Although some folks may view marriage counseling as just talking, in fact, there is a great deal of scientific research which is constantly being done to guide the therapeutic interventions which therapists employ.

Every once in a while, instead of revealing some startling finding, studies just confirm what common sense tells us.  So it is with a new piece of research which identifies kindness as  key factor which distinguishes happy from unhappy/divorcing couples.   Data from the Gottman Institute* reveals that the more couples are positive and affirming in their interactions with their partners, the less likely they are to report being unhappy in their relationship or to be involved in a divorce.  Likewise , couples who  express love and admiration for each other on a regular basis are more likely to express deep joy and satisfaction with their marriage.

Some may say ,”Well duh, of course !” But it is important to realize that the research does more than make generalities. The studies quantified their results and produced a ratio of positive to negative interactions which correlated with the happiness or unhappiness experienced by the couples.  Specifically, partners who expressed 5 positive comments to every 1 negative were found to have very happy relationships. Conversely, couples whose positive to negative ratio was .8 to 1 were found to have very unhappy or divorcing marriages.

This 5 to 1 formula can be useful for all couples in two ways: 1) It can serve as a helpful tool to help partners who are having problems asses the quality of their interactions.  2) If their positive to negative interaction ratio is less than five to one, it can raise their awareness and  give them a conscious goal to achieve.

If the notions of a positive and negative interactions is a bit fuzzy, here are some examples.

Positive and Affirming interactions:

  • Smiling with a cheerful greeting when you see your partner.
  • Asking how the other’s day went and sharing from your own experience.
  • Listening with interest and meaningful responses.
  • Complimenting little things that you notice and like that the other has done.
  • Saying, “I love you” and showing affection in little (non- sexual) ways.
  • Taking care of things and responsibilities without being asked.
  • Making romantic gestures like sending flowers for “no reason”

Negative and Destructive interactions:

  • Rarely smiling and not showing pleasant enthusiasm upon waking or coming home.
  • Ignoring and not paying attention to the other.
  • Not sharing your day or feelings.
  • Being too busy with other things and not making time for the relationship.
  • Not showing affection except for sex .
  • Complaining and Blaming  the other.
  • Attacking the other with physical assaults or abusive language

These are just a few examples but I think you get the idea.  If you realize that your positive to negative ratio is too negative but can’t seem to make it better, some marriage counseling might help you discover what the problem is and resolve the issues that are keeping you from experiencing joy in your relationship .

Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C.   10 16 2017

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