Why Adding The 5 Positives To 1 Negative Ratio To Your Relationship Might Be A Good Idea

Engage in a simple exercise: Recall the last argument you had with your significant other. How did you communicate about the problem? Was there empathy? Did you listen to each other's perspectives? Was there understanding and/or affirmation? Was there respect? Did you hug afterward? If you answered yes to all of those questions, you might already know how to have five positive interactions during one negative one in your relationship. Congratulations!

If, instead, your mind went back to a lot of eye-rolling, defensive talk, and/or criticism that came along with the argument, your ratio might be teetering on the unhealthy side of things. What's a 5:1 positive-to-negative ratio exactly? Coined by relationship expert and psychologist Dr. John Gottman during longitudinal studies that involved several couples, the five positives to one negative ratio is the "magic ratio" couples can use to better handle conflict. The idea behind it is pretty simple. 

"If you take a look at the ratio of positive stuff during conflict — things like interest, asking questions, being nice to one another, being kind, being affectionate, [and] being empathetic, and you look at all the negative stuff — like criticism, hostility, anger, [and] hurt feelings, and you take the ratio of positive to negative, in relationships that stay together, that ratio turns out to be 5:1," explained Gottman in a Facebook video for The Gottman Institute. Turns out that training yourself to speak positively during an argument can work wonders for your relationship.

The magic ratio helps de-escalate fights

Conflict is unavoidable in relationships. Even the healthiest couples that have relationships that last a lifetime, have arguments. It's what you do and say during those interactions that matters. 

Following the five positives to one negative ratio can actually help de-escalate things during a fight. While it might feel easy to blow up and say hurtful things, choosing to remain calm and kind can go a long way. As shared on The Gottman Institute website, anger by itself isn't damaging. "Anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive," said Gottman. 

Embracing the magic ratio doesn't have to be limited to times of conflict though. In fact, it can become a daily practice that enhances relationship satisfaction. As therapist and owner of Chicago-based counseling practice, Urban Wellness, Maureen Werrbach wrote for The Gottman Institute, "Having a Positive Perspective of your partner and your relationship helps to more effectively problem solve during conflict, make more repair attempts (an action or statement that aims at reducing escalating conflict), and generally see your partner in a more positive light." This exercise can be particularly helpful for those who naturally lean toward the negatives in their relationship. Does one small quarrel leave you feeling deflated and playing out all the bad things about your spouse in your mind? Force yourself to think of five good things instead. You might just turn things around.  

Develop a habit of seeing (and doing) the positives

Building a positive mindset that can be whipped out during difficult conversations isn't something that can happen overnight, especially if the concept is entirely new to you. As licensed couples' therapist Elizabeth Earnshaw told mindbodygreen, "Of course, no one is going to walk around all day calculating their interaction ratio." 

For TikTok influencer @annzxk, choosing to engage in positive affirmations and actions after a serious conversation has helped her and her partner move on from conflict more quickly. She recommended saying something as simple as "I love you," or asking for a hug afterward to put a light-hearted spin on things. "When you say those words out loud and verbalize that, you're really telling the other person that this fight doesn't matter and that [they] matter, and that 'I still love you' at the end of this."

One way in which you can make the habit stick is to reflect on interactions you had with your partner during the day (perhaps at the close of the day) and write those down in a journal. Earnshaw recommended asking this question, "If I wrote down a list of our interactions today, would I be writing about more positive interactions than negative?" The idea is to start small and to start somewhere. Learning to see the good in your relationship is not only going to make your arguments a lot less damaging, but it is also going to make you a happier person.