The Magic Ratio That’s Defining Your Relationship

Did you know that there’s a magic ratio for every relationship? According to research, we all need a specific balance of positive and negative interactions with our partners in order to feel satisfied. It should come as no surprise that the number of positive interactions needs to be much higher compared to the number of negative ones. Just how many positive interactions do you need for every negative interaction to keep the ship sailing smoothly? That’s exactly what I’ll reveal next.

The Magic Ratio for a Happy Relationship

According to the Gottman Institute, a couple in a stable, happy relationship is having at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Among married couples, an excessive number of negative interactions can be a predictor of divorce. This is why being intentional about the tone of your interactions with your partner is so important!

What Do Positive and Negative Interactions Look Like in a Relationship?

Positive interactions can be especially powerful when they happen within the context of “difficult” things. For example, a spouse may react to the news that their partner had a horrible day at work by volunteering to pick up dinner. This is a case where one partner responds to the needs of the other in a caring, attentive way. In fact, it may seem so subtle that you could easily overlook the concept of counting this as a positive interaction. However, negative interactions can be just as subtle.

What counts as a negative interaction in a romantic relationship? Yes, a negative interaction can be an argument. However, most negative interactions are actually small, subtle forms of communication that chip away at the connection shared between two people. Body language is actually the default language for negative, passive-aggressive interactions in romantic relationships. Rolling your eyes, folding your arms while sighing, or simply turning your body away from your partner when you’re feeling stressed are all negative interactions.

Healthy relationships aren’t free of negative interactions. This is an unrealistic ideal that would force partners into being “performative” instead of expressing their true thoughts. However, the difference between healthy relationships and unhealthy relationships comes down to the magic ratio. In a healthy relationship, negative interactions are quickly turned around with gestures of empathy, validation, and affection. The Gottman Institute shares these powerful positive interactions that you can start practicing:

  • Be interested and curious when your partner is complaining or venting. These behaviors are actually crucial components of a relationship that are known as bids for connection.
  • Express affection, a desire for touch, and romantic feelings.
  • Let your partner know that they matter to you by performing acts of service and caring gestures.
  • Express appreciation for your partner.
  • Look for opportunities to agree with your partner.
  • Practice empathy with your partner.
  • Try to see things through your partner’s perspective.
  • Try to find reasons to laugh, tease, and play!

Are you up for a challenge? If you’re concerned that your relationship is bogged down by negative interactions, it’s time to start “doing the math” to see if you’re spending more time in conflict than you are in connection. Keep a journal for a month to tally up negative versus positive interactions. The results may help you to gain a better understanding of the tone of your relationship. You can also download my Dating Survival Guide to get some insights into other common relationship dynamics.