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The Magic Ratio For A Happy Relationship

Join Sheena and Tamara in this episode as they talk about the magic ratio for a happy relationship.

Episode: 2 of 12 of the Relationship Season

In this podcast they discuss

  • How two men could predict whether or not a marriage would last
  • What to do while arguing in order to ensure a happy marriage
  • The four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse
  • The herd of ponies for the happy marriage
  • Raising children to believe in themselves
  • Is there a point when it’s too much positivity?

Listen to this episode here

Find the Love Languages Episode here


Articles referenced in this podcast can be found here

The study by Dr Gottman and Robert Levenson

The four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse

Is it possible to praise your children too much by Christine Carter


Les Talk About It Series: Relationships

Relationships are important for humans. We need them to survive, never mind thrive. In this series we delve into relationships and break down some statistics and realities because, let’s face it, most us just muddle through and don’t necessarily have the skillset to rally make a relationship work.


please note this transcript has not been edited and is automatically generated meaning certain words will be incorrect

welcome to les talk about it I’m Tamara and I’m Sheena today we’re talking about the magic ratio that keeps you happily married or in a relationship well specifically married well I suppose a long-term relationship would also qualify but I’ll see why I’m saying married is because the research that we’re going to discuss today was done by Dr. Gottman and Robert Levinson and they began doing longitudinal studies on couples back in the 1970s they asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes then set back and watched after carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with him nine years later they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would be divorced with a 90 percent accuracy 90 percent that’s correct oh wow so it is long-term relationships specifically yes okay so their discovery was quite simple the difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict there’s very specific ratio that makes love lost you want to know what that is I do what’s the golden ratio for relationship happiness 5 to 1 and what you saw impatience I’m getting me okay so this means that for every negative interaction during a conflict as stable and happy marriage has five or more positive interactions while in a conflict state so not just generally no this is specifically in a conflict date but if you extrapolate this theory then you’ll see that it’s an attitude that pervades the entire marriage okay so what you’re saying is if you’re having a fight or a conflict of some sorts they need to be 5 good things that happen to everyone negative yes so let’s get a little bit into this so dr. Guttman says when the Masters of marriage are talking about something important they may be arguing but they’re also laughing and teasing and their signs of affection between them that they’ve made emotional connections on the other hand unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for the escalating negativity if the positive to negative ratio during a conflict is 1 to 1 or less that’s unhealthy and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce ok but like when you’re having a fights how do you even get to that point where you’re having positive interactions I mean for me a fight is negative I absolutely understand what you’re saying let me break it down a little bit more what is a negative interaction ok so what would you think would be a negative interaction I don’t know I suppose someone saying something negative to you ok absolutely but let’s break it down a little bit further so dr. Gottman says anger for example which is one I would of thought would have been a negative isn’t a negative unless it’s expressed along with criticism contempt order things so let’s break it down even more they basically came up with what they call the Four Horsemen of the marriage Apocalypse it sounds very doomsday it kind of is though so the first one is criticism alright the second one and we’re gonna go into more detail in a minute but let me just give you an overview the second one is contempt followed by defensiveness and stonewalling okay so criticism there’s a big difference between criticism and complaint yeah a complaint is for example saying I was scared when you were running later and didn’t call me I thought we had agreed that we would do that for each other that’s a complaint okay a criticism would be you never think about your behavior and how it’s affecting other people I don’t believe that you are forgetful you’re just selfish you never think of others you never think of me or you see how much more personal letters yes criticism paves the way for the other far deadlier horsemen and that’s a direct quote from the rats and it continued to a circle it makes the victim feel assaulted rejected and hurts okay so the first step then if you’re having a fight is to try to stay away from criticizing each other yes so you can complain and you can be angry and you can talk about whatever it is it’s having the fighter bars but you need to stay away from criticism and don’t make it personal so be factual I suppose you can talk about your feelings and that sort of thing but don’t make it a personal attack on somebody don’t make it a thing about how they’ve failed somehow okay okay so criticism unfortunately opens the gateway to contact which is the second of the deadly horsemen in the States we are truly mean to one another so whoever’s being contemptuous is being nasty like actually really nasty to the other person and the target feels despised and worthless so when we’re in a state of contempt we treat others with disrespect we mark them with sarcasm we ridicule them we call them names we mimic them or use body language such as I rolling or scuffing while criticism attacks your partner’s character contempt assumes a position of moral superiority over them okay so something typical that somebody would say is you’re tired cry me a river