In the previous post, I described the first foundation level of the Sound Relationship House: friendship and appreciation. Another important concept in developing and maintaining a strong friendship system is sharing fondness and admiration.
The Magic Ratio
In Dr. John Gottman’s research, he found that couples need to be perfect, having nothing but positive interactions, but there is an optimal level of positive interactions to negative ones. The magic ratio is 5 to 1. We need to have five times as much positive feeling and behavior with our partners as negative. This seems like an easy ratio to maintain, but we know from research that couples wait an average of seven years after they’re aware of a problem in their marriage before seeking counseling. That’s a lot of water under the bridge, and a lot of time to sway the magic ratio in the opposite direction.
Express What You Admire and Love
But there is a way to reverse this negative direction and rebuild the relationship’s emotional bank account. Remember what first attracted you to your partner and begin to nurture those thoughts, memories, and feelings. Express what you admire and love. As a couples’ therapist, I frequently say, “It doesn’t count if it doesn’t come out of your mouth.” We can think that our mate looks great in his jeans, or that she is the most articulate person at the party, but if we don’t say it to her then it doesn’t build that bank account—so that when crisis comes, as it inevitably does in life, we have nothing to drawn upon. Our emotional resources are depleted and we fall more deeply into hopelessness about our relationship.
When couples have let their relationship go, it takes time and attention to make it healthy again. Just as eating well for a week will not change your stroke risk, sharing fondness and admiration for a short time will not immediately change your marriage. This is why in couples counseling we work on many levels of the relationship at a time. Each partner must look at what they bring to the table. The fault is never with just one partner.
What Happens When You Neglect Your Relationship
Sam and Lara were both thinking of divorce when they made their first therapy appointment. Both felt unloved. They had stopped spending any time together other than eating dinner in front of the TV after their long days spent doing their daily activities in a robot-like manner. Chauffeuring and supervising the kids’ activities; cooking, cleaning, laundry, yard work, and other household chores; paying bills—all got done with almost perfect results. As Lara said, “We run a well-oiled ship.”
So what went missing? Sam and Laura had stopped expressing fondness and admiration for one another. They’d taken each other for granted and didn’t pay the kind of appreciative, close attention that had marked their courtship. They’d fallen into bad habits.
Fortunately, Sam and Lara were able to use the tools of couples counseling to change their habits and enhance their relationship. Each started paying closer attention to the day-to-day things their partner did that had typically gone unnoticed. Sam began to tell Lara how much he enjoyed how she interacted with the kids and how she made their home a place of harmony for the whole family. Lara was able to listen to Sam’s concerns with his job and began to express the positive things she saw in him. This served to enhance self-esteem for both. The ratio of positive to negative interactions gradually shifted closer to the magic ratio.
In my next post, I’ll talk about some simple ways to increase fondness and admiration in your relationship.
- Psychotherapy in the Virtual Space: How teletherapy has changed the way we give and get care - April 26, 2021
- (home video area – couples counseling) - November 23, 2011
- (home video area – mindfulness) - November 23, 2011
I have experienced your suggestions to be extremely helpful.
I have found nurturing the love and admiration in our relationship has been an asset in enriching it.
5-1 ratio was very interesting.
Dr. Susan says
Thank you TJ for your comment. The 5-1 ratio is seemingly easy, but takes care and attention to achieve. All relationships will fluctuate in this ration. In good times it will be the right balance, but in times of crisis that delicate balance can be upset. That is why it is so important to build the emotional bank account–