunities to agree with one another.
Unfortunately, extremely unhappy couples tend to have more negative than positive interactions.
However, the bottom line is that every relationship has some negativity, but it’s the positivity that strengthens the bond between two people.
Brittle illustrates the magic ratio in this way: If you look at every positive interaction between you and your significant other as being worth a penny, and every negative interaction as being worth a nickel, in order to keep your relationship happy and stable, it’s crucial that you put in five pennies for every nickel taken out.
And it’s certainly better than okay to put way more pennies in than nickels.
“I always say, nobody cares about losing a nickel if they have $100 in the bank. But if you only have 10 cents, it’s a lot harder to stay net positive,” Brittle writes. “The key is to keep your balance of pennies high so that a nickel lost isn’t felt as much.”
Every couple is vulnerable in their own way, but Bittle says, “vulnerability is mitigated by a strong leaning toward positive engagement.”
This positivity can help to protect and strengthen your relationship with each other.
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“There is no substitute for kindness, gratitude, affection, and regard,” adds Brittle. “You cannot underestimate the power of positive sentiment as a sustaining factor in happiness and stability for couples.”
So, be nice and positive as often and as much as you can. Your partner will certainly thank you.
Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She’s had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman’s Day. Visit her website or and her Instagram.