I’ve been with the kids all day running around like mad to keep this house going and all you do when you come home from work is flop down on the sofa like a child and play those idiotic video games I don’t have time for another child right so you taking the moral high or the superior to you behaving as if you’re superior okay okay and what that does we should shows that couples that are contemptuous to each other are more likely to suffer and get this from actual illnesses like colds and flus because their immune systems all over so being contemptuous actually leads to physical side effects yes Wow exactly right so studies actually done to taste that since like that’s a fact that’s just insane I mean like you know you always hear this thing about you know unhappy people being sicker and well if you think about it we are for lack of a better term we’re pet creatures right we belong in groups in clusters and Families okay and if the people that you are closest to that you feel most connected with are treating you like you’re worthless you just not believing you’re worthless and so you’re and very often your mind tells your body well I suppose it’s also part of stress because stress releases cortisol which leads to a whole host of actual like physical side effects and does make you sicker absolutely so yeah okay okay but an important thing to know about content is it’s fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about the partner so you’re not gonna feel contempt and this you sit and summer about negative thoughts around your partner if you sit and think about how your partner is not contributing is worthless is not helping you is you know just a drain here keeping like the lists of what you’ve done wishes they’ve done that kind of a thing right most importantly about contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce and that sort of makes sense if you think about it because if you’re sitting there thinking all these negative things about your partner how are you going to want to be with your partner in the longer term not sure I mean you’re pretty much luck rehearsing for hating this person exactly so watch yourselves if you start finding contempt nothing good comes from it but we’ll get just now into positivity so let’s just get through the negative stuff okay so the fourth the third of the four deadly horsemen mhm is defensiveness so this is typically a response to criticism when we feel unjustly accused we fish for excuses and play the innocent victim so that our partner will back off but this never actually works instead what it does is it tells our partner that we don’t take their concerns seriously we don’t take responsibility for our mistakes so I’ll give you an example of this a question that a partner could ask another partner is did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know that we’re not coming tonight as you promised this morning mm-hmm a defensive response to this would be I was just too darn busy today as a matter of fact you know just how busy my schedule was why didn’t you just do it okay just sort of turning the blame but you see in the question the way it’s phrased you promised this morning is it starting already with dirt so the criticism hmm it’s difficult though because if you’re being attacked I think the fate Cygnus is a natural response absolutely I mean an any kind of a tech physical attack you know you try to defend yourself verbal attack the same thing absolutely the problem is that this becomes this horrible cycle so the partner responds defensively and then tries to shift the blame mm-hmm instead a non defensive response can express acceptance of responsibility admission of fault and understanding of your partner’s perspective for example if you said instead oops I forgot I should have asked this morning if you could do it because my day was gonna be hectic and it’s my fault if Nicole not now okay that sort of diffuses the whole situation and less your partner at that point is now on the contemptible path which does happen so defensiveness actually escalates the conflict and once you reach contempt is there any way to bring it back yes and we’ll get to that just now because there’s four deadly Horsemen of the Apocalypse but there’s a whole bunch of positive things you can do great let’s get to the positive needs of the apocalypse it’s like the my little pony okay but can we do the fourth one first horseman is stonewalling okay so stonewalling is usually a response to contempt the listener withdraws from the interaction shuts down simply stops responding to the partner rather than confronting the issue based but tuning out not paying attention acting busy turning away going off to do something else becoming obsessed with like cleaning dishes or something some other kind of activity it takes time for the negativity created by the first three horsemen to become so overwhelming the stonewalling becomes the only out okay because very often it’s a result of feeling physiologically flooded okay so you just it’s just too much and your buddy just like can’t cope and your mind just can’t cope I don’t know if you’ve ever had that scenario where you just feel like you you even lack the language to express how you feeling because just too much stuff is happening it’s just too much emotional turmoil too much coming at you you’re just not interested in I get it and I can see how it can be used as like a more active passive-aggressive thing where you’re actually just like stonewalling not because you Sarah you feel overwhelmed but because you know it will bother the others yes and then so the other one where you do get to a point where you just can’t so you don’t know what to do and you just like stumble because of that unfortunately stonewalling is not an easy thing to stop and it becomes a habit mmm I could see that and it’s a really bad habit because it doesn’t open up communication and it just tells your partner that they’re not worth the time and effort mm-hmm a quick way to actually prevent that cycle is to stop the discussion oh it’s important to take a break say alright I’m feeling too angry to keep talking about this can we take a break and come back to the diverse it’ll be easier to do once I’ve calmed down didn’t go away for 20 minutes