We know that in order for plants to grow and thrive, they need good soil. The same is true for marriages. So what is the “good soil” that marriages need? Fortunately, through the research efforts of John Gottman, who has observed married couples for over 30 years, we have some answers. Gottman found that happy, successful marriages had a 5-1 ratio: 5 positives for every 1 negative. In sharing this research with couples, I often ask them to estimate what the ratio is in their relationship. It’s not uncommon to hear answers like “Ours is about 1-5 (1 positive for every 5 negatives)”.
I typically give them homework to really make an effort to find 5 positives to each 1 negative. These positives can include their own thoughts – choosing to look for and notice the good, including remembering good times. They can also include saying and doing positive things - compliments, affection, a kind note, even a smile or a wink. It can also include receiving positives instead of rejecting them. Granted, it will take some effort to turn this ratio around. However, if these efforts are made sincerely, what usually happens is that when it is time to give the 1 negative (after the 5 positives), the “soil” is sufficiently softened so that it is much better received. The person giving the negative sees it in better perspective and gives it in a softer way. Sometimes, it even disappears with the recognition of all the positives they hadn’t noticed before.
Like all living, growing things, marriages need “good soil”.