May 122015 2 Responses

Two Stats That Will Change Your Marriage

5 to 1 and 9 out of 10.

When thinking about marriage you always need to keep these numbers in mind.

Researcher and marriage expert John Gottman has discovered two statistics which define healthy marriages. He separates couples into what he calls the “masters” and the “disasters.”

The masters have a close friendship defined by intimacy, connection, and a keen awareness regarding what is happening in the life of their spouse. (See: Three People You Should Marry)

The disasters are a never-ending train wreck. They feel distant from their spouse, unknown by them, and confused about them.

The difference between the different couples are two simple statistics:

5:1 Healthy couples have a 5:1 ratio of compliments compared to negative comments. For every complaint, there are five positive interactions between a couple–“Thank you,” “Please,” “I’m sorry,” “You are welcome,” “May I help you?” “You look beautiful,” “I love you,” “I forgive you,” “Will you forgive me?” or “Help me understand what you think.”

9/10 Healthy couples also respond to their spouse 9 out of every 10 times in which their spouse makes a request for their attention. Almost without fail, if a husband or wife desires to share an idea, point out a story, tell about their day, communicate an opinion, or have a shared experience, a spouse in a healthy relationship will gladly give their spouse their attention. They won’t do it every time, but they will do it 9 out of ten times.

The masters live by these two stats. The disasters fail to do so. (See: Marriage Still Works)

In unhealthy relationships, the communication is toxic. Nearly every interaction becomes a negative experience. Criticism and complaining become the norm which causes each spouse to assume every word spoken is a negative word. Unhealthy couples become immune to compliments–they can’t give them; and if they stumble upon a positive word, their spouse is so trained toward negativity that they don’t even hear the compliment as a compliment.

At the same time, unhealthy couples regularly reject their spouse’s request for attention. Instead of seeing the heart of the request as an invitation to have a meaningful shared experience, they assume the worst about their spouse and quickly rebuff any attempt at connection. When a wife attempts to tell her husband about her day, the husband keeps watching the television and fails to listen. When a husband jokingly attempts to connect with his wife, she misses the invitation to his heart and focuses on doing her chores or downplays his request. Opportunity after opportunity to have a meaningful connection is lost, and often the couple isn’t even aware of what is happening. (See: One Habit that Starves Your Marriage)

By themselves, these statistics are concerning. When combined, these statistics show the desperate state of many marriages.

Friendship is at the heart of a healthy marriage. Without it, everything else is tainted. When a husband and wife do not feel a deep emotional connection, their marriage suffers. For a true friendship to be present and growing, a couple must have a pattern of positive interactions which creates intimacy, connection, and a true awareness of the love and affection they have for one another.

This is not accomplished by ignoring problems. It is experienced when the conflict is the outlier experience to otherwise positive interactions which repeatedly occur.

These two statistics should remind every couple of the importance of positive interactions. A healthy couple will intentionally seek every opportunity possible to have a positive experience with their spouse. They know those positive experiences will provide a buffer for the inevitable negative interactions which are certain to happen between couples.

The difference between healthy marriages and those which are unhealthy is not so much the amount of negative experiences between spouses, but the number of positive interactions the two experience. Without the good moments, the bad moments have a deeper sting, a more defining characteristic, and take a greater toll on the relationship.

While handling conflict is important, it might be secondary compared to the importance of learning to compliment your spouse and train yourself to respond when they seek your attention. The simple habit of saying “please” and “thank you” might do more to create a good marriage than learning proper communication during conflict (although that is an important skill as well).

5 to 1 and 9 out of 10. (See: 5 Keys to Save Your Marriage)

Whenever I think of a healthy marriage, I try to remember these statistics. If you want to improve your marriage, make these your goals.

Track your interactions with your spouse for a week. Determine how many neutral or negative words you say to your spouse compared to how many positive words are spoken. Also count how many times on a daily basis that you give your spouse your undivided attention. Increase the positive words and the positive attention and watch your marriage thrive.


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