to do something you actually enjoy doing read a book listen to some music take a walk go for a read and do something that’s positive anything to help you sort of work through and stop feeling flattered then return to the conversation once you’re ready you’re listening to the lesbian talk show the lesbians or choke on your hub of podcast information so that was the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse right but I’m pleased to say there’s a whole bunch of positive things you can do during an arguments to counteract the negativity of the arguments I heard of positive ponies of your pocalypse to prevent the apocalypse these positive ponies are things that Godman says masters of marriage do these things right so they they ride these ponies okay so how do we become masters of marriage the first thing is they start conflict more gently so instead of coming in and starting accusations or whatever it is they’ll start a much gentler conversation listen sweetie a nice talk to you about something and it’s really making me feel sad or angry or whatever it is but please just hear me out okay they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship those are the major things that they do but let’s break it down a little bit more okay so here’s an active thing you can do be interested ask open-ended questions give subtle nods that you’re actually listening and paying attention and actually pay attention so you you nod you make eye contact you say uh-huh at the right moments and whatever it is because you’re actually paying attention you actually listening you express affection so hold hands offer romantic kiss embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day expressions of affection in everyday relationships can then translate into expressions of affection during conflict okay so what I’m hearing from this is in the times of fighting you should be doing this stuff but I think you need to be a way that you continue to do the stuff at other times as well absolutely I mean it’s easy to get you know to the point where workers overwhelming home life is overwhelming and you forget to do the small thing like smile to give a kiss hold hands yes so the thing is these positives if you make them a habit in your everyday relationship it also becomes easier to do them when you’re having a conflict okay it’s like I get the theory but the thoughts of Holyhead look having a kiss well here in the little of the parts is just a little bit mind-blowing absolutely but I’ll tell you why it’s a good idea with in conflict displays a physical and verbal affection reduce stress yes get rid of that nasty cortisol that’s gonna cause all those actual physical issues if you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes you head and says gosh this is hard to talk about but I really love you and I know we can figure out that together then you’re feeling heard you’re feeling appreciated you’re feeling like you’re doing this together and you’re not learn sure this is super important the next thing you can do is to demonstrate that they matter so Godman says our motive for making marriage lost is small things often that make sense yes then it doesn’t feel like okay we’re in the middle of the argument now I need to remember to do this and this and this and this while I’m feeling angry because you’re so used to doing those things yeah I think it’s also so if you keep doing stuff and he keeps showing someone in small little ways they know that you love them yes so you stopped to buy more but you get the person you know their favorite chocolate or whatever it is or you brush you know a lock of hair away from the eye whatever it is I think it’s just small just a bit just small things that just keep showing they’re cheeky but that’s exactly it right so you know last week we spoke about the five love languages yes okay so imagine if you compound the five local of love languages with this demonstrations of meza yes it starts to form a bigger puzzle of behaviors bringing up small things that is important to your partner even when you disagree demonstrates that you’re putting their interests on par with yours and showing that your partner that you care about them how you treat each other out sort of conflict influences how well you’ll handle inevitable disagreements you have to make these things habits because then the habits stick to stick yes for example if your partner’s having a bad day you stop pick up then on the way home you show that she’s on your mind mm-hmm which is exactly what you were saying yes now if you bear in mind they love languages in this particular thing so if if you made me a cup of coffee I would be really grateful if a cup of tea if if I gave you a foot rub hmm you would feel it it’s yes it’s demonstrations and this has to do with five love languages that we spoke about last week so we’re not gonna get into that if you’re interested look in the show notes I’ll put a link episode absolutely okay so the next thing is intentional appreciation how you think about your partner influences how you treat them yes okay so this is the opposite of contempt of the contempt thing so you’ve got to focus on the positives negativity is bound to creep into your thoughts especially during conflict but if you intentionally focus on the positives you can counterbalance that is its up turn every thoughts into an action every time you express your positive thinking and give you a part in a verbal compliment no matter how small then you’re strengthening your marriage so every single time you think something cool about me mm-hmm if you say it’s got beautiful eyes I think you might have your dimples gorgeous okay okay um my train was so derailed now you just look way too pleased about it I feel pleased forced yourself to think the positive stuff train yourself and here’s a tip from my um so here’s a tip that I found very useful my therapist gave it to me and that is to think of five positive things so something I struggle with is depression and anxiety brought on by certain situations so what happens for me is I start to feel like I just can’t cope with life and I can’t do something so the tip is to think of five good things that have happened today or five good things that will happen today and it can be tiny