How can you increase the positivity in your relationship?
Relationship researcher John Gottman has been studying relationships for so long that he can watch 5 minutes of interaction between a couple and tell you with over 95% accuracy whether or not that couple will stay together. Moreover, if he predicts that they will break up, he can tell you with over 80% accuracy in what year.
Years ago, after studying thousands of hours of videotape of couples interacting in his ‘love lab’, Gottman realised he had discovered the factors that caused relationships to break up. Excited about this, he reasoned that if he could then stop couples from doing those things, he could prevent them from breaking up. He therefore started working with couples that he could see were in danger and teaching them the skills they needed in order to not do the things that caused breakups. Following up after time though, he discovered that his interventions made no difference at all, and the relationships still ended as he’d originally predicted.
Gottman went back to the drawing board. “If these are the things that cause relationships to break up,” he wondered, “then what is it that keeps them together?” Gottman went about studying that instead, poring over footage of the couples who stayed happily together over the years, looking for the commonalities.
Gottman’s findings are outlined in his book “The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work”, a great read if you want to know more. In a nutshell though, what Gottman found was this: It is not the absence of negative interactions that make relationships successful, it is the presence of positive interactions. Gottman further found that as a minimum, a ratio of five positive to one negative was needed to keep relationships going well. These positives provided a ‘cushion’ for the bad times, and kept the ‘emotional bank account’ of the relationship strong.
We all have patches where our relationships are great and those where they could use a bit of help, whether with our partners, our families, friends or colleagues. If we want to improve those relationships, the best thing we can do is add in some positivity. This can be in the form of small things such as making the person a cup of tea, going out for lunch together, taking a walk or having a nice weekend away together. All of these contribute positively to the emotional bank account of the relationship, making it more resilient in the face of hard times.
It’s also useful to build our positivity about that person by reminding ourselves of their best qualities and times when those qualities really shone through. We can also ensure we engage with them well, turning towards them when they are talking to us, showing an interest, supporting them when they’re upset, and laughing with them when times are good.
So, are there any relationships in your life that you’d like to improve? What positive things could you introduce into that relationship? It could be things you used to do together that have fallen by the wayside, or it could be something new. It’s worth experimenting a little to find the things that are most meaningful to both of you, as adding those things in can make your relationship stronger, happier and more resilient, now and in the future.