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The Magic 5 to 1 Ratio: 4 Ways to Integrate More Positivity Into Your Relationship

"It takes ten atta-boys to erase one negative comment"

I'm sure you've heard this said before about raising children, but what if I told you that the same logic is extremely useful in romantic relationships as well? John Gottman, a famous relationship researcher and professor, believes that successful, happy relationships (and especially marriages) require at least a 5 to 1 ratio between positive and negative interactions, respectively. I couldn't agree more.

Just think about it. Relationships are shaped by the experiences that we share with our partners. And unfortunately, we tend to let negative experiences influence our feelings about our relationships more so than positive experiences. For example, infidelity (a very negative experience) can drastically change the dynamics of a relationship (i.e. the amount of communication, physical touch, etc.) much more than a positive experience of equal magnitude (for example, your partner taking you on a surprise romantic weekend get-a-way) changes these same dynamics in a positive way. Sure, you may feel loved and have greater feelings of commitment after this vacation, but overall, you won't experience as many immediate effects from your mate's romantic gesture.

The notion that negative experiences, as opposed to positive experiences, have a greater impact on our lives has been referred to by researchers as the negativity bias (Baumister, Bratslavsky, Vohs, & Finkenauer, 2001). This concept argues that "[h]umans are biased toward behaving in a manner that will avoid negative experiences, and are much more likely to recall and be influenced by negative experiences from the past" (Ellis-Christensen, 2010, p. 1).

Because of this, integrating more positivity into your relationship is very important. But for many of us, this can be a difficult task to complete. I get it, you have so many other things to worry about and finding ways to be more positive is just one more thing to go on your seemingly never-ending to-do list. I promise though, that once you make positivity with your partner a habit, it will not seem like a chore anymore. It will become part of your natural interaction patterns with one another.

Below are four ways that you can be more positive with the one you love.

1. Show Interest
Showing interest in your partner's opinions, hobbies, job, and overall life experiences (past and present) can make him or her feel loved and special. Ask your mate about his or her day, listen whenever he or she is talking (especially when it's important!), and participate in your mate's life (either by sharing some hobbies together, supporting your mate's interests, or just by doing things together).

2. Act Thoughtful
Thinking about your mate and taking his or her values, beliefs, and desires into consideration as you go about your daily activities allows you to be more in-tune with your partner when you are actually together. Buying (or making!) your partner thoughtful gifts, surprising your mate with something you know he or she would absolutely love, or thinking of what your partner would want when making decisions that could potentially impact him/her are great ways to remain thoughtful.

3. Appreciate
Telling your soulmate how much you appreciate anything and everything that he or she does for you is an excellent way to incorporate a little positivity into your life together. And, being specific in your commenting is even better. Instead of just saying, "I appreciate you" (which is still a really GREAT thing to say), you could mention that you are truly grateful for the way that your partner does the dishes everyday or that you can't imagine what life would be like if you didn't have your partner to kiss you goodnight or that you are incredibly thankful for how hard your partner works to provide for your family. Everyone likes to hear that their efforts are not going unnoticed.

4. Be Affectionate
Whether you decide to smile, stare into each other's eyes, sit next to one another on the couch, hug, use those cutesy and sometimes mushy nicknames, or just kiss, being affectionate towards your partner has the potential to ignite feelings of closeness and intimacy in your relationship.

All of these behaviors (and many, many others) can help you incorporate more positivity into your life. So, for every one negative interaction, try to have five (or more!) positive experiences with your partner.

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  • Baumister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Vohs, C., & Finkenauer, K.D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of General Psychology, 5, 323-370.
  • Ellis-Christensen, T. (2010). What is the negativity bias? www.wisegeek.com

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