it can be I chose a really great pair of shoes to wait today the drive to work was easy it can be tiny it can be big it doesn’t matter as long as they’re positive I think the same thing can be used with relationships and with the person that you’re worth so if you start thinking about how negative or negative thoughts about this person maybe think of five good things about their person yeah remind yourself why you’re together absolutely I admire you for many reasons I’m pretty sure I can come up with five if I’m starting to feel you know because we do have a history yeah I mean like everyone’s got a history it wasn’t have bad days and good days but if you’re having the kind of luck not so much a bad day anymore but it’s turning into weeks or months or even years of just negative feelings towards someone and that does create contempt start to think about the good things and it can be little I can’t be that they made you a cup of coffee that morning it can be that they made you a cup of coffee few years ago and you really appreciate the dets action but think about the good stuff absolutely okay so the next one is find opportunities for agreement when couples fight they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and mercy opportunities for agreement I agree in every opportunity in every argument you’re going to agree on something mm-hmm seek opportunities and what happens then is you showing your spouse’s viewpoint is valid it’s true because in a lot of fights you’re both really really angry and you’re so upset but sometimes it’s actually a very common thing that you’re upset about and you’re just coming at it from different angles like sometimes like the court your father that you both feel alone in something it’s true and the thing is if you seek an opportunity for agreement you become an alliance mm-hm and being an alliance in a conflict means you’re not alone anymore mm-hmm something that survivor has taught us alliances Rock isn’t that the truth of the matter okay I’ve still got a couple of these empathize and apologize empathy is the deepest form of human connection so if you’re in the middle of the argument say something like it makes sense to me that you feel whatever it is you feel mm-hmm and it will help your partner see that you’re on a team yes but I’m guessing this is like if you actually truly feel it because if you know it’s like I can come across as super insincere and contemptuous know I know hang on okay you don’t have to agree with him you have to just understand no sure okay so so I’ll give you an example say your partner’s upset with something you said or did and you apologize and you say I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings you understand that you heard the feelings mm-hmm so it’s about understanding so it’s not saying I’m so sorry you feel that way no because that’s kind of contemptuous yes okay and you know you being contemptuous lightly it’s not even pretend we know we’re being also contemptuous people when we’re saying stuff like this we know we manipulating and like you know what I mean mm-hm like let’s not pretend we have no idea that we’re doing this except your partner’s perspective and approach the drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid even if they oppose each other and even if you don’t necessarily agree okay so let them know that their perspective is valid and make sense and show them that you respect it and you can do this by summarizing your spouse’s experience during a conflict even if you disagree okay remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement but it does signal respect okay so the kind of thing where you say I understand that you had a busy day and that you didn’t have time to call so and so but I’m still angry about it yeah and I think that that’s fee you know and the last point on the last Pony right is to make jokes you know it sounds completely counterintuitive but apparently playful teasing silliness finding moments laughs together actually breaks the tension eases the conflict and if you do it with inside jokes that only the two of you share it highlights your exclusivity as a couple and sort of strengthens you as a couple okay so I thought that was kind of interesting it is so that is the Gottman research so that’s the five to one stuff but then as I was doing research I actually came across some other stuff all right so Christine Carter and I think she’s a psychologist specializing in kids okay if I stand corrected on that but she’s particularly into raising children but with a very positive attitude so partisans for parenting sort of thing she wrote an article in 2009 asking is it possible to praise your children too much I think the answer is yes so people were saying too if we keep asking kids what they’re grateful for or what they’re happy about or whatever it is isn’t that sort of stopping them from telling us when they feeling angry or afraid hmm so aren’t you training them in the wrong kinds of way what because being angry or sad is still valid absolutely so she says it’s not that you’re trying to negate the negative stuff it’s just that you’re keeping the ratio right okay okay she says the actual research on optimal ratios of negative to positive flourishing individuals high-functioning people who school well on things like self-acceptance purpose in life environmental mastery positive relationship with others and personal growth experience a ratio of about three positive emotions to every negative one okay so that’s they own in a monologue okay okay so Barbara Fredrickson who pioneered this particular research that Christine quarter is quoting says having more positive the negative feelings is more generative it’s associated with creativity and openness to possibilities hmm so if you feel more positive about the world you’re more open to possibilities I’m open to learning you’re my open to taking the opportunities you open to like making new friends right and then she also quotes the John Gottman study which we just spoke about so the ratios are pretty similar so three two one five two n rats so there’s four more positivity the negative it’s yes and she says similarly high-performance teams that’s like workplace teams have a ratio of six to one and I think she’s quoting