How Can I Make My Marriage Last? Part One

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How Can I Make My Marriage Last? Part One

Valentine’s Day was a couple of weeks ago, and if you’re still dating your significant other you might have spent the evening staring into each other’s eyes, trading loving caresses and coming up with pet names for one another. If you’ve already been married for a while, however, you might have gotten a heart-shaped box of chocolates and an “I love you honey” before bathing the two year-old, wrangling a dirty diaper away from the dog, and passing out on the couch. Now that you’ve come down off the sugar rush from your chocolates, let me share something with you that can stoke the flames of your romance and keep that loving feeling going for the rest of your lives.
First, some science. In the realm of relationship satisfaction, no one has done more research than John Gottman. He has spent the last 40 years studying couples and what makes marriages work. He pioneered a research facility at the University of Washington called the “Love Lab” in which various couples (happy and not-so-happy) were screened, interviewed, and observed. His findings are some of the most solid research on relationships that we have to date.
One of the most groundbreaking findings of his research is something called “Positive Sentiment Override.” Dr. Gottman observed that different couples engaged in different amounts of “positive interactions” with one another, such as laughing, paying compliments, touching, smiling, and the like. In other words, some couples were better at being friendly than others. This is where the research gets really interesting. All couples–even the really stable ones–require some conflict in order to move forward. As a result, there WILL be some “negative” interactions with any couple. The key, Gottman found, is not to eliminate the negative interactions altogether, but to keep a ratio of 5:1 where five positive interactions balance out each negative one. When this ratio is achieved, couples show significantly more stability and relationship satisfaction than those that do not reach this 5:1 ratio.
The takeaway from this is fairly straightforward. How many positive interactions do you have with your partner compared to the number of negative ones? Do you reach the 5:1 ratio found in Dr. Gottman’s research? If not, you have a great opportunity sitting here before you. Focus your energy on making deposits into your partner’s “love bank.” This might look like a genuine smile when he or she arrives home, or maybe making an inside joke while watching the nightly news together. Think about what makes you friends with one another, and do more of that. Once you reach that 5:1 ratio, it’s very likely that your negative interactions will lose some of their power because you’re already connected at a deeper level. When a “withdrawal event” occurs, you’re less likely to incur a love overdraft.
So what are you waiting for? It’s never too late to make a deposit in the love bank. And by the way… since Valentine’s Day was LAST week, roses are only $6.99 at Kroger. Your move, guys.
–Matt Thames
P.S.–Here are some of John Gottman’s books that you might find helpful in your relationship:
The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (My personal favorite.)
Why Marriages Succeed or Fail
The Relationship Cure
10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage
The Science of Trust