What’s the magic relationship ratio?

For each single negative interaction you have with your partner, you should be having at least five positive interactions. That’s a fact: five to one. This is called the “magic ratio”. 

The magic ratio is based on research developed by a professor named John Gottman. He would bring couples into his lab (700 of them!), interview them, and then record them hanging out. He would watch the tapes later and analyse their interactions. When he followed up nine years later he was able to predict with 94% accuracy which couples had ended up divorced.

It’s important to notice that this isn’t a one to one ratio. Or one to two, or one to three, or four. Gottman’s research tells us is that you can’t criticise your boyfriend and then make up for it with just one compliment.

Likewise, you should expect better treatment than that from him to you! When it comes to your relationships, remember that bad interactions feel stronger than good ones.

So, Gottman and his team had some pretty impressive accuracy. Let’s see how you can use the magic ratio to improve your romantic relationships. 

Here are some negative and positive interactions, and you can consider if which are the kind of things you see a lot of in your relationship.

Positive interactions include…

  • Showing interest – actively listening and asking questions about say, his day at work.
  • Showing affection – maybe just come up behind him and give him a hug!
  • Showing care – this could be something such as asking if he needs anything from the store while you’re out. This shows you’re considering him and what he wants.
  • Making your partner laugh – cracking jokes and keeping things light is always a nice vibe.
  • Appreciating him – noticing he folded the laundry and giving him a kiss and saying thank you for it.
  • Doing something sweet for your partner – surprising him with a little gift.
  • A sincere compliment – specific compliments are better than general ones. Rather than just saying you like his outfit, you could strengthen the compliment by saying you like his shirt because the color brings out his eyes.
  • See here for more tips on relationship physical and emotional relationship intimacy.

Negative interactions include…

  • Not listening to your partner when they’re talking.
  • Being overly critical, and not in a constructive way.
  • Picking fights over little things.
  • Negative global statements e.g. “you’re always so selfish” rather than “I feel you’re being a bit selfish about this issue.”
  • Using a mean tone or snapping when you talk to your partner.

Think about if you have five or more positive interactions for each negative interaction you have with your partner. If you’re thinking “yes, it totally does”, then congratulations, your relationship is probably healthy and positive!

Oh no! I think my relationship has way too many negative interactions! What should I do?

  • Keep track of the positive and negative interactions in your relationship. You can try journaling your interactions for a few days and take tallies of good and bad interactions.
  • If you are nowhere near the one to five, and you’ve hit a consistent one to one, maybe it’s time to cut your losses and walk away. A one to one ratio suggests you and your partner don’t respect each other, and have probably built up some resentment.
  • If you notice you’re not quite meeting the one to five ratio, but you’re close, you don’t need to throw the whole man away. You can talk to your partner about it and work on the relationship by implementing some of the positive interactions from above.
  • Try to start using whichever positive interactions feel “right” for you guys. Every relationship goes through rough patches sometimes, but if you communicate and put in the effort you’ll get back on track.