Love is … a battlefield. A mystery. All around you. All you need. There are so many clichés about love, we’d never be able to list them all. Countless songs, poems, and movies explore what makes love grand and sometimes heartbreaking.
But is who you end up with a matter of fate and destiny or something else entirely? What if the odds of your relationship succeeding could be boiled down to mathematical equations? We’d be skeptical, to say the least.
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According to doctors John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman, clinical psychologists who’ve studied marriages and relationships for more than 40 years, there’s a mathematical equation that will determine if you’ll stay together with your partner—and it’s surprisingly accurate.
Figuring Up The Numbers
The research began in the ’70s at the University of Illinois and continued at the University of Washington. Researchers in “The Love Lab,” as it was coined, began studying and interviewing couples (hetero- and homosexual) and came up with an equation that can reliably predict (with 94% certainty) the future of a relationship.
In the Gottmans’ new book, The Love Prescription: 7 Days to More Intimacy, Connection, and Joy, the pair have broken down the data, outlining a multistep process for a better relationship. Professor and bestselling author Brené Brown said, “This book feels so hopeful because it’s direct, it’s really honest, and it’s so actionable.”
Thousands of couples were studied. Researchers assessed their facial expressions, heart rates, blood pressure, skin conductivity, and words exchanged with their partners and noted how many positive and negative interactions occurred.
Out of this research came a “magic ratio.” For every negative interaction during conflict, there needed to be a counterbalance of five positive interactions to maintain a “low-risk” relationship. When the researchers checked back up on couples six years after the study, they found that couples who had a five-to-one ratio or higher during conflict were more likely to still be happily together.
What Does That Mean, Exactly?
So what constitutes a positive or negative interaction? Positive interactions during conflict include expressions of validation and joy. Simply smiling, saying something affirming (e.g., “I understand”), and working together to problem-solve are all positive interactions during tough conversations.
However, Gottman describes certain negative interactions as “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” These interactions include contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Blaming or shaming the other person, disengaging, and making hurtful comments are all, of course, considered negative interactions.
The researchers also found that outside of conflict, the required ratio was higher: In everyday life, there needed to be 20 positive interactions for every negative one. Negative interactions are far more impactful and harder to recover from, which is why the ratio is so imbalanced. Accumulating several small positive interactions over time help make a relationship healthier.
What To Keep In Mind
The authors eventually concentrated on one word—kindness.
“The difference between the extremely unhappy couples and very happy couples boiled down to one simple thing: The happy couples were kinder when they spoke to each other,” wrote the Gottmans.
While it may seem like an odd concept (would you even want to keep track of how many positive to negative interactions occur in your relationship?), it’s actually kind of reassuring. Even just starting to take note of your behavior during disagreements and adjusting your reactions accordingly can start to shift your ratio in a positive direction.
It also means relationships don’t require perfection. Conflict is inevitable; this method focuses on managing it rather than erasing it. It’s the way we respond during conflict that really matters.
If worked through properly, conflict can ultimately strengthen your relationship. Responding with empathy instead of annoyance, showing an interest in the other person’s passions, and “turning toward” the other person can help improve a couple’s connection.
So find time each day to give a genuine compliment and emotionally connect with your partner, because it’ll add up in the long run.
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