I’m currently reading a new book, one that wasn’t free to me from the publisher, and I don’t even have to write a review about it. I’m just reading it for my own personal benefit and sanity. And it’s all I want to talk about right now! If you must know, the book is Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting by Dr. Laura Markham. It’s teaching me amazing things that are making my heart so happy and improving my parenting abilities by leaps and bounds, but I’m not really here to talk about the book or parenting today, though I’m sure I will talk about it more later.
Today, I want to talk about a tiny little relational nugget that I found tucked in a short little paragraph in this book. It says, “Scientists have found a way to predict which couples will end up divorcing: those who don’t ensure that they have at least five positive interactions for every negative one.” (pg. 73, if you want to check it out for yourself). Since I was a Psychology major in college, I kind of dig science. Once upon a time, in my senior year of college, I planned to get my Doctoral degree and go be a research scientist. And then I met this good looking man and decided marrying him and having babies sounded like a little more fun than 6 more years of school to earn a PhD. Anyways, this quote kind of stopped me in my tracks for multiple reasons. One being, “Yay science, those researchers are so smart, finding such important, helpful information”, and the other being, “Woah, is staying married really that simple?”
Someone could walk into your home and observe you and your husband for a few days and discover whether or not your marriage was going to make it through the hard times or fall apart. Think about that for a moment. Think about this past week. What has your relationship with your spouse been like? How many negative interactions have you had? How many positive interactions? Do you have a 5 to 1 ratio (or better) happening or do your bad interactions outweigh the good feelings?
5 to 1
The way to have a happy marriage is to have five positive interactions or feelings for every negative one. Simple, right? Well, maybe not, we all know how common divorce is these days. Think for a moment about your last big blow up with your spouse. Did it last a while? Often our issues aren’t resolved with one negative interaction. We might have tension building up for days before the big blow out and then the hurt and ruffled feathers usually don’t magically disappear. The ratio involves interactions and feelings, which means if you’re upset with your spouse for several days in a row, you’ve probably had quite a number of negative feelings and interactions over the course of those days. Sometimes the bad feelings can really add up.
On the other side of the ratio, we need five positive interactions or feelings to counterbalance each of the negative ones. Five isn’t a huge number, but in the midst of the busy hustle and bustle that is our two-parent-working-family-with-young-children lives, I know there are some days here and there when I don’t even see my husband for five minutes in an entire day, let alone be able to find the time for five positive interactions! Not to mention, those small interactions that aren’t major blow outs, but aren’t exactly positive either. Yikes!
5 to 1 can be a hard balance to achieve when we’re busy. It’s certainly a hard balance to achieve when we don’t make our marriage a priority. If we are constantly running around and waving to our spouse in passing as we drag the kids to activities and school and play-dates, rushing off to work extended hours, late night conference calls, and out of town work events, it can easily make this 5 to 1 ratio impossible to achieve. We have to stop expecting our marriages to survive the chaos of the non-stop survival mode that we live our lives in. It can’t compete.
You see a marriage is a relationship. Another nugget I’ve learned from this book is that in relationship there will never be quality without quantity. The idea of spending quality time with your spouse without a large quantity of time is false. That’s not how relationships work. That’s why the ratio of 5 to 1 is so high. It’s not just about positive interactions, its about the quantity of those positive interactions. One amazing, glorious interaction together will still not entirely counteract a negative one. It can certainly help, but negative interactions cause damage that must be repaired, and the only way to repair it is through time, spent together, interacting in a positive way.
Which can be tough, especially when your relationship is strained. It’s also really hard to get started when you’ve been hurt. I know that I often want to improve my relationship with my husband, but I feel like he’s the one who ticked me off in the first place, so he should be the one to fix it. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve had several friends tell me that they are just waiting for their husband to do something nice for them to make up for some jerk move he did. “Why should I always be the ones trying to fix things?” “Why do I always have to do the hard work to repair our relationship?” “I just want him to show me how much he loves me, that will make everything better.”
Well, you don’t always have to be the one doing the hard work. You don’t always have to be the one who chooses to love even when you don’t feel like it. But you can only control you. No matter how much you want your spouse to do something for you, you can’t make them. And telling them that they should do something, will probably just guarantee that they won’t. Which often means then, that no one will try to mend the relationship. No one will do the hard work. No one will choose to show love. And the relationship will fail.
Is having a happy marriage important enough to you to choose to love even when you don’t feel like loving at all? Are you committed enough to your spouse to swallow your pride and do the hard work it takes to repair the tensions, even if you have to make the first move, every single time? Because it only takes one person to start the healing process. Love is contagious. When you choose to show love, your feelings start to feel a little more positive. When you choose to show love, you’ve created a new positive interaction. Create four more and you’ve tackled one of the negatives, breaking down the walls you and your spouse have built up, bit by bit. Until slowly, your spouse starts to feel your love a little more, and then, they start to give some love back. But somebody has to start first. Are you willing to start it?
Going for positive
What makes a positive interaction? I’m sure you already know, but here’s a few ideas in case you get stumped:
- Appreciate instead of criticizing – look for something, anything nice to say about your spouse. “Thanks for taking out the trash last night.” or “I’m so glad you took the time to roughhouse with the kids today, they needed to burn off some steam and I didn’t have the energy.” If you’re really at a loss, keep looking for something, it can be as simple as “I love your cologne. You smell really good today.” Just make sure that your words are only positive. If you start saying something negative or criticizing, quit talking until you can say something nice.
- Listen, with your ears and your eyes – when your spouse talks, put down your phone. When your spouse talks, look away from the children. When your spouse talks, close your mouth. When your spouse talks, look them in the eye.
- Random acts of kindness – sneak a love note in their lunch box, iron their work shirts, surprise them with their favorite treat after the kids are in bed, offer a back rub, send a thoughtful text on a stressful day.
- Touch – sit next to them on the couch, make it a point to kiss every time you get home, touch each other as you pass in the hallway, roll over and snuggle for a few minutes before you fall asleep at night
- Always say “I love you” – sometimes you have to say it to feel it. Just keep saying it, your brain will start to catch up.
- Help out with their stuff – I’m always looking for my husband to help me with the household chores, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, etc. But I don’t go out of the way to help him with his “chores” very often. Depending on how things are split in your house, you could shovel the sidewalk before he gets home from work, take out the trash when he’s had a hard day, or whatever things are usually “his responsibility”.
- Do “It”, even when you don’t feel like it. (my mom reads this blog so I won’t belabor the point, but I’m sure we all know what “it” I’m talking about)
Remember the love you once had and the happy marriage you dreamed of living with your spouse. Love takes work. Love takes time. But love is absolutely worth it, every single time.