here the Harvard Business Review research that was done okay negative emotions and experiences affect us more dramatically than positive ones do feelings are being frightened for example would generally stay with us for much longer than having a good laugh okay we need to have more positive experiences in order to feel like we’re thriving but that makes sense even in a work sort of place like the teams that feel like a team we they feel like they can trust each other where they can depend on each other or for more likely to actually achieve something and ones that feel distrustful the ones that and actually get stuff done yes absolutely because you feel like you can work together toward something yes okay so in terms of children she basically says there is an upper limit to the amount of positive feelings a person can take okay and if a magic number is specifically it’s a ratio above eleven point six positive experiences to one negative one and ironically if you get above that if you get to like twelve positive experiences to one negative one you can turn a person sour oh wow right so you got to make sure that your kids have the language and the capacity and the ability to express the negative emotions but you have to sort of guide them into more positive thinking because it will open them up to possibilities in the earth well I think it’s you know straddling that very fine line of building a child er so yeah letting them experience enough negative or bad things like failing not failing or reprimanding because you’re more in danger in the right circumstances is good mmm so that they’re able to learn and to grow versus just telling them that they’re always great and amazing then the times that they do hear that they’re not great they don’t trust it well they stopped trusting that there that’s amazing and yeah I’m not sure when everybody gets the certificates mmm I mean everybody gets the cupful participation and nobody actually wins the race yeah I think that really is the two sides you get the kids who end up thinking that they’re like the most amazing thing ever and that the world should be at their feet mm-hm and then the kids who just can’t believe in themselves because they’ve never actually achieved anything really so she says she rounds off her article by saying so yes it’s possible to emphasize the positive too much Tudor that’s too darn much praise but at least in my household the challenge is not too much positive but in keeping the ratio of positive to negative for for her kids from about five to six so five positive six positives to one negative so if you’re gonna yell at the kid about homework make sure you also talking about five positive things mm-hmm it’s so interesting that these ratios exists and across all those different studies that you know the five or six seems to be the sweet spots pretty Universal sort of space yes so the I have two points warring in my head right now the first point is if you think about your impact on the world are you doling out five positives very negative I hope so because I think if we all thought that way if we all understood this if we all did that can you imagine how different the world would be I should be very different because I think we would be much nicer people and I think society as a whole would be much nicer absolutely so that’s my first thought that’s worrying I made my second thought is to circle back to this 11.6 positive to one negative and in the minute you’d like 12 you start to get sour mm-hmm like let’s talk about that for a minute cause I just thought that was really interesting right so there are people for example who keep saying to me oh you know we need negative reviews because I won’t do negative reviews on my sides only celebrating deposits of stuff because my philosophy is there’s too much negativity in the world and I only went to celebrate stuff okay having said that my inner dialogue is certainly not only that of praise I’m not you know becoming sour to the world but you can see that this is where these guys are coming from the camera from this place of if everyone gets a certificate then you know it’s not valid no I get it but I mean like just in terms of your book review sites those authors the ones that you’re reviewing they’re getting other reviews not every review that they get in the world is going to be a positive one and you’re also I think more importantly you’re not giving books that you don’t like a good review no I’m not but they’re telling behind the scenes we’re rejecting books behind the scenes that we didn’t like no sure point is you’re not for the sake of it just doling out good reviews no I think at that point that’s when you starting to get to that 212 whatever because everything is a positive and not everything can be positive right I just don’t do the negative stuff in public no and I mean like you don’t need to know but it’s such an interesting thing that you can actually over positive yourself to the point where you start becoming sober so that’s fascinating for me so if you have an experience of any of these things write us email us on podcast at the lesbian talk show comm or start a post on the lesbian talk show chat group on Facebook yeah and tell us about it because I’d actually be really interested to know what your experience is of this sort of relationship I have you ever stonewalled someone we have you become defensive I know that I am particularly awful with content and criticism when I’m angry about something yeah and let us know did you grow up in a household that was too positive in our household is just too negative or were you like Goldilocks and found a sweet spot of a home so my new goal in life is to understand this better and make sure that we have positive arguments I think that’s cool goal to have it’s a very cool goal to have so I’m gonna post some links in the in the show notes to some of the articles that I referenced today and I think that’s all for today okay thanks for joining us thanks for listening and don’t forget to go review a smile Apple podcast if you give us a five star review that could really help us to find out mod cost absolutely and don’t forget to share it with your friends your loved ones those that you’re fighting with yes see the love people